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British Production Sector Regains Its Swagger After Strike Hiatus



Despite being significantly hit by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes in 2023, U.K. film studios and production facilities are looking to pick back up where they left off after a record-breaking year for film and high-end television production spend in 2022.

When asked what the industry can expect in terms of business in the year ahead, Samantha Perahia, head of production U.K. at the British Film Commission, says she feels positive that demand “is going to be ramping up.”

She continues, “We already know that some of our studio facilities in the U.K. are getting very busy. While not every facility in the U.K. is jampacked again, there seems to be some momentum now, which is very welcome.”

The production spend in the U.K. jumped from £726 million ($376 million) in 2016 to $7.8 billion in 2022. At the same time, the U.K. considerably expanded its studio and stage provision to accommodate steadily increasing demand by major U.S. studios and streamers.

A traditionally popular base for screen production thanks to skilled crews, generous tax incentives and a diverse landscape, the U.K. began heavily investing in purpose-built studio facilities back in 2020, when the BFC received a $6 million government boost to expand its work promoting the U.K. as a destination of choice for studio space investment. “I wouldn’t have been able to say we have enough studio space five years ago, but I can say so now,” says Perahia.

Edinburgh’s FirstStage Studios is one of the many facilities to come onto the scene since then. With 8.9 acres of stages, offices and workshops, FirstStage is run by BAFTA-winning producer Bob Last and actor-director Jason Connery. Since first opening in 2020, the studios have welcomed major productions including Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and Netflix’s “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.”

“We’ve been fortunate with the demand and are currently incredibly busy,” says Last, who adds that FirstStage offers a unique “scale of building and imagination” formerly reserved for London facilities. “Historically, productions conventionally did location work elsewhere but returned to London for studio work. Now it’s a logical option to look at the U.K. as a whole if you want to shoot something ambitious.”

Conveniently uniting state-of-the-art studio facilities with easy access to locations has also proved a great strategy to Andrew Reid, chief content officer at Northern Ireland Screen. “We have been very fortunate that when large-scale productions come to Northern Ireland, they use the country as a whole to the best. One of our main pitches is that you can be on a stage in the morning and the beach in the afternoon,” says Reid.

Reid oversees Northern Ireland’s three leading studio facilities, Belfast Harbour Studios, Loop Studios and Titanic Studios. Recent projects filmed in Northern Ireland include BBC/Showtime’s “The Woman in the Wall,” Paramount Pictures’ “Dungeons and Dragons” and Universal’s upcoming live-action adaptation of “How to Train Your Dragon,” which is currently filming at Titanic Studios.

When looking at current demand, Reid observes that “streamers and U.S. studios are still dealing with 2023 and productions meant to wrap in the past year,” adding that while their studios are not seeing “a floodgate opening just yet,” there is hope for productions to pick back up, albeit a bit later in the year.

Location-wise, the U.K. has also seen an increase in local cities doubling for international capitals. Director Jon S. Baird turned Aberdeen into Cold War Russia for Apple TV+’s “Tetris,” while Warner Bros. subbed Liverpool and Glasgow for “The Batman’s” Gotham.

Veteran Scottish line producer Wendy Griffin, whose credits include “The Lost King” and “Limbo,” fondly recalls shooting Warner Bros.’ “Batgirl” in Glasgow. “Shooting in Glasgow allowed the directors to do things they would have never been allowed to do elsewhere. We closed down streets and had a fire truck shooting fires six meters above.

“It’s really sad how it all turned out,” Griffin says of the film’s shelved release. “But at the same time, Warner Bros. demonstrated an interest in bringing a lot more productions to Glasgow. This could cause an industry boom because they employed a huge number of people while shooting here.”

Not only are studios across the U.K. becoming more diverse in terms of location, but major production facilities are making strides to better accommodate crews. In 2020, the Wonder Works became the first nursery dedicated to the film and TV production sector to operate from a major U.K. studio, based at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden Park.

The Wonder Works’ director and co-founder Charlotte Riley, an actor whose credits include “Peaky Blinders” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” claimed the idea for the company came from her first-hand experience with how difficult it was for crew members to return to work after having a child.

“In the U.K., we have huge amounts of investment in grassroots talent, but the problem is that, when people reach an age when they want to form a family, we lose that talent. The experienced people leave the industry and you end up with sets entirely made up of crew working those positions for the first time. We need experienced people to stay in the industry and mentor those who are coming through,” she says.

Perahia has also seen an increase in studio facilities taking into account the physical and mental well-being of crews. “There has been a noticeable change in attitude. Productions themselves are actively providing nursing rooms in their bases and offices for mothers who are returning to work. Wolf Studios in Cardiff offers quiet rooms and other studios have opened dedicated green spaces and mental health resources.

“At BFC,” she continues, “we’ve been working with an organization called Soulless Mind, donating confidential counselling sessions for client productions. The productions will then often take it on themselves to carry on for future productions.”

Regarding the U.K.’s competitiveness on an international level, Perahia believes the country remains a leading force in the biz due to a combination of “a wonderful landscape, sophisticated crew base, great studio space across all four nations and what is considered by our clients to be the most user-friendly, transparent and accessible tax release.”

Perahia notes that “we have been proactively partnering with European jurisdictions since we left the E.U. As a filmmaking nation, we are exponentially more valuable if we make it easier for big productions to use the U.K. as a hub and then jump off and work in other parts of Europe. We look at those parts of Europe not just as competitors, but as opportunities for partnership, and we made really positive strides in that regard.”

With the consensus that the U.K. currently offers an adequate provision of studio space, one issue lingers in the mind of executives in the area: oversupply. “If all the studio spaces planned come to fruition, then we will have too much. It is a delicate balance to ensure a steady stream of work without causing too much scarcity and having projects cannibalizing each other,” warns Reid.

Perahia echoes the sentiment: “We need to keep a very close eye on not oversaturating. We have studios that we did not have previously, so we’re in a really good place when it comes to studio availability, but we need to remain vigilant.”


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