The film studio behind the James Bond and Star Wars franchises has expressed interest in building a new site in east London, as the British film industry struggles to accommodate demand for TV and blockbuster shoots.
Pinewood, a cornerstone of the UK’s film and TV production sector, is looking at a 20-acre site in Dagenham after the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced plans for a studio in the east of the capital. The “Made in Dagenham” move comes amid growing evidence of a space squeeze in the film industry, with at least two recent big-budget releases – last year’s Alien and Blade Runner sequels – moving production to other countries because there was no room in the UK.
Pinewood can film two blockbusters at a time at its studio on the outskirts of west London and one at a nearby sister site in Shepperton. It is midway through a £200m expansion to double its size to keep pace with demand.
The UK’s popularity as a filming base is growing so fast – the amount spent on film and TV production rose 11% last year to a record £2.8bn – that Pinewood is understood to have inquired about developing and running the new Dagenham studio.
Paul Golding, chairman of Pinewood, said the studio was looking ahead to its next growth phase. “We have sufficient expansion ability to meet demand for the next three to five years. But we have already identified future expansion opportunities.”
As well as plans for the Pinewood site, which include demolishing disused buildings and creating new facilities, there are proposals to more than quadruple the size of the Shepperton studios from 25 to 125 acres. Dagenham is now potentially being lined up as a third site.
Darren Rodwell, the leader of Barking and Dagenham council, said that he championed the development of the site on disused industrial land after learning that major films were being forced to look overseas due to space and scheduling issues at studios in the UK.
“There is a wealth of opportunity and we have had an exceeding amount of interest, around 20 expressions of interest [to develop the Dagenham project], and we are excited about taking it to the next stage.”
The UK’s top-quality studio facilities and production talent, along with lucrative government tax breaks, have fuelled a boom in film-making that is leading to concerns about capacity and skills shortages. Four of the top five earners at the British box office last year – Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty and the Beast, Dunkirk and Paddington 2 – were based in the UK.
Growth continues to be driven by thedemand on space and skills required to make big Hollywood films, with investment in UK-filmed blockbusters growing 23% to £1.7bn last year. Upcoming major movies made in Britain include Tim Burton’s upcoming Dumbo, Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, Mission Impossible 6, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2.
“The issue is more than looming. Space is at a premium in the UK,” said Adrian Wootton, chief executive of the British Film Commission. “The space at the most premium everyone would recognise is for really huge feature films. It is fair to say that we can’t accommodate every major movie at any particular time that wants to come here.”
Wootton said that while there isn’t yet a “crisis”, due to studio space in the UK doubling in the last four years, the level of demand means there is a constant challenge to expand quickly.
The squeeze on resources has been exacerbated by a booming TV sector, thanks to Netflix, Amazon and Apple. Spending on high-end TV production in the UK, from Game of Thrones to Peaky Blinders and The Crown, rose 9% to a record £938m last year. Almost three-quarters of that, £684m, came from overseas companies.
While TV productions do not compete directly with blockbuster films for studio space, they do use the same pool of creative talent, from directors and set designers to make up artists and cameramen.
The BFI has estimated that the industry will need up to 10,000 new workers in the film industry across a range of roles in the next five years to keep pace with demand. “I think it could well be higher,” said Golding. “Netflix is spending $8bn this year, Amazon $4.5bn, Apple $1bn. These are huge numbers and you have to provide the crews and space or you will miss out.”
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