‘House of the Dragon,’ other shows fuel U.K. production boom

In the far corner of Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, star Vin Diesel smoked between takes on Fast X with a colleague; A car flip scene was filmed for the latest installment in the Fast & Furious franchise.

Resting on a barrier under a hot August sun, it overlooked a 50-acre field that contained the remains of Kings Landing’s Red Keep – a remnant of the castle used in the year-long filming of the highly anticipated Game of Thrones. HBO Max’s prequel debuted Sunday night.

While the original hit series was filmed in Northern Ireland, Leavesden expanded its facilities to convince the House of the Dragon filmmakers to shoot in England.

The studio, a former WWII aircraft factory in Watford, is fully booked as production levels are higher than ever. Since Warner Bros. acquired Leavesden in 2010 for $161.4 million, the property has doubled in size, growing from nine to 20 stages covering 1.5 million square feet.

Warner Brothers’ “Barbie” and “Wonka” just wrapped up filming in the parking lot. Universal Pictures also plans to shoot part of Wicked – the film adaptation of the Broadway musical starring Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo – in Leavesden.

“It’s a really exciting time. And it’s incredibly busy,” said Emily Stillman, Leavesden’s senior vice president. “In the second half of this year, a few spots opened up that we filled almost immediately. We could have resold that two or three times.”

After the COVID-19 pandemic caused numerous standstills and delays, the UK is experiencing a renewed surge in manufacturing activity.

Spending on film and high-end television hit a record £5.72 billion ($6.73 billion) for the fiscal year ended June, according to the British Film Institute. Television production reached £3.88 billion (US$4.56 billion) during this period, the highest level on record.

The UK has a long history of film production, from the James Bond films to the Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises. Studios and streaming companies are taking advantage of some of the world’s most stable and lucrative film incentives, recently expanded to include TV, animation and video games.

“There is an absolutely colossal amount of film and television production in the UK. We have broken all records for foreign investment,” said Adrian Wootton, Executive Director of the British Film Commission. “We are very much an agent of growth, an agent of recovery for the UK economy.”

Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, north west of London, seen from the air.

Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, north west of London, seen from the air.

(Warner Bros Studios Leavesden)

The boom was fueled by several factors, including pent-up demand from previous closures, favorable exchange rates, and a slew of high-end TV productions from Netflix, Apple, Amazon, and other streaming giants that are reshaping the TV industry.

High-profile shows filmed in the UK include season 3 of Ted Lasso for Apple TV+, season 5 of Netflix The Crown and Bridgerton spinoff Queen Charlotte for Netflix and Shondaland.

Then there’s Amazon’s highly anticipated series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, which announced earlier this year that Season 2 would be moving from New Zealand to Shepperton, Surrey. The series debuts next month.

In February, Amazon signed a multimillion-pound long-term lease with Shepperton Studios as part of a plan to “expand its production footprint and invest in studio space across the UK,” the company said in a statement.

Amazon declined to comment further on its plans.

“It’s just gone absolutely thermonuclear,” said Spencer MacDonald, national secretary of Bectu, the union representing more than 40,000 employees, contract workers and freelancers in the media and entertainment industries. “The amount of content that [streaming companies] trying to produce is phenomenal.”

The increasing demand has led to a lack of stage space.

The prospects have also attracted Los Angeles-based real estate firms like Hudson Pacific Properties and Hackman Capital Partners, among other big private equity funds.

An audience in a cinema

A crowd awaits a screening of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on July 22 at San Diego Comic-Con. The Amazon Prime series announced earlier this year that filming for its second season would be moving from New Zealand to England.

(Jay L Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Hackman, which has developed major Southern California film locations such as Culver Studios and Television City Studios, Groundbreaking in June on what it calls London’s largest film and television production centre.

With 12 stages in a total studio space of more than 500,000 square feet, Eastbrook Studios in Dagenham pledged to boost the East London area, create 1,200 jobs and contribute £35m ($41m) a year to the local economy, Hackman said in its 2020 announcement. The new studio is set to open next year.

Eastbrook is expanding into east London, which has a younger, more diverse crew base, said Jason Hariton, chief real estate officer at MBS Group, a subsidiary of Hackman Capital. The company has set up a foundation for human resources development and vocational training in East London.

“It’s a business where, if the doors are open, people have a quick shot at high-paying work,” Hariton said. “London is an amazing top five location for high-end TV and film in the world.”

Blackstone and Hudson Pacific Properties are behind another studio project in England. They plan to invest over £700m ($822m) to build Sunset Waltham Cross, north of London, which is due to open in 2025. It is her company’s first international expansion sunset studios, where movies like “La La Land” were filmed.

Britain’s generous film incentives – a 25% cash rebate applied to actors’ salaries and other so-called over-the-line costs – have been a big draw for studios like Warner Bros. The weakening British pound has also kept the US dollar on let rise .

“That’s pretty close to the perfect incentive,” said Joseph Chianese, senior vice president at Burbank-based Entertainment Partners. “In the UK, they really see the film and television industry as an integral part of their economy. This is a real economic engine.”

Aside from the tax incentives, Hollywood studio execs point to the quality of the local crews.

“You can do an entire film with a local crew, and that’s a huge advantage,” said Jeff LaPlante, president of physical production at Universal Pictures. “They have great technicians.”

The virtual stage in Leavesden, the Warner Bros. studio in England.

The Virtual Stage at Warner Bros.’ Leavesden Studio in England.

(Roger Mullins)

During a visit to Los Angeles in May, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced plans with Universal Pictures to develop a training program to encourage more diverse crew members. As part of that plan, the studio agreed to bring young Londoners from underrepresented communities to work on British productions like Wicked and Fast X this year.

All that growth has resulted in a general shortage of crews. According to a report by ScreenSkills, a non-profit organization that trains crews, film and premium television production is expected to reach £7.66 billion ($9 billion) by 2025, which will require nearly 21,000 crew members to produce to satisfy demand.

The rapid growth is creating “high-pressure jobs” that could hurt the UK film industry, the report said.

Work tensions have also increased as crews, like their US counterparts, work longer hours to keep up with demand.

Bectu’s MacDonald says the industry needs to “make it more attractive for people to come into the industry and … also address the issue for people who are already in the industry so that people don’t burn out and don’t leave.” .”

Meanwhile, producers worry about rising labor costs.

“If the UK gets too expensive, they just relocate production,” said John McVay, chief executive of PACT, the trade association representing independent manufacturing and distribution companies in the UK

Leavesden adapts to attract crews. Stillman established a childcare facility on the property for his freelance workers. The complex also includes a state-of-the-art gym where crew lines up from 5am to work out before the day starts, she said. The studio also offers psychiatric services for workers who want support.

“What we have to do … is make sure we continue to invest in every element, whether it’s people or facilities and premises or the confidence in the tax credit,” Stillman said. “All of these elements have to come together to maintain this momentum.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2022-08-22/house-of-dragon-to-lord-of-the-rings-among-shows-driving-uk-production-boom-as-crews-burn-out ‘House of the Dragon,’ other shows fuel U.K. production boom

Sarah Ridley

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