It’s taken a fair few years, but Pinewood Studios now finally has the greenlight to grow. That’s welcome news at a time when the UK is bursting with film and TV series jockeying for stage space and tax breaks. The UK’s Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government today offered his positive decision on the Pinewood Studios Development Framework which will double the existing facility in South Buckinghamshire. The studio is currently host to Star Wars: Episode VII and is awaiting the next James Bond movie. In total, 100,000 square meters of new studios, stages, workshops and production offices will be added. CEO Ivan Dunleavy recently told me that if the expansion permission was granted, Pinewood would “hope to have the first phase under construction in the first year.” Today he said, “We want to begin construction as soon as possible.”
Related: Pinewood Earnings Grow Amid UK Studio Capacity Crunch; Whither Expansion?
Pinewood has been ready for this expansion for some time, but it’s been a tough road getting here. The studio originally applied for permission to grow back in 2011 and was rejected in early 2012. The local council took issue with part of the original plan that included building residences on adjacent greenbelt land. The residential aspect was removed from the proposal and Pinewood resubmitted the plans. But they were again rejected in May 2013. A public inquiry … Read More »
Pinewood Studios is today confirming its ambitious offshore strategy with the official launch of Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios. Already open for a handful of months, the studio is currently hosting The Weinstein Co. and Netflix series Marco Polo. Pinewood CEO Ivan Dunleavy tells me, “You have a UK studio in Malaysia with Weinstein the production company and Netflix the distribution platform – I think that says it all about the new world.”
Along with Malaysia, the Pinewood family now includes the flagship South Buckinghamshire location, nearby Shepperton Studios, and outlets in the Dominican Republic, Toronto, Berlin and Atlanta — where Marvel’s Ant Man is colonizing. The group is also advising Wanda Dalian on a new film and TV studio complex, Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis, which is expected to open in 2016. Read More »
Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne confirmed on Tuesday night that the UK’s relationship with Star Wars will continue. The MP was at Pinewood – where JJ Abrams’ Episode VII moved onto soundstages about 10 days ago – and tweeted, “On set of Episode VII tonight, can announce another #StarWars film will be made in UK. A #LongTermEconomicPlan in a galaxy far far away.” The Conservative politician caught a lot of flack on Twitter for the latter remark, but by and large the Star Wars movies, and other big Hollywood projects, are bringing a flood of money into the UK which has very lucrative film tax breaks. The currently filming Episode VII is due for release on December 18, 2015 and the standalone Star Wars Osborne referred to last night will also be shot next year. The spinoff is being directed by Gareth Edwards. Per local reports, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid added last night, “Given Lucasfilm’s decision to film another Star Wars movie in the UK, it is clear that the Force is strong here.” Read More »
Big figures released today by the British Film Institute are strong proof of the increased taste for the UK as a filming destination. And, with the government keen to reap the benefits to the British economy, the numbers could help get Pinewood‘s twice-rejected expansion plans over the goal line. According to the BFI, overall spend generated by the UK film production sector was up 14% in 2013 to £1.075B ($1.77B). Of that total, £868M ($1.43B) came from 37 international (mostly Hollywood) movies that made the UK their production base. Some of those included The Man From U.N.C.L.E, Heart Of The Sea and Jupiter Ascending, which all shot at Warner Bros’ Leavesden Studios; along with Disney’s Muppets Most Wanted, Cinderella and Into The Woods, which shot at Pinewood. Among other titles were: Fox’s Exodus and Frankenstein, Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy, Sony and Fox’s The Monuments Men and Studiocanal’s Paddington. Gearing up this year are the next Star Wars installment, Bond 24, The Avengers: Age Of Ultron and, as expected, Alice In Wonderland sequel Through The Looking Glass.
Related: Year-End: UK Tax Breaks Too Much Of A Good Thing?
In addition to the inward investment provided by the movie business, the UK this year launched a high-end TV tax relief which helped entice Fox’s event series 24: Live Another Day and ABC pilot Galavant. Statistics for the incentive in 2013 only cover nine months since it was established in April. The BFI says that during the period, more than £276M of investment was made in domestic UK productions and international series including Game Of Thrones, Outlander, Da Vinci’s Demons and Elementary. Read More »
The UK is already busting at the seams trying to accommodate all of the TV and film productions flocking there. With adjustments to film tax incentives that were announced today, it’s just upped the ante as a desirable place to work. British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivered the Autumn Statement to Parliament this afternoon, outlining new economic policies that will go into effect from April 1, 2014. In an incentive that lowers the barrier to entry, the government plans to reduce from 25% to 10% the minimum UK expenditure required in order to access the coveted film tax relief. From April, the relief will be worth 25% on the first £20M of qualifying production spend, and 20% thereafter. (The rebates are available on the lower of either 80% of total core expenditure or the actual UK core expenditure and there is no cap on the amount that can be claimed.) That last measure will benefit producers of bigger budget films who’ll get an extra £1M on the first £20M. The government said it will seek to clear an increase to 25% for all qualifying expenditure on larger budget films in 2015. That should keep Hollywood tentpoles keen on Britain, especially given the concern over California’s Film/TV Tax Credit program which currently excludes features with budgets over $75M.
Related: Pinewood Earnings Grow Amid UK Studio Capacity Crunch; Whither Expansion?
Dropping the spend requirement to 10% is going to help the independent sector, too. John Graydon, partner at accounting firm Saffery Champness which specializes in film and TV tax incentives, tells me, “If a producer just wants to do post in the UK, trying to get to that 25% spend was incredibly difficult. So in some cases, they went elsewhere.” Now, those seeking to do just post or VFX in Britain will have a better shot at making the numbers work. There are also changes to come to the cultural test which determines eligibility for tax relief. The test will be modernized to allow for European as well as British elements. It will become a 35 point barometer with a pass mark of 18 and will include an increase in the points available for principal photography/special effects/VFX and projects in the English language.
Related: Hollywood Pics Pack UK Soundstages As Space Crunch Starts To Squeeze
Overall, the moves are positioned to drive inward investment. In the first three quarters of 2013, it’s already up 28%. That’s partly due to a lucrative TV tax credit that offers a rebate on high-end dramas costing £1M or more to produce per hour. But with soundstages filled to the rafters, many TV productions are already being relegated to converted warehouse space. It’s also because several big budget Hollywood films are camped out at Pinewood and Warner Bros’ Leavesden Studios. But if Pinewood doesn’t get approval for its expansion plans next year, more big ticket pics could be turned away. As I recently reported, Marvel’s Ant Man was forced out of the UK due to space constraints. Graydon doesn’t see the new incentives as necessarily exacerbating the capacity issue since those enticed by the changes won’t always be the kinds of productions that would require soundstages. He does allow, however, “Stage space is an issue. We absolutely want to see that resolved as quickly as possible.” Read More »
Even Darth Vader is now snapping selfies. The official Star Wars site tweeted last night that it has joined the Instagram bandwagon. Saying “It is useless to resist,” the tweet urged fans to follow the account (72,000+ already are). Lucasfilm has set up its production offices for Star Wars: Episode VII at the UK’s Pinewood where it will start shooting next year for a December 18, 2015 release. The production unveiled its first photo last month and confirmed that R2-D2 will be in the new movie. Does the one below mean that Darth Vader is the next character from the previous Star Wars films that will appear (resurrected? in flashback?)? Here’s the erstwhile Anakin Skywalker taking the first Instagram snap:
UDPATE, 2 AM WRITETHRU: With the British film and TV industry in the throes of a capacity crisis, it’s a good — if frustrating — time to be in the studio facilities business. The Pinewood Shepperton group today announced consolidated results for the six months ended September 30th with £36.6M ($59.1M) in revenues compared to £27.1M ($43.8M) in the same period last year. After-tax profit was $5.5M, up from $3.2M in 2012. The Pinewood studio is currently host to Kenneth Branagh’s lavish Cinderella, Hammer sequel The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death, and just had Ridley Scott’s Exodus on the lot which has now gone on location. Lucasfilm has also hung its shingle with the new Star Wars installment gearing up to shoot in 2014. Johnny Depp-starrer Alice In Wonderland 2 is expected to turn up, and Bond will be back with No. 24 next year. Over at nearby Shepperton, Marvel has wrapped Into The Woods and has The Avengers 2 on deck. But I hear its Ant Man had to forgo shooting in the UK due to the lack of space.
Related: Hollywood Pics Pack UK Soundstages Creating Space Crunch Read More »
Cineworld Founder and CEO Steve Wiener To Retire In March
More than 18 years after founding the UK’s leading cinema chain, Cineworld CEO Steve Wiener is retiring. The company said today that the 44-year industry veteran will step away on March 31. “In 1995 my wife Jenny and I wrote a business plan to start a cinema company,” Wiener said in a statement. ”We expected over a five year period to open five-seven multiplex cinemas and sell it on to one of the big operators. Today, Cineworld is the No. 1 cinema chain in the UK and has been for more than three years.” Said Cineworld Chairman Anthony Bloom: “Steve has led the company with great distinction from the first day of its founding and has mentored and developed an outstanding management team. He will leave the business in fine shape.”
‘Gravity’ Blasts Off In China With $9M For First Two Days
Gravity has landed in China, and it’s pulling in plenty of moviegoers. Warner Bros said today that the Alfonso Cuarón space drama starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney took in nearly $9 million in its first two days in China. The film generated $4.7 million from 5,854 theaters on its opening day Tuesday and an additional $4.2 million on Wednesday. It’s the studio’s biggest non-holiday opening in China. The biggest opening ever for any U.S. film in China was this year’s Iron Man 3, which debuted to $21 million in its first day, which was China’s Labor Day holiday on May 1 and made $64.5 million in its opening weekend. Read More »
Next year, Bond 24 and Star Wars: Episode VII will be shooting Walther PPKs and brandishing light sabers at Pinewood Studios outside London. That’s a lovely image for fans, and Pinewood bean-counters. But with Hollywood increasingly queueing up to shoot in Britain, and Pinewood’s application for expansion having been thwarted twice in the past year, a capacity crunch is coming to the UK at light speed — and some potential big-ticket tenants already have been turned away.
Among the films currently shooting at Pinewood are frequent client Disney’s Cinderella, QED and Sony’s Fury, and Fox’s Exodus. The new Star Wars installment is settling into its offices on the lot ahead of shooting in early 2014. Over at nearby Shepperton, Marvel currently has Guardians Of The Galaxy, with The Avengers 2 gearing up. Also there is Disney’s Into The Woods. Leavesden, the Warner Bros facility the studio acquired in 2010 and in which it invested £100M after shooting all eight Harry Potter movies there, is hosting Ron Howard’s Heart Of The Sea and Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The J.K. Rowling-penned Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is expected to shoot there when it goes. Read More »
The joint-venture set up in April between Bruno Wu‘s Seven Stars Media and the UK’s Pinewood Studios is known as Song Lin, Chinese for Pinewood. Malcolm Wall has just been appointed to lead the 50-50 arrangement that’s intended to finance and produce content in China for the global market. Wall will establish a project team and oversee the launch of the business. The partners are each initially putting up $1M for R&D on local business proposals which include co-production opportunities; training courses to be given by British institutions in Beijing and other cities; financing and related services for local productions; film-themed entertainment venues in Shanghai and regionally; and film-themed projects in Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan. Wall is a former Virgin Media content executive who was most recently CEO and advisor to the board of Abu Dhabi Media. He will be based in China.
We already knew that, like its six predecessors, Star Wars: Episode VII was going to shoot in the UK where expectations were that it would end up at Pinewood Studios. Now we know for sure. Pinewood isn’t talking publicly about the news that was first reported by Screen, but a source close to the production tells me the movie will indeed set up camp at the iconic facility that’s also home to James Bond. Director J.J. Abrams recently said production would start at the beginning of 2014 and that “Most likely we are going to be moving to London at the end of the year” for the film. Pinewood currently has Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella in residence along with Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy. Along with those two films, Star Wars will mark the latest in recent collaborations between Disney and Pinewood. Angelina Jolie-starrer Maleficent shot there earlier this year. But it’s not all Disney business. Fox’s Exodus, the biblical epic from Ridley Scott, will also shoot at Pinewood later this year. With all those movies in residence, will there be enough room? I’m assured that even with a massive project like Star Wars moving in, Pinewood will be able to have two or three other films at the same time.
Related: New ‘Star Wars’ Film Cast Breakdown Unveiled
Related: New ‘Star Wars’ Movie To Shoot In UK
This is a surprising result given it’s the second time the UK’s venerable Pinewood has had an expansion project thwarted – and despite the increased interest of major U.S. studios to shoot there. The studio, which is home to the 007 set built in honor of the James Bond films that have been filmed there and which houses many major Hollywood pictures, first applied for permission to expand back in 2009 and was refused in early 2012 because it was eyeing protected land. The studio owns the land, but failed to satisfy the Buckinghamshire Council’s requirement of “special circumstances” to proceed. Today, the council refused a more recent modified application for an increase in capacity. Earlier this week it was reported that Hollywood studios, including Disney, Marvel, 20th Century Fox and Universal, had written to the decision makers urging approval. Read More »
Sam Mendes’ psychosexual horror series for Showtime, Penny Dreadful, will be among the first U.S. TV dramas to benefit from the UK’s newly-approved TV tax relief for high-end productions. Legislation for a 25% tax credit for TV series costing at least £1M per hour to produce — plus animated programs and video games — has been given the state-aid greenlight by Brussels, clearing the last major hurdle before coming into effect April 1. Largely based on Britain’s Film Tax Relief scheme, which has provided about £800M in rebates to more than 800 movies since 2007, the new law requires productions meet a British cultural test. Co-productions made under an internationally recognized treaty may also be eligible, and it’s believed the new regs could inject about $570M into the local industry. But there are concerns that the potential £200M in relief available by 2018 could be gobbled up by U.S. productions that employ British talent on UK shores.
When first announced in March last year, the relief was considered an effort to stem runaway production. Shows like BBC Two drama Parade’s End and the Julian Fellowes miniseries Titanic, were made abroad. Downton Abbey is among the rare exceptions of big-ticket UK shows that have been produced at home, and I’m told it will now look to benefit from the break. But the scheme is also a means to encourage foreign shows to come to the UK. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne consulted both Disney and HBO to lay out the strategy. Read More »
A year after its Project Pinewood development was rejected by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Pinewood Studios has submitted a new planning application for an expansion project valued at £200M ($317M). The Pinewood Studios Development Framework proposal is expected to be spread over 15 years and would essentially double the studio in size with 100,000 square meters of new studios, stages, workshops and production offices along with new streetscapes for external filming and other improvements. Pinewood’s Mark Hamilton tells me, “The UK has capacity issues and everyone is having difficulty fitting in everything that wants to come here… We don’t want to be in a position where we’re turning business away.” Hamilton says a team from Pinewood met and with physical production folk at the U.S. majors to discuss their needs which helped to inform the new proposal. In the past year, Pinewood has played host to such films as Les Misérables, Skyfall, Disney’s Maleficent and Paramount’s Jack Ryan, which just wrapped. Read More »
Joe Utichi contributes to Deadline’s UK coverage:
Pinewood unveiled cutting-edge upgrades to its TV One and Two stages today as it reiterated a commitment to investing in and expanding its facilities. The studio, recently home to features Skyfall, Les Miserables and Maleficent, is keen on TV as a proposed 25% tax break on high-end television production is expected to go into effect in April. The incentive could inject about $570M into the industry. Pinewood corporate affairs director Andrew Smith tells Deadline, “The demand for content is clearly growing globally, and we’re investing in both infrastructure and facilities to respond.” Part of the response is to submit a new application to double the size of the studio. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: The Pinewood Studios Group is bulking up its Los Angeles office with the hire of Andy Weltman, who has been named EVP of Pinewood USA. Weltman was EVP of U.S. Production for the British Film Commission in LA and will now manage the UK studio’s U.S. clients as well as coordinate its international sales. His experience includes working with filmmakers such as Peter Weir, Wolfgang Petersen and Steven Spielberg on films ranging from The Witches Of Eastwick and Who Framed Roger Rabbit to Dead Poets Society, Green Card, The Perfect Storm and Master And Commander. Weltman also worked at the UK Film Council. Over the past few years, Pinewood has rolled out its brand in Toronto, Berlin, Malaysia and the Dominican Republic and is continuing to expand. Big-ticket pictures currently shooting at Pinewood’s flagship studio outside London are the 23rd James Bond movie Skyfall and Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables with Hugh Jackman. “We have worked with Andy closely over the last few years and his knowledge of the industry and his relationships with key clients both in the U.S. and UK will serve Pinewood and our customers well,” Pinewood’s commercial director Nick Smith says. “This is an exciting new hire and one we hope will deliver even stronger results.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron will visit Pinewood studios today where he is expected to urge filmmakers to ramp up efforts to rival Hollywood by making more “commercially successful pictures.” Cameron’s visit comes just ahead of next week’s release of the findings of a government film policy review overseen by former culture secretary Chris Smith with input from such folk as Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. According to Cameron’s official website, the review is expected to suggest the UK’s Lottery funding scheme be rebalanced to support more mainstream films with commercial potential as well as culturally rewarding films. The news is likely to upset the independent film community, with director Ken Loach already appearing on the BBC today to say: “If you knew what was going to be successful before you made it then we’d all be millionaires. It doesn’t work like that. Public money should go to fund a wide variety of projects and people.” The review is further expected to propose that the British Film Institute reinvest returns into film companies with the most box office success. Read More »
Solid First Half For UK’s Pinewood Shepperton Studios
Revenues are up 68% over the first half of the 2011 according to interim results released today, from $27M to $42M over the same period a year ago. The largest film production based at Pinewood Studios during the period was Dark Shadows (Warner Bros), and the largest production based at Shepperton Studios was Wrath of the Titans (WB). Other films that used Pinewood Shepperton facilities included The Iron Lady (DJ Films/Pathé), Gravity (WB), Woman in Black (Hammer Films), 47 Ronin (Universal) and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (Fox). Universal’s Snow White And The Huntsman has just begun shooting at Pinewood. The surge in film business offset a drop in TV revenues from $8.3M last year to $7.6M, which the studio attributed to using more space on movie productions.
Off-Track Bond 23 May Exit India For South Africa
Unhappy that permission to shut down portions of two railways outside Mumbai still has not been granted, Take One Productions is threatening to move production of Bond 23 from India to South Africa. Originally scheduled to shoot in the fall, the Sam Mendes-directed project starring Daniel Craig is now pointing for a January start. “South African authorities are waiting to provide everything that is required to support this movie,” said Take One’s Pravesh Sahni. “If we can’t get this cooperation from India, the film will no longer be shot here.” The railroad scenes will be a major part of the film, Sahni told The Times of India. Read More »
First half operating profits after exceptional items have also fallen 3% to £3.2 million. Total revenue fell 6.4% in the first 6 months to £19 million. Film production revenue fell by 8.5% to £10.8 million, while TV shooting income fell 7.3% to £5.1 million. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo Cabret was the biggest production to use Pinewood Shepperton between January and June. Other productions using the studios included Disney’s John Carter of Mars and Ruby Films’ Jane Eyre. Pinewood Shepperton has been hit by several Hollywood productions being delayed.
Crystal Amber, which yesterday became Pinewood Shepperton’s biggest shareholder, characterises chairman Michael Grade as “clueless” and called on him to stand down. The investor complains that Pinewood’s revenues have fallen, costs have risen and profits broadly halved since the group raised £50 million at flotation in 2004.