The UK experienced a production boom in 2022, with film and high-end TV spend reaching a record $7.7bn (£6.3bn) in 2022. According to BFI figures, inward investment was $6.6bn (£5.4bn), as US studios and streamers came to the UK in huge numbers, drawn by tax breaks, excellent local crews, expanding studio facilities, VFX expertise and the wide array of rural, urban, modern and period locations.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt pointed out after the UK government’s March 2023 Budget that the country’s film and television industry is now the biggest in Europe.
One major development is the government’s decision to reform the film and TV reliefs and replace them with an expenditure credit system. The audiovisual expenditure credit (AVEC), which starts in January 2024, will ensure the UK’s creative sector conforms to new global tax regulations. It will be worth almost the same to incoming film and TV productions as under the old system, and the British Film Commission has worked hard to assure international producers they should not be adversely affected.
“The overwhelming proportion of inward investment has stopped because of the external conditions but there is still a lot of work happening throughout the nations and regions,” says Adrian Wootton, CEO of Film London and the British Film Commission just prior to the end of the writers strike. “The underlying conditions and competitiveness of UK film and television is still extraordinarily strong… the silver lining about the situation [of the strikes] is that there are more people available to work on domestic independent and international production. The circumstances have led to a deflationary impact [on prices]. If people are looking at the UK, they will be pleasantly surprised by availability of crew and cost of stage space.”
New studio space and facilities are opening up. Construction on the Digbeth Loc Studios in Birmingham is underway, and Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, the driving force behind the facility, will base his productions there. The site is expected to attract independent film and smaller scale television.
Shinfield Studios at Thames Valley Science Park in Reading is due to be open fully by 2024. The $367m (£300m) project will have 18 soundstages and is described as “absolutely, utterly colossal” by Wootton. “These are state of the art, incredible stages, the most technologically sophisticated stages you can find anywhere in the world.”
In summer 2022, planning permission was granted for the construction of Sunset Waltham Cross Studios, a new complex in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, just north of London, while Eastbrook Studios and its sister site The Wharf Studio in east London’s Barking and Dagenham are expected to have 18 stages between them.
The Bottle Yard Studios in Bristol continues to expand and is expected soon to have 11 stages available. This is all in addition to existing facilities, including Scotland’s Wardpark in Cumbernauld and FirstStage Studios in Leith, Wolf Studios in Wales, Belfast Harbour Studios and Titanic Studios in Northern Ireland as well as long-established bases such as Pinewood, Shepperton and Elstree. The British Film Commission now lists more than 40 studio sites across the UK, catering to every kind of project.
One issue now being addressed is a potential skills shortage and a squeeze on crews. “We still do need a lot more people into the industry,” acknowledges Wootton. “When all this infrastructure comes on stream and starts to be populated with production, it will need more people.”
A National Skills Taskforce has bought together US studios, streamers and local broadcasters. A report, due to be published before the end of 2023, details how the industry will operate alongside universities and training colleges to ensure there are enough new recruits for UK film and television.
Following the formal withdrawal of the UK from the European Union in 2020, the UK has been signing a series of post-Brexit film and TV agreements with European partners, among them Spain and Austria. The idea is to encourage greater cultural, commercial and creative exchange with these partners while also supporting inward investment in film and high-end TV production in the relevant countries.
“I see us getting very busy again, very quickly,” says Wootton, who expects 2024 to be another bumper year for the UK film and TV sector. “The UK remains in an incredibly good position for the resumption of business.”
Crews are generally considered to be of a very high standard. Studio capacity has doubled over the past five years in response to demand, while visual effects and post-production has blossomed as more international filmmakers head for the UK.
The bigger studios are based in the south-east within easy reach of London and its main airports, which have frequent direct flights from the US. Talent tends to stay in central London. The distance from London’s West End to Pinewood Studios is approximately 20 miles, a journey that should take less than an hour through the capital’s traffic. Both Pinewood and Shepperton studios are within easy reach of one another, and of Heathrow Airport. Alternative shooting spaces and smaller studios are also readily available, both in the south-east and throughout the rest of the country.
First person to contact
Samantha Perahia, head of production UK, British Film Commission email@example.com
Wolf Studios Wales is the base for Bad Wolf, the production company in Cardiff set up by Julie Gardner and Jane Tranter, and is also expected to host third-party productions. Pinewood Studios Wales is also in Cardiff. Further shooting spaces include BBC Cymru Wales drama studios Roath Lock in Cardiff Bay, Dragon Studios in Bridgend and the facility at the former car factory in Swansea where Da Vinci’s Demons was shot. There are decent crews and film agency Wales Screen will help incoming producers find the technicians they need. It can also help to find accommodation and everything from animal providers to boat hire, location catering and how best to find post-production facilities.
Most filmmaking is concentrated in south Wales. Cardiff is easily accessible by plane, train or road. It is two hours from London by rail and three hours by road. The airport has international flights to much of Europe, including Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich and Barcelona.
First person to contact
Penny Skuse, south Wales office, Wales Screen firstname.lastname@example.org
Wardpark Film and Television Studios in Cumbernauld, Glasgow, is the home of Sony and Starz’s Outlander, which filmed its fifth series there earlier this year. The TV show has had a galvanising effect in Scotland similar to that of Game Of Thrones in Northern Ireland. Extra investment is being pumped into crafts-based and technical skills, with trainees emerging in fields such as plastering, painting and masonry. The UK’s National Film and Television School has recently established a new base in Scotland in an effort to demonstrate to international producers that crews are also based there.
Consultation is underway over the plans for a privately funded studio just outside Edinburgh, and it is expected that new Scottish studio in the Pelamis Building in Bath Road, Leith, which has already been used for Avengers: Infinity War, will open within months.
Studio-based film production tends to take place between Glasgow and Edinburgh, both of which have international airports and are within easy reach of each other. Scotland also boasts spectacular locations, some relatively far-flung. For example, Kristoffer Nyholm’s thriller The Vanishing, starring Gerard Butler and Peter Mullan, was shot in Dumfries and Galloway with support from the Production Growth Fund.
First person to contact
Brodie Pringle, head of screen commission, Creative Scotland email@example.com
The eight-acre Belfast Harbour Studios is a major development. Its first production was Superman prequel Krypton, made by Warner Horizon Scripted Television. HBO’s Game Of Thrones has had a transformative effect on the industry, not just in Northern Ireland but on the UK as a whole — its success helped usher in the high-end TV drama tax credit introduced in the UK in 2013.
Facilities in Northern Ireland have continued to improve (see above), as has the local skills base. The country is now able to host multiple films and TV dramas. There have been six series of Line Of Duty and many features including UK-Germany co-production The Keeper (formerly known as Trautmann).
Northern Ireland is a compact country that is easy to get around. After 30 years of The Troubles — during which nightlife was hazardous — the country is making up for lost time. Belfast has seen huge growth in leisure activities, with many restaurants, nightclubs and hotels opening. Outside the city, plenty of picturesque locations are within easy reach.
First person to contact
Andrew Reid, head of production, Northern Ireland Screen firstname.lastname@example.org.
The UK has long been renowned for its high-level technicians, but there has been intense pressure on crews in recent years. Independent UK producers have complained they cannot find the crew they need for their productions because so many workers are locked into long-term contracts with studios and streamers. Budgets and crew costs have gone up. The BFI has put in place the new National Skills Taskforce to address these problems.
The UK has strong transport links, with six airports in the London region alone. The opening of the Elizabeth Line, running west to east of London, has improved rail access to studios in the southeast.
First person to call
Samantha Perahia, head of production UK, British Film Commission