Spotlight on the UK

Outside North America, the UK is currently “the number-one territory for inward investment production in the world” - Adrian Wootton, CEO, BFC and Film London

By Geoffrey Macnab 28 Oct 2022

Spotlight on the UK

The statistics released by the British Film Institute in early 2022 were eye-­watering, even by pre-­pandemic standards. Film and high-end television production spend for 2021 in the UK was more than $6.3bn (£5.6bn), a record level that had been achieved in spite of Covid‑19 restrictions still in place. The question had ceased to be, why do international film and TV productions come to the UK? Rather it was now, why would they go anywhere else?

Outside North America, the UK is currently “the number-one territory for inward investment production in the world”, according to Adrian Wootton, chief executive of the British Film Commission and Film London.

Speaking in late summer 2022, Wootton confirmed there had been no “diminution of activity” because of streamers shedding subscriber numbers or the sharp rise in inflation in the UK in recent months. “We’re still getting huge amounts of requests,” he said of the number of film and TV productions heading to the UK.

The major development over the last 18 months has been the sustained investment in new infrastructure. Established studios have been expanding while several new facilities have opened. There are now close to 40 dedicated studios across the UK (not including alternative spaces such as old factories that are sometimes customised for filmmaking). 

The Wharf in Barking is now operational with six stages. Twelve new stages at Eastbrook in Dagenham are expected to be operational by the end of 2023. According to Wootton, “billions of pounds of private investment” will pour into the UK over the next three years.

Moreover, the work is no longer concentrated, as it once was, in London and the southeast. The UK has seven different production hubs: London and the southeast, the southwest, the northwest, Yorkshire, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. All regions report they are, in the words of Northern Ireland Screen’s head of production Andrew Reid, “exceptionally busy on large-scale work”.

In 2021, Warner Bros and HBO Max’s Batgirl became the first major US studio feature to be based entirely in Scotland, with Gotham City recreated in Glasgow. Although the film is unfinished following restructuring at Warner Bros, Scotland has now grown from a destination for location-based filming to a competitive option for international productions looking for somewhere to base their entire shoot. 

Among the many other films and TV dramas to have shot in the UK are Paramount’s Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One and Part Two; Paul King’s Wonka (a prequel to Charlie And The Chocolate Factory being made by Heyday Films for Warner Bros); Amazon Studios TV series Citadel; the Netflix film adaptation of BBC drama Luther starring Idris Elba; A24’s Alex Garland horror Men, starring Jessie Buckley; Hulu’s series Conversations With Friends, adapted from Sally Rooney’s novel; Paul Feig’s young-adult fantasy film The School For Good And Evil for Netflix; the new Disney+ version of Willow; Marvel’s Ant‑Man And The Wasp: Quantumania; Paramount’s Dungeons & Dragons; series seven of Starz’s Outlander; Gareth Evans’ Net­flix feature Havoc starring Tom Hardy; and Amazon’s Anansi BoysThe Rig and Good Omens.

The third series of Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso has been shooting in London. Outlander has been back in Scotland. Meanwhile, Ridley Scott’s latest epic Napoleon recently wrapped, having shot in Greenwich, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Lincoln.

Executives at the British Film Commission film agency compare themselves to “traffic controllers when trying to accommodate these projects, moving things around to help productions land and get the personnel they need in order to deliver the product”.

Film tax relief, introduced in 2007 and subsequently extended to high-end TV drama, animation and video games, is one of the prime attractions for international production. All qualifying films at any budget level can claim a rebate of up to 25% on UK qualifying expenditure. According to a BFI Screen Business report published in December 2021, every $1.10 (£1) of UK film tax relief generates $9.30 (£8.30) back to the UK economy. Other international territories may now offer higher incentives, but the UK tax credit is regarded as dependable and user-friendly. “It’s still a massively important and significant lever for why people are coming here,” says one well-placed observer.

Regional funding is also available. Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and some of the English regions (among them Screen Yorkshire and Liverpool) are all able to invest in production. New filmmaking spaces continue to emerge. In August 2021, US investment group Blackstone and Hudson Pacific Properties announced it would invest $975m in a film and TV studio in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. This year is expected to see the opening of the Digbeth Loc Studios in Birmingham — a development championed by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight. Scotland’s new Kelvin Hall studios will host its first drama productions, while the new FirstStage Studios is already housing big‑budget Amazon shows such as The Rig and Anansi Boys.

Meanwhile, the UK is benefiting from massively increased production investment from major streamers. Apple, Amazon, HBO, Paramount+, Disney+ and Netflix have been active in the UK alongside the traditional studios. Many have put down roots and secured their own studio facilities. Inward investment spend on high-end TV drama being made in the UK increased 180% in a single year (2021, compared to the previous year), according to the British Film Commission. “They didn’t just want to come in [to the UK] and go out again because so much of their production is high-end episodic, which requires a much longer base to it,” Wootton explains of why streamers are making long-term commitments to the UK. “That shifts the paradigm from what it has been before.”

On the VFX front, Industrial Light & Magic opened the largest volumetric stage in the UK at Pinewood Studios in 2021, while leading UK VFX firms Framestore, Moving Picture Company and DNEG are further developing their virtual production capabilities. Virtual production facility Studio Ulster is due to open in Northern Ireland as well.

In early 2022, Amazon committed to a long-term, 10-year lease of space at Shepperton Studios in Surrey. The streaming giant is said to have 15 shows in development in the UK, plus The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power, whose second series moved to the territory.

“That’s a whole level of private investment in bricks and mortar, and studio space, which we’ve not seen in my lifetime,” notes Wootton. “That is hundreds of millions of pounds worth of private investment.” He talks of the “incredible talent base” in front of and behind the camera, while also arguing that the UK is still competitive on costs.

Boom in production

One obvious challenge of the ongoing boom in production activity, though, is the increased pressure on crews. With numerous projects postponed during the early part of the pandemic, there has been intense competition for the best technicians. Responding to the skills squeeze in the summer of 2021, the British Film Institute launched a UK-wide skills review in close collaboration with industry to address potential shortages. The review has now delivered its findings.

“It is tough, definitely tough, but the skills review has sharpened the focus,” Wootton says, listing various new initiatives across the UK, among them the mayor of London’s deal with Universal to put trainees in every department of every major film the studio makes in the new Sky Studios Elstree. “It’s a challenge. There’s no five-minute solution but it’s also a fantastic opportunity,” Wootton notes, pointing to the chance to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce across UK film and TV.

The talk among organisations like the British Film Commission and industry-­led skills body ScreenSkills has been of future-proofing the industry through enhanced training and apprenticeship schemes. Major international companies such as Netflix, Amazon and Warner Bros are investing in UK talent development programmes. “The dial is moving, and it’s moving quite fast because everyone realises this is a golden opportunity. It’s in our own hands to make sure we don’t lose it to our competitors,” Wootton says of the many skills-based initiatives being hatched. “This is a global issue, but I think the UK is grasping the nettle.”

Infrastructure and crew

There has been a squeeze on crews during the ongoing production boom, but shortages are being addressed by training and apprenticeship initiatives.


The UK’s transport infrastructure is strong. London and the southeast are within easy reach of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, as well as the English regions.

Click here to see selected production service companies in the UK.

Click here to see the filming guide for the UK.

Read the full report in our latest edition of World of Locations

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