South East filming industry booming but challenges remain
Tax incentives have led to explosive growth but studio space and skills shortage problems still need to be addressed
The stars have aligned for the South East’s film industry with the region’s attributes creating a global appeal that has triggered a studio construction boom.
Tax incentives, a skilled workforce, location options and a weak pound have created a big bang which has seen inward investment surge with the British Film Institute reporting inward investment spend from major international productions in 2021 topping record levels, at £4.7 billion.
Tax has proven pivotal according to the industry with a 25% cash rebate that applies to actors’ salaries and other so-called above-the-line costs attracting major international studios.
Streaming companies are digging in with Apple TV setting up at Symmetry Park, The Walt Disney Company embedding in Pinewood Studios, Amazon Prime at Pinewood Group’s Shepperton Studios and Netflix also setting up camp at Shepperton and Longcross Film Studios.
The UK’s film and TV studios have struggled to meet booming demand for production space in recent years.
This has triggered a wave of new studio developments, warehouse conversions and extensions to existing studios but the current development pipeline still appears insufficient to satisfy future demand.
Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH) estimates that 2.3 million sq ft of new sound stage space, on top of what is in the pipeline, will be required by 2033.
Research conducted by PwC has estimated that the UK is missing out on as many as eight blockbuster films per year due to a lack of studio space.
Adrian Wootton, CEO of the British Film Commission, said: “Globally, we’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of film and high-end TV production commissioned in recent years. With more and more content being consumed each year, this growth trajectory is only set to continue.
"As a result, the UK is enjoying a significant production boom, translating into thousands of new jobs across the UK’s nations and regions.
“Indeed, record levels of inward investment production spend in 2021 reinforce UK’s position as a leading global production centre. And we are able to make the most of it thanks to our underlying strengths: world-class UK studios and infrastructure, award-winning talent in front of and behind the camera, globally respected VFX and post-production facilities.
"Our tax reliefs are widely recognised as one of the most transparent, inclusive and reliable production incentives in the world. And the sheer breadth of locations, from medieval castles to modernist skyscrapers, is hard to beat."
A number of major building projects, detailed in the following pages, are seeking to address this shortage of studio space and future-proof the industry in the South East.
Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire is developing Screen Hub UK which will see a £450m expansion to its current site and include studio buildings, education and business growth hubs and the Pinewood Studios Experience.
At Pinewood's Shepperton Studios, long term deals with Netflix and Amazon Prime will see multiple new stages and facilities developed.
Shinfield Studios, based at the Thames Valley Science Park, already has four stages in place, five more opening in 2023 and an 18 stage Creative Media Hub opening in 2024.
A planning application has been submitted to create Marlow Film Studios which will be built on former gravel pits and will be made up of two film production clusters, a mix of soundstages, workshops and offices.
The people behind the project - a team of local entrepreneurs and arts industry professionals - said that the development would deliver 4,180 jobs.
Growth in international streaming markets coupled with the clustering effect in London and the South East means that the region is likely to persist as the dominant location for production in the UK.
In the past two years, Stage Fifty has built Farnborough Film Studios and Winnersh Film Studios and is currently building its third site in the UK, Wycombe Film Studio, to meet the increasing demand for high-quality stage space.
James Enright, CEO of Stage Fifty, said: “The film industry is experiencing an unprecedented boom, with production companies from all over the world choosing to shoot their upcoming films and TV shows across the UK.
“The Golden Triangle sits within the South East and it has become the go-to place to build new studios as it is ideally located for existing skilled crew who are based in this area, easy access to international airports for crew and talent, existing infrastructure including post-production houses, VFX and prop makers alongside an array of specialist manufacturers who supply the film industry.”
The Stage Fifty CEO said the impact of his current and existing sites would have a sizeable impact on the surrounding economy with productions having a trickle-down effect and pointed to Winnersh Film Studios.
He said: “Stage Fifty’s second film studio site in the UK, Winnersh Film Studios, will bring an estimated £50m economic boost to the UK economy annually, creating around 500 new jobs in the UK film and production sector and will support a further 500 indirect jobs in the supply chain.
“The jobs themselves are skilled, exciting, and varied, with production companies needing crew to staff various departments, including hair and makeup, costumes, set design and construction, producers, runners and many more”
The rapid growth of the industry in the South East and beyond has created an acute shortage of skilled crews.
UK film and premium television production is expected to reach £7.6bn by 2025 and will require around 19,000 crew to meet demand, according to a report by ScreenSkills, a non-profit organisation that trains production crews.
The Stage Fifty CEO said the skills shortage was a major issue.
He said: “The main issues are crew shortages across the board, from runners to accountants and there are skills shortages, especially in specialist areas such as Virtual Production, VFX, creative departments including art department, camera and costume.
“There is also a shortage of specialist equipment hire such as lights and cameras and a general shortage of building supplies.”