The studios behind the headlines, part 1: Twickenham
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The studios behind the headlines, part 1: Twickenham

The successful sector, pre-Covid and beyond

The nation’s creative industries were thriving before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

In 2018, the sector was the UK economy’s fastest-growing and creating jobs at twice the rate of the UK’s average job growth, while the 2019 spend on high-end TV and film production in the UK reached £3.62 billion, up 16% on 2018 and the highest 12-month figure on record.

As is always the case in times of economic upheaval or natural disaster, the Covid-19 pandemic has created winners and losers.

The UK’s creative industries – broadcasting and film-making among them – have been disrupted, consumer behaviour has changed and online video’s value and popularity have soared as people have been asked to stay at home.

That has intensified competition among the leading SVOD players, such as Netflix and Disney+, according to Ofcom’s Media Nations report of November 2020.

And as competition hots up, demand for both content and production capacity surges.

While locating studio space here has long been a challenge for producers, current conditions have led to huge investments in studio facilities to counter the shortage and massively boost supply.

And because our creative industries were already relatively healthy, the UK – and its highly skilled, talented and experienced workforce – remains the world’s busiest production hub.

New series

In a new series, Frame 25 takes a closer look at what’s behind the recent development of several large-scale studios in the UK and shines a spotlight on the facilities grabbing the headlines.

Adrian Wootton, chief executive of Film London and the British Film Commission:

“The UK screen industries are enjoying an exceptional boom time and it is crucial that we capitalise on this by continuing to develop our world-class infrastructure and provide access to as much purpose-built studio space as we possibly can.”

Part 1: Twickenham Studios

Location: Twickenham, south-west London.

Story: While this corner of the capital is more synonymous with rugby and scrums than riggers and sound stages, a 50% stake in Twickenham Studios was acquired for £50 million by Piers Read and Jeremy Rainbird in February 2020, taking management control through their company, The Creative District Improvement Company (TCDI Co).

The stake was acquired from Twickenham Studios owner Sunny Vohra, who holds the remaining 50% and continues as chairman.

Who they are: Both executives have property experience as well as TV expertise. Piers Read was a developer and former MD at Wimbledon Studios, and later produced The Inbetweeners and Peep Show; Jeremy Rainbird, meanwhile, developed offices in Hackney before launching Bafta-winning production company Merman, whose TV projects include Catastrophe for Channel 4/Amazon.

Their company, TCDI Co, is backed by a global consortium consisting of private equity and institutional money, including the British Airways Pension Fund, worth more than £500 million.

They’re investing in a network of film and TV studios across the UK – some new-builds, others existing – to capitalise on the country’s dramatic rise in production. TCDI Co also plans to expand into Europe and the US to meet the rapid increase in demand for content.

The Twickenham acquisition is part of that project, which includes Ashford International Studios in Kent and Littlewoods Studios in Liverpool and is operated by TCDI Co’s sister company, TIME + SPACE Studios.

Time + Space Studios has committed to creating 5,000 jobs and operating one million square feet of production space by 2024.

What they say: “Traditionally, investors have considered studios too risky but we’ve had a lifetime in the industry and understand what producers need. We can show developers how we can make it work for them and bring huge economic benefits to the community.” – Piers Read

What’s the plan? The money is scheduled to be used to expand the site and add more stages and workspaces.

“Additions to the existing three stages and the post-production sound and picture facilities, as well as expanding the Media Village, offering a combination of serviced offices and co-working to start-ups and SMEs working in the tech, digital and creative industries.” (twickenhamstudios.com/aboutus)

TCDI said it would also develop educational partnerships with the likes of Kent University to improve skills.

Titles produced using Twickenham’s production or post-production facilities:

  • The Eagle Has Landed
  • Zulu
  • Alfie
  • A Hard Day’s Night
  • Help!
  • The Italian Job
  • Blade Runner
  • An American Werewolf in London
  • Gandhi
  • Superman
  • The French Lieutenant's Woman
  • Shirley Valentine
  • Straw Dogs
  • Bohemian Rhapsody (the Oscar-winning sound work)
  • War Horse
  • 1917
  • Baby Driver
  • The Iron Lady
  • The Witcher
  • Belgravia
  • Black Mirror
  • The Duchess
  • Enola Holmes

The big picture: Twickenham Studios is among a number of new creative hubs in the UK to be developed. Atlanta-based Blackhall Studios has announced plans to create the UK’s largest purpose-built studio complex, Sky is developing a new 32-acre production complex in Elstree, while Netflix and Disney have both signed deals to take over existing space at Shepperton and Pinewood Studios.

Beyond that, Hackman Capital Partners, one of Hollywood’s biggest property developers, has agreed a £300 million deal to build the Eastbrook Studios complex in Dagenham, east London.

This Frame 25 series continues over the coming weeks, and will examine many of those deals.