The studios behind the headlines, part 3: Elstree Studios
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The studios behind the headlines, part 3: Elstree Studios

Frame 25’s series looking at the flood of investment in studio space here continues. Part 3 delves into the backstory of what’s going on at Elstree Studios…

How we got here

Amid the pandemic and the various restrictions that have been imposed by governments around the world as a result, the biggest SVOD platforms are enjoying extraordinary growth.

Netflix now has 203.7 million subscribers, Amazon is estimated to have about 147 million, while Disney+ has already passed 100 million after launching only 16 months ago.

Here in the UK, and as we established in parts one and two of the series, the nation’s creative industries were doing well before Covid hit.

The sector was the UK economy’s fastest-growing in 2018, its job creation rate was running at twice that of the UK’s average, and spending on high-end TV and film production here reached £3.62 billion in 2019.

What else is driving investment in the UK?

Locating UK studio space has seldom been easy but the conditions outlined above, combined with a highly skilled and experienced workforce, have led to huge investments in studio facilities in what remains the world’s busiest production hub.

But that’s only part of the story.

Other factors are at play too, including tax relief of up to 25% available for films and high-end TV programmes that qualify as British, while a weaker pound against the dollar attracts US producers.

Previously…

Part one went behind the scenes at Twickenham Studios in south-west London, and in part two we looked at the new Sky Studios Elstree.

And this month we look at another facility north of London, and just up the road from Sky’s £400 million development:

Part 3: Elstree Studios

Location: Borehamwood, Hertfordshire (15 miles north of central London).

The existing Elstree Studios (located on Shenley Road and highlighted on this page), the BBC’s Elstree Centre (Eldon Avenue), and the forthcoming Sky Studios Elstree (Rowley Lane) are all located/to be located in Borehamwood, rather than Elstree, in the borough of Hertsmere.

Elstree, a neighbouring town, was once the larger of the two. Although Borehamwood is now significantly bigger, the facilities’ names remain.


Story: Elstree Studios is known as the birthplace of Star Wars and despite staying open throughout the pandemic, and enjoying 97% occupancy, it has had to turn away contracts worth millions of pounds because of a lack of capacity. Plans to expand, therefore, using £6 million of public funding and approved by Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership in October 2020, are vital to its long-term success.


Who they are: Roger Morris, who last month celebrated 12 years as Elstree Studios’ managing director, has been instrumental in its success. Under his tenure, Elstree’s profitability has grown by 350%, the company has provided the facilities behind numerous top shows and film productions, and agreed technical partnership deals with BBC StudioWorks.

Also involved in the deal is the studios’ owner, Hertsmere Borough Council.


What they say: Roger Morris, MD, Elstree Studios: “Two new stages that take us to nine in total; three proper TV stages; a relationship with Universal production services which gives us access to their superb LED lighting and grip services; and a fantastic backlot with environmentally friendly surface, bio generators, heat pumps that are being installed and green energy supplies.”

Councillor Morris Bright, leader of Hertsmere Borough Council: “Elstree Studios has been the beating heart of our borough for nearly 100 years. Alongside the council's own funding commitment, this agreement with Herts LEP, means we have secured the future of the studios for generations to come. Not only is the ongoing vitality of the studios secured, this deal represents a huge opportunity for our residents, businesses and the UK creative sector.”


What’s the plan? The two new sound stages are to be built on the site of the former Big Brother house, and ancillary workshops established, creating at least 800 jobs over the next 50 years and giving Elstree more stage space than it had in its post-war heyday.

Prior to the granting of funds for expansion, a further £6 million had been approved in August 2020, through which £100,000 per year is to be diverted from the rental income received by Hertsmere Borough Council, for investment in the creative sector locally.

Additionally, 100 new learner and apprenticeship opportunities will be created as part of the investment project.

Titles produced using Elstree’s facilities:

  • The Star Wars trilogy
  • Superman
  • The Shining
  • The Indiana Jones trilogy
  • Have I Got News For You?
  • Paddington
  • The King’s Speech
  • The Crown
  • Strictly Come Dancing
  • The Voice
  • The Chase
  • Big Brother
  • Pointless
  • Celebrity Juice
  • Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
  • The Danish Girl
  • Jack The Giant Slayer
  • A League of Their Own
  • Room 101
  • Labyrinth
  • Suffragette
  • World War Z
  • The World’s End

The big picture: Elstree 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, Netflix and Disney have both signed deals to take over existing space at Shepperton and Pinewood Studios respectively, and there are plans to develop studio space in Ashford, Kent, Birmingham and Dagenham, east London.

It has also emerged recently that Apple is develop studio space just outside Aylesbury, just up the road from Frame 25 HQ.

The series continues next month.