Hollywood’s Sunset Studio to open new base in Hertfordshire

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Blackstone/PA</span>
Photograph: Blackstone/PA

Hollywood’s Sunset Studios, which produced La La Land, Zoolander and the first in the X-Men franchise, has become the latest US movie production house to adopt the leafy Hertfordshire countryside as its main base outside the US.

Backed by £700m from two major US investment firms, the TV and film studio complex will create more than 4,500 jobson a 37-hectare (91-acre) greenfield site in Broxbourne, close to the arc of rival studio complexes north-west of London known as Britain’s Hollywood.

The area is already home to independent Elstree Studios, where Paddington, Netflix series The Crown and the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing are filmed, as well as the BBC’s own Elstree studio, which is home to EastEnders.

Sky is in the process of building a 13-hectare studio complex in Elstree which will be home for the TV group and NBCUniversal, which owns The Fast and the Furious-maker Universal Studios.

There is also a proposal by property developer Bidwells to create Hertswood Studio, a complex including 21 stages, production offices and a film training college, at nearby Borehamwood.

Warner Brothers Studios, where the third film in the Fantastic Beasts Harry Potter spin-off is currently being shot, is in nearby Leavesden.

Sunset is expected to be the largest film and TV studio campus in the UK, with between 15 and 25 sound stages contributing £300m a year to the local economy, if planning approval is given. The group currently owns three studios in Hollywood and announced plans for a fourth – Sunset Glenoaks – last week.

James Seppala, head of Blackstone Real Estate Europe, which with Hudson Pacific Properties have acquired the Broxbourne site, said the UK site would be “a world-class studio facility that will help ensure that the UK continues to be a premier destination for content production globally”.

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The prime minister, Boris Johnson, welcomed the project saying it was “excellent news for the UK’s film and TV industry”.

“The creative industries are at the heart of our plans to build back better. This will be a hub for both UK and international productions, showcasing homegrown talent on the global stage,” he said.

The Sunset development comes amid a surge in film and TV production spend in the UK resulting from a mix of tax breaks and strong demand for new content created by the growth of streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

International film and high-end TV production spend in the UK topped £2.34bn in 2020, according to the British Film Commission (BFC), the agency responsible for attracting film and TV productions.

While spending was down on a record £3bn in 2019, as many productions were put on hold during the pandemic, the industry returned to growth in the final part of 2020.

New investment came from blockbusters including Jurassic World: Dominion, which has been filming at Pinewood to the west of London, and Mission: Impossible 7 starring Tom Cruise, which has been filming at Longcross studios in Surrey.

“One thing that has become obvious is that the appetite for film and television content from consumers has gone through the roof,” said Adrian Wootton, the chief executive of the BFC.

“Streaming subscriptions for firms like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and Disney have just got bigger and bigger and the pandemic has accelerated that. People have short attention spans and are consuming more and more content.”

Wootton said that the BFC was expecting demand for filming facilities in the UK to continue to grow because of that demand and ongoing government incentives as well as the country’s established infrastructure, talent and skills base, particularly in areas such as special effects. He said the UK had also been helped by a strong reputation for health and safety measures during the pandemic.

To keep pace with demand, 2.3m sq ft of new sound stage space is required in the UK by 2033 to according to a report by property advisory firm Lambert Smith Howard.

Developers have embarked on a land grab to secure sites to become the home of the next production to rival Game of Thrones, The Crown or Harry Potter.

Pinewood, the UK’s biggest studio and permanent home to the James Bond and Star Wars franchises, is to double in size. Pinewood-owned Shepperton, which has a long-term production deal with Netflix, is quadrupling in size.

Last year, the US production outfit behind blockbusters including Venom and Godzilla, Blackhall Studios, unveiled plans for a £150m production complex in Reading.

US property developer Hackman Capital Partners, which owns studios where films including Gone with the Wind were filmed, is investing £300m to build a Hollywood-style production complex in Dagenham, east London.

Last year, the green light was given for a £250m film and TV studio complex in Ashford, Kent, on a former locomotive manufacturing site.

In 2019, Steven Knight, the writer and creator of the Birmingham-set drama Peaky Blinders, unveiled a £100m plan for a film and TV studio in the West Midlands.

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