– . – Location Focus: Pinewood Studios
Location Focus: Pinewood Studios
Pinewood Goes Global
As the Pinewood Studio Group expands into Canada, Germany and Malaysia, we look at how it is making a global impact.
Film has long been a global industry, following a footloose production model that has seen features chase locations and tax breaks around the world. If there is any locational stickiness, it’s down to infrastructure; productions are understandably keen to maximise the use of the experienced studios and post-production clusters etc. that you get servicing an established industry. Now, however, that previously tethered expertise is itself starting to go global.
The Pinewood Studios Group is at the forefront of this move, inking deals with studios in Toronto, Berlin and Malaysia to take what commercial director Nick Smith refers to as its “iconic brand” and put it on an international footing. “Pinewood is known internationally,” he says, “and as the film market develops and grows ever more international, grows further away from its previous power bases as more and more countries actively try to attract work, our goal is to use the brand to gain a slice of that work.”
Toronto was the first deal, with a comprehensive sales and marketing agreement signed in June 2009 which saw the city’s largest studio operation, Filmport Studios, rebadged as Pinewood Toronto Studios. Toronto is a fecund market, and Smith states that it has more co-production deals with more countries than anywhere else in the world. There is also an attractive tax break system for film and television, all of which leads to a contribution of around $1bn a year to the local economy. Pinewood Toronto itself, meanwhile, has more than 250,000 sq.ft. of production space, and includes North America’s largest purpose-built sound stage, the Mega Stage, which clocks in at an impressive 46,000 sq.ft.
The German deal, which is a joint venture with Studio Hamburg and titled Pinewood Studio Berlin Film Services, has been set up to help European and international filmmakers take advantage of the benefits to be gained by filming in Germany, including tapping into German coin. In addition, Pinewood can act as co-producers, a move which could potentially open the way to establishing a European, or even global, production services business.
Construction of Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios will begin towards the tail end of 2010, with completion expected by the end of 2012. Featuring over 100,000 sq.ft of film stages and 60,000 sq.ft. of TV studios on the doorstep of Singapore, it’s an impressively-specced facility with an avowed focus on the Bollywood, Chinese and South East Asian production markets.
Smith points out that these are complementary deals rather than competitive ones. “We have to be careful that we are not diverting films that would have been destined for the core business in the UK. But Pinewood’s specialism is in big-budget Hollywood films, and smaller UK films, and none of these new studios are in that market.
The business plan sees Pinewood receive consultancy and brand licence fees for sales and marketing services from the deals which, according to its latest publicly released figures, totalled £0.5m in 2009. And while that is perhaps not yet in the realm of Pinewood chief executive Ivan Dunleavy’s goal of building a “meaningful new revenue stream” by exploiting its expertise and brand on the international stage, it’s definitely a good start.
Perhaps what is really intriguing about Pinewood’s move, however, is the potential it offers for distributing
production around the network. While Smith admits that it’s going to take a couple of years to see strong, embedded connections between the facilities, he also highlights the possibility of a film shooting in Toronto and posting, for instance, in the UK. This will enable productions to be truly footloose and able to take advantage of different tax breaks and financial incentives in different territories, all within the umbrella of an overall service provider.
And, crucially, that service provider will be able to leverage economies of scale and its combined negotiating power to negotiate what Smith refers to as “significant savings” for film productions. “One of the biggest changes of the past five years is that financing options for films have disappeared,” he says. ‘Budgets are under pressure at the same time as the demand for content is growing exponentially. We feel there is a real opportunity for an organisation like ours to come along and use our size and our position in the market to be able to negotiate keenly with key suppliers to the industry, camera rental companies, post-production providers and the like, and offer real value to productions.”
The dramatic increase in production capacity also heralds the possibility of the company being able to block-book tranches of work from film companies. “Rather than go to a Disney or a Warner Bros. and talk about a single title, we could make a fixed-price bid for a range of multiple titles,” says Smith. “It’s early days, but everyone we’re talking to in a meaningful manner about the new network is showing a serious level of interest.”
Smith is understandably cagey about revealing future plans, but makes no secret of the fact that Pinewood is looking at other international opportunities that will be strategically dotted around the world’s global film community. Certainly it’s not hard to see where the gaps currently are, and with the synergism of the network likely to start kicking in over the next few years, it’s also not hard to predict that they will be filled in sooner rather than later. •