Piers Read, managing director of Wimbledon Film and Television Studios, tells us why his new production facility offers everything a filmmaker could ever want…
Firstly, can you tell us a little about the history of Wimbledon Film and Television Studios, and how you came to be involved?
The studio was formerly known as Merton Studios until October 2010. It had been the home to ITV’s The Bill for 27 years and owned by Fremantle Media. During that time it had never really been available as a commercial entity. When the news broke that The Bill was to end, I approached Fremantle with a view to my location agency, UnitBase.co.uk, representing the studio. After lengthy discussions they declined the offer because they had decided to sell the complex. Knowing the studio had massive potential, I asked a few key people to join me and started looking for investors. We formed a consortium led by myself and my co-director John Brennan, backed by investor Panther Securities PLC, and purchased Merton Studios from Fremantle Media in September 2010, with the intention of reinventing it into the UK’s elite studio.
What facilities are available to those filmmakers choosing Wimbledon?
We have four stages of up to 8,000 sq. ft., plus over fifty free-standing permanent sets including hospitals, police stations, courtrooms, prisons and an exterior street set. The beauty of the sets for filmmakers is they now have an option to pretty much shoot everything under one roof, in a self-contained and controllable environment.
We also offer several large open-plan production offices, and a brand new restaurant and coffee bar for catering purposes. We have also just opened the Costume Store, which has over 45,000 contemporary costumes on site that are available for hire.
In addition, the on-site Media Village is full of industry-related independent companies of all sizes, which all offer services to enhance the ‘Wimbledon experience’. One of the first companies to move into the Media Village was Pro3d and, by doing so, have already given the studio an industry first by opening the world’s first dedicated stereoscopic post-production training facility dedicated to CineForm Neo3D. We also have Decode providing lighting, cameras and 3D rigs, as well as a dedicated post-production facility on site.
A number of productions have been using the studio as their production base, often shooting on existing sets whilst they set-build on the stages. This saves the enormous amount of money that’s usually spent on location fees and the associated costs of being on the road. We want to promote money being spent on screen rather than on fuel and running costs.
What kinds of production do you hope to attract to Wimbledon?
We are targeting all productions, and everyone is welcome, but as a former line producer, I must say I feel we are especially set up to accommodate feature films and television dramas. The size and quality of facilities here are so good, that we can comfortably house multiple productions and still cater to the individual needs of our clients.
The exciting thing for the industry is that Wimbledon Film and Television Studios can house virtually any production shooting in the UK. From earliest pre-production, to shooting and into post-production, we have the facilities, expertise and space to offer clients a self-contained studio complex. Early feedback to the refurbished studios has been very positive and reinforced our opinion that the studio has the potential to become the capital’s most central and unique production base.
As such a key player in the UK industry, what are your thoughts on the future of British film, the closure of the UKFC and the increased role of the BFI?
The closure of the UK Film Council is a great pity. It’s fitting that The King’s Speech won an Oscar in the same year the coalition government closed [the UKFC], given that this was exactly the sort of inward investment they had secured for the industry in the UK. Their legacy will be strong, however; their work over the past decade has firmly put the UK on the map and we are now the world’s third top filming destination. Given the circumstances, we must be confident that the BFI will continue this great work. In my opinion, there isn’t a better organisation than the BFI to lead the UK market, given their heritage and international status. We are very much looking forward to working closely with the BFI, in similar ways to how we worked with the UK Film Council.
Do you think the UK is strong enough in its current state to attract foreign productions?
I do think it is strong. Certainly the bookings we have in the pipeline, backed by US money, indicate that foreign productions want to come to the UK. Provided the tax breaks remain stable and the exchange rate remains favourable, there is no reason for foreign productions not to come, given the quality of professionals, facilities and locations throughout the UK. London is the third busiest production centre in the world, behind only LA and New York. Production makes a vital contribution to the city’s economy and we are keen to help make it even more attractive.
What productions have shot at Wimbledon so far?
We’ve had several large-scale feature films here, as well as numerous television dramas. The Iron Lady, in which Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher, was shot in one of our stages and is probably the biggest credit to date. They hired our House of Commons set, which is an exact replica of the real one. It looked totally authentic and the production team was very happy with their experience here.
Wimbledon will also be open for events, such as The Bill studio tour. Are such initiatives important to the future of the studio?
The idea behind running The Bill tours was to recognise the studio’s great heritage and we thought we would give the show’s fans the chance to visit the sets. From a commercial perspective, this is not something that essential to the future of the studio. So far the response has been very good with quite a number of people pre-registering for the tours, so we will just see how it goes. We will also be having a number of industry open days as well as 3D training days held by Andy Bellamy at Pro3d.
What do you think makes Wimbledon Studios unique?
Without question it’s the sets; we are the only studio complex in the UK that can offer purpose-built sets that are permanently standing by, immaculately dressed and ready to be hired. Furthermore, the sets here are the locations that are typically very difficult to film at. We are delighted to have been able to provide a solution for the industry to easily utilise such difficult-to-find locations.
What does the future hold for Wimbledon?
We have lots of exciting new facilities coming to the studio that will be available between now and the end of the year. These include more purpose-built sets and the installation of a state-of-the-art 3D gallery to accommodate light entertainment studio shows. We have just undertaken advanced soundproofing across the stages, so look out for more announcements.
Discover more about Wimbledon Film and Television Studios by visiting www.wimbledonstudios.com