Fears that the UK film and TV industry might take years to recover from the pandemic have been dispelled in recent months by a tidal wave of investment in the UK and Ireland.
In February, it was annouced that Amazon Prime Video would be investing in a rumoured ten-year lease for space at Shepperton Studios in Surrey. The deal's apparently a record-breaker, and comes hot on the heels of similar deals between UK film studios and production giants such as Netflix and Disney.
You'd expect rampant upstarts Amazon and Netflix to be clamouring for space as they pivot heavily towards film production. But Disney's agreement with Pinewood Studios, along with the company's investment in a totally new studio site in Shinfield, goes some way to show that the UK isn't merely a new battleground in the streaming wars, but a country with long-term promise for US-based firms.
On top of the feeding frenzy over existing space, hundreds of millions is being invested to build new sites, including the £110m Dagenham Studios in East London, which could open its doors later this year, and a new "world-class" studio in Hertfordshire, reportedly costing £700m.
Bigger than Hollywood
In total, 20 new sites are in the works, bringing UK studio space up to 6.8 million sq ft. For context, the whole of Los Angeles has 5.3 million sq ft of studio space. "In terms of studio real estate, we’re currently bigger than Hollywood,” Ben Roberts, chief executive of the British Film Institute (BFI), told the i newspaper. Not a bad place to be.
The story's the same in Ireland. Flourishing alongside the country's recent glut of brilliant authors, the film industry's enjoying its own boom. Industry investment in Ireland surged by 40% in 2021, surpassing the previous 2019 record despite the uncertainty caused by COVID. Plenty of British actors have been making the leap over the Irish Sea to take part in productions, including Olivia Coleman and Letitia Wright.
If there's a downside to this expansion, it's that independent UK producers are likely to be met with higher prices for access to high-quality sound stages and set space. That's something the industry is aware of – hence the rush to approve planning permission for studios the length and breadth of the UK.
Then there's the skills shortage: the UK simply doesn't have enough technicians to work across all these new spaces, once they're completed. If you're in the market for a side hustle, gaining on-set experience could be a smart way to take advantage of the UK and Ireland's film and TV boom.
Otherwise, all this investment is obviously terrific news for British performers. Following a successful Oscars, with Brits Jenny Beavan, Joe Walker, Riz Ahmed, Aneil Karia and Kenneth Branagh all picking up an Academy Award, the UK film industry has never looked healthier.