The creative industries are now worth £76.9 billion per year to the UK economy, according to recent Government figures, with Hertfordshire now playing a leading role.
The county is fast becoming the core of the UK’s media industry. Its location within the ‘super-region’ of South East England and London now accounts for approximately 60 per cent of the UK’s film and TV production, according to Creative England.
There are over 1,000 companies in the film and TV cluster in Hertfordshire. At its core are the twin peaks of film and TV production located just seven miles apart at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood and Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden (WBSL).
Meanwhile over at the University of Hertfordshire, the next generation of film-makers is being nurtured thanks to its film and media school which has close ties with the local industry and its animation school is now ranked in the top 20 in the world. And Borehamwood is now home to the first University Technical College which opened in 2013 and offers full-time technically-oriented courses to 600 plus students aged14-19.
Chairman of the Governors of the EUTC, Roger Morris, also Managing Director of Elstree Studios, said that the EUTC is vitally important to provide the next generation of creative industry professionals working behind the camera. To this end it works with its co-sponsors for the EUTC, the University of Hertfordshire and Meller Educational Trust. Roger is also helping to promote the work of The Royal Opera House Bridge in the East of England to encourage creative education in schools throughout the region.
The industry is also benefiting from substantial tax incentives for the sector which is making the UK an increasingly attractive location for film-makers. Recent statistics released by the British Film Industry show that US studios are filming an increasing number of multi-million pound blockbusters in the UK, generating over £1.4bn in 2014.
Warner Bros. is the only Hollywood studio to own a production facility in the UK where it has based forthcoming releases Pan, Joe Wright’s epic fantasy, action adventure Tarzan: The Untamed and thriller In The Heart of the Sea.
Elstree Studios has also benefited. The studio has just announced it has secured the contract for the £100m biopic, The Crown, which is due to premiere on Netflix within the next two years. Directed by Billy Elliot’s director Stephen Daldry and produced by Left Bank Pictures, The Crown is a major coup for Hertfordshire. They will be based at Elstree Studios for at least two years.
Roger Morris said: “This is so important for the studios and the local economy. This is just the start of more high-end dramas coming here. It was our ambition to exploit fully everything Elstree Studios could offer to this part of the market. Now it feels we have got there. The Government’s tax incentives for high-end television drama are a success in attracting these major international productions to the UK.”
Even the county’s towns, stately homes and green spaces have all brought in significant revenue thanks to film tourism. Two recent feature films made at Elstree Studios were also shot on location locally: Hatfield House for the marmalade-loving Paddington and Welwyn Garden City became the fictional town of Newton Haven for the shooting of sci-fi comedy The World’s End.
Since April 2012, Creative England, which has its East of England base at Elstree Studios, has supported 170 productions to film on location in Hertfordshire. This amounts to 851 shoot days, equating to £18m estimated spend in the county. Hertfordshire has also signed up to Creative England’s Film Friendly Partnership charter, signalling to movie-makers that Hertfordshire is firmly on the map for future film locations. And in a bid to encourage further investment the county council, in an initiative lead by Morris Bright, Leader of Hertsmere Borough Council and Chair of the Board of Directors at Elstree Studios, has gained legal powers via a Bill in Parliament to speed up the process to close roads for filming.
It is little wonder then that Hertfordshire LEP is actively supporting UK Trade and Investment’s strategy to promote the creative sector as a priority area for inward investment.
Dan Dark, Senior Vice President and MD of WBSL and LEP Board Member, said: “Hertfordshire has a long history of film-making and TV production. Its vast number of media-related industries and its proximity to London makes this a very compelling sector for investment.”
The buoyancy of the market is reflected in the pace of development. At WBSL Hollywood meets Watford. Continued investment in the site has led to the launch this year of three new sound stages and further ongoing construction. This follows the original £100m plus investment by Warner Bros. in the rebuilding and expansion of the studios, which reopened in 2012, and is further evidence of both Hollywood and the British Film Industry’s confidence in UK film and TV production.
WBSL can also boast one of the largest heated underwater filming tanks in Europe and half of its 200-acre site is given over to a backlot. This prized land can meet the most demanding of film production needs and was transformed into a vast beach for the Tom Cruise hit Edge of Tomorrow and was the location of a Nantucket harbour set for Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea. WBSL also has its own on-site Production Rentals arm which provides the industry with lighting, scaffolding and production supplies.
Despite the scale of its ambitions, WBSL remains rooted in its community. It directly employs 600 people, with a substantial amount pulled from the surrounding area. When productions are at their peak this number increases to around 2,500 with cast and crews. Indeed, Warner Bros. is committed to the future growth of the creative industries and offers a mix of bursaries, scholarships and apprenticeships through its Creative Talent programme forging strong links with Watford Palace Theatre, West Herts College and the University of Hertfordshire to nurture the next generation of film-makers.
SVP Dan Dark, who sits on a number of local groups including Watford’s Creative Leaders’ Forum and Herts in Trust, said: “A lot of people have grown up with what we are doing here. We have one employee who used to look out of his bedroom window at the studios. He got a job here as a runner and has never looked back. We also find that people who have visited the Studio Tour are then inspired to come and work at the attraction. Staff get a fantastic set of skills as we invest so heavily in training and customer service.”
After securing The Crown contract the mood at Elstree Studios is jubilant. The high-end drama adds to its varied production portfolio which encompasses reality and prime-time TV shows such as Big Brother and The Voice as well as feature films such as The Danish Girl which is currently in production and stars among others Eddie Redmayne, who won best actor Oscar in the BAFTA winning The Theory of Everything.
The studios have undergone a major £4.5m expansion project to clear four acres of land and construct new production facilities after its owner Hertsmere Borough Council received a £2m loan from Hertfordshire LEP’s Growing Places Fund with the remaining £2.5 million provided by the council from its reserves.
Roger Morris said the new contract signalled the need for further growth: “We beat off stiff industry competition to win the contract for The Crown and now need to develop the site further to take on all the extra work that now flows into the Studios. It’s thanks to the LEP and their support that we can now look forward to achieving that goal. Hertfordshire has now got two of the world’s top film and TV studios. It’s great news not just for us and the local area but for the UK film industry as a whole.”
The multiplier effect of the film and industry sector on the local economies is huge in terms of employment, ancillary industries and local spend. Investment in the creative sectors brings about high profile public recognition and encourages other businesses into the county.
Morris Bright, Leader of Hertsmere Borough Council and Chair of the Board of Directors at Elstree Studios, said: “Elstree Studios and our long-running reputation as the British Hollywood has a massive impact on the town, its people and businesses. It’s not just about spotting famous actors in the high street, our booming film and television industry – 100 years of which we celebrated last year – has a huge knock-on effect on our local and regional economy. As well as creating hundreds of jobs – many of them local – the profits from the Studios subsidise the council tax for residents across the whole borough to the tune of 20 per cent, helping us to provide much-needed services to our towns and communities.”
Dorothy Thornhill, elected mayor of Watford, said: “Film and TV production provide many jobs within Watford with Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden playing a major role both as direct employer and through its wider supply chain. We have seen new companies locate to the town to be on the doorstep of WBSL, and take advantage of Watford’s skilled workers and wider investment in the industry. The Creative Talent programme is a great initiative to encourage young people to enter the industry, providing them with work experience and support they require. This will increase the skilled workers available as the sector to develops further.
“Being on the doorstep of London coupled with excellent transport links, that will only improve further, ensure that Watford will benefit from further investment. We are working closely with Warner Bros. to make this happen.”