U.S. Outfit Blackhall Studios Plans Major UK Film & TV Site; Former Pinewood Exec Hired As President

Tom Grater

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Blackhall Studios, which runs a film production facility in Atlanta, Georgia, is planning to enter the UK market with a major development earmarked for Reading, west of London.

The company said it was proposing “the largest purpose-built film studio and digital creative hub complex in the UK” and that it would incorporate “extensive purpose-built digital production facilities” at the Thames Valley Science Park site.

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It is partnering with the University of Reading on the endeavor and has hired Nick Smith, the former Executive Commercial Director at Pinewood-Shepperton, as UK President and Chief Operating Officer. The company claims it could create up to 3,000 jobs in the local boroughs, including 1,500 onsite staff, and that it could be operational by early 2022.

Blackhall’s Atlanta site has housed significant productions including Godzilla: King of Monsters, Venom, Jumanji: The Next Level, Doctor Sleep and the upcoming Jungle Cruise, and the outfit said it would leverage relationships with major studios such as Disney, Universal and Sony for its UK facility.

The UK continues to experience a rush for shooting space, with major amounts of production heading to these shore to take advantage of the tax credit, the quality of crews, and recent weakness of the British pound.

As we reported last month, inward investment is booming in the country, with spend across film and high-end TV hitting a record-breaking $4.7bn in 2019. The trend of U.S. majors including studios and streamers setting up shop here shows no sign of slowing down. Last year, Netflix signed a long-term deal to make Shepperton Studios its de facto UK production hub, while Disney entered a similar deal at Pinewood.

In response, there have been a raft of studio facility developments announced in recent years, including a large new studio proposal unveiled by broadcast Sky back in December, to name just one of many.

Several of the builds have not been without their snags, however. A significant project in London, Dagenham East, had to find a new backer last year after the original preferred partner dropped out, and other facilities in England and Scotland have not moved forward as quickly as originally suggested.

Ryan Millsap, Chairman and CEO of Blackhall, said on the UK studio: “We are delighted to be establishing a base in the UK. Blackhall is the global standard for entertainment production space and our US-based clients like Disney, Universal and Sony are all asking us to expand into the UK to meet their desire to create productions here.  They wouldn’t trust just anyone to meet their high standards, so we are delighted to serve them in this way.

“We are very excited about the prospect of investing in the UK creative industries as one of the most vibrant markets in the world.  We hope that the site at Thames Valley Science Park will be the start of a series of investments in the UK which will see investment in jobs, training and the creative arts across a range of disciplines. The UK has a wealth of talent that our UK companies recognise and want to partner with for decades to come.”

Nick Smith, Blackhall’s UK President and COO, said: “Britain has an enviable array of filmmaking talent, but the industry is short of high-quality studio facilities capable of catering for the new and emerging technologies that will form the core of television and film production in the future.

“The proposals support the UK Government’s commitment to desire to see this sector’s annual inward investment deliver $5.2BN (£4BN) by 2025. Blackhall is committed to play its part in making that vision a reality. This initial investment of $195M (£150M) into the UK economy will create a new powerhouse of creative production and educational achievement, as well as generating up to 3,000 new jobs.”

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