The studios behind the headlines, part 5: Eastbrook Studios and The Wharf
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The studios behind the headlines, part 5: Eastbrook Studios and The Wharf

From factories and Fords to film and TV: east London is undergoing something of a transformation with the development of two new filming facilities in the borough of Barking and Dagenham.

While Made in Dagenham was largely made elsewhere, other films and TV shows will be produced in east London in the coming years.

In the penultimate instalment of Frame 25’s series on large-scale studio investment in the UK, two facilities being created by a US property developer come under the spotlight.

The series so far…

Despite the pandemic bringing the film and TV production industry to a halt, the UK remains one of the world’s most in-demand centres producing major feature films and high-end TV shows – those costing more than £1 million per episode, such as The Crown.

The 2019 spend on creating such content in the UK reached £3.62 billion, up 16% on 2018 and the highest 12-month figure on record.

Locating UK studio space has seldom been easy and as competition among the leading SVOD players, such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video, has intensified so too has demand for production facilities.

The huge investment in studios we’ve seen has been driven by several factors including tax breaks, institutional investment making the most of a weaker pound, and the UK’s highly skilled and experienced production workforce.

We’ve already looked at Twickenham, Elstree, Sky Studios Elstree, and, in part four, Pinewood and Shepperton Studios – who’ve entered into long-term deals with Disney and Netflix, respectively – as well as a new Apple development in Buckinghamshire.

Part 5: Eastbrook Studios and The Wharf

Hackman Capital Partners, the owner of sites including LA’s Culver Studios, where Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane and E.T. were made, and Silvercup Studios, home of Succession and The Sopranos, in New York, is investing up to £350 million in developing the two east London facilities.

Eastbrook Studios

Location: a 22-acre former factory site in Yewtree Avenue, Dagenham.

Story: reaching this stage hasn’t been easy – Pacifica Ventures, Barking & Dagenham council’s original backer to build London’s largest film and TV production centre, pulled out in 2018 citing Brexit uncertainty.

Pacific Ventures had been chosen over the Creative District Improvement Company (TCDI Co), who went on to acquire a 50% stake in Twickenham Studios. TCDI Co are also involved with Ashford International Studios in Kent, which features in this series’ final part.

Hackman Capital Partners (HCP) signed a deal in November 2020 to build what the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, described as “world-class film studios” in Dagenham.

The plan: The project comes with planning permission and involves £300 million of investment over the next three years. The money will be used to develop the site, creating 12 sound stages, three acres of backlot, offices and ancillary space, and create 1,200 jobs.

Eastbrook Studios is expected to contribute £35 million per year to the local economy.

Filming could start as early as the middle of next year, with the studio fully operational by 2023.

What they said: The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan: “This is a very special moment for Dagenham, our capital and all those who have been working hard to realise this bold vision of bringing a new world-class film studio to east London. It is a very significant investment that will inspire further development and creative opportunities.”

Darren Rodwell, the leader of Barking & Dagenham council: “Dagenham used to be famous for factories and Fords but in the future we will be equally famous for making films. It’s about bringing in thousands of jobs, providing education and training opportunities for local young people.”

The Wharf

Location: a 10-acre site on the River Roding, Barking.

Story: HCP struck a deal with Barking & Dagenham council in March 2021 to lease, for ten years, two warehouses which will be converted into studios.

This second agreement brings the total invested by the company in the borough to £350 million and the two studios have the potential to create more than 1,800 jobs.

The plan: the scheme includes six sound stages, production offices and workshop space. The Wharf is expected to open before Eastbrook and could be available for filming as early as this autumn.

HCP is also working with the council and Barking & Dagenham College on education opportunities.

What they said: Darren Rodwell, leader of Barking & Dagenham council: “This is fantastic news and is another sign of the huge confidence in our borough, London and the UK from HCP. We will not only be able to say movies will be Made in Dagenham but in Barking too.”

Michael Hackman, HCP’s chief executive: “We are delighted to develop The Wharf and continue Barking and Dagenham’s transformation into a global media hub.”

Jason Turton, assistant principal at Barking & Dagenham College: “We are extremely excited to be working with such forward-thinking partners. We are proud to be part of this new vision for the borough and are working closely together to ensure we give local people opportunities that are hard to find in the film and creative industries.”

The big picture

Netflix’s deal to secure production facilities at Shepperton Studios, announced in 2019, is likely to increase pressure on space and skills already in high demand for a little while yet but as the studios we’ve featured in this series start to open or produce even more content, the UK’s film and TV production industry can look forward to a brighter future.

The sector is flourishing, and generated a £1.19 billion spend for film and high-end TV in the final quarter of 2020. That represents the second-highest three-month spend on record.

As the chief executive of Film London and the British Film Commission, Adrian Wootton, said after HCP’s deal to develop The Wharf, “There could never be a better time to open new studio space in the capital.”

We round off the series with a look at a number of facilities including Blackhall Studios, Birmingham Media Village/ Mercian Studios, GB News Studios, and Ashford International Film Studios.