Discover Screen Yorkshire: The heart of the UK’s fastest growing filming location
Despite Los Angeles being widely regarded as the filming hub of the world, a recent study by FilmL.A. showed that production figures took a nosedive in the city last year. Compared to 2016, the number of on-location shooting days on feature films hit a five-year low, despite the $330 million in annual tax incentives offered by the state. With such a competitive market and high production fees, many TV and movie teams are fleeing Tinseltown to discover pastures new.
One such place is the UK, thanks to its hefty government tax breaks, the impact of the EU referendum on the exchange rate, and access to top-class talent & studio facilities. In particular, the northern county of Yorkshire has long been considered a great destination for filming, with fantastic scenery and a connection to the creative and talent-filled city of Leeds. However, up until recently Yorkshire did not have a facility suitable for accommodating large-scale productions requiring studio space. That’s where Church Fenton Studios came in.
“As production in Yorkshire, and in the UK as a whole, expanded, it was clear we needed to fill this gap and ensure that Yorkshire was in a strong position to compete and attract the kind of studio-based productions that create impact, longevity, and economic growth,” explained Sally Joyson, chief executive of Screen Yorkshire – a company that works in conjunction with Church Fenton Studios and is at the heart of Yorkshire’s fast-growing filming location.
To fill in the gap, in 2014 an enormous former RAF site at Church Fenton was acquired and converted into the large-scale film & TV studio facility now known as Church Fenton Studios. The site includes three hangars totalling nearly 100,000 sq ft of internal production space, plus additional workshops and offices. It also has one of the biggest back lots in the UK – 440 acres of land with clear vistas and a network of full width runways and roadways. “It’s been regularly described as having the potential to become the ‘Pinewood of the North’, and that is not an understatement. The scale of the site is awesome; it is nestled in quiet countryside between two major cities so productions can operate away from the public eye, but also know they have access to hotels, bars, and restaurants within a relatively short journey.”
In partnership with Makin Enterprises – which oversee all aspects of the management and development of the site – Screen Yorkshire leads on all film and TV related business as well as the marketing and promotion of the site as a film & TV facility. Studio development came naturally to Screen Yorkshire, as the company’s been selling the region as a production center for more than fifteen years. Its investments in globally successful dramas like Peaky Blinders and Dad’s Army has shone a spotlight on the industry in Yorkshire, helping it to become a fast growing region for film and TV in recent years.
When it came to the development of Church Fenton Studios, the plan fell well into place, as Mammoth Screen – a production company that Screen Yorkshire supported through its production investment activities – was in preparation for ITV’s Victoria. “They approached us looking for help and advice to locate a site in Yorkshire large enough for them to build their Buckingham Palace set and the two projects became one,” declared Joyson. ITV’s worldwide hit has been a resident since the studio began, with season three set to commence imminently.
However, Victoria is only the beginning of the story. In this month alone, two high-profile feature films will be shooting in the region thanks to Screen Yorkshire’s investments – spy thriller Official Secrets (starring Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, and Matthew Goode) and black comedy Ilkley (starring Derek Jacobi, Roger Allam, and Anna Maxwell Martin).
At the other end of the spectrum, Screen Yorkshire has seen three cinema releases so far this year: Dark River, a family drama starring Ruth Wilson (Locke) and Sean Bean (Game of Thrones); Journeyman, directed by and starring Paddy Considine (Dead Man’s Shoes) alongside Jodie Whittaker (Attack the Block) at the end of March; and Ghost Stories, starring Martin Freeman (Sherlock), Andy Nyman (The Commuter), Alex Lawther (Freak Show), and Paul Whitehouse (The Death of Stalin). “Later in the year, we have Idris Elba’s directorial debut Yardie, which recently had its world premiere at Sundance,” added Joyson.
Speaking on filming in the UK, Joyson outlined how Yorkshire in particular has become an increasing force over the past five years. “Film and TV production in Yorkshire has grown faster than anywhere else in the UK, and that includes London and the South East. Employment in the sector has grown by 88% (national average 32%) and turnover is up 247% (nation average 118%) so that gives you some idea of how dynamic the industry is in the region.”
Diverse locations, some of the country’s best crew members, and the tax incentives provided by the UK make Yorkshire a cost effective and ideal area in which to conduct film and TV production. And with its ability to help finance film and TV production and its collaboration with Church Fenton Studios, Screen Yorkshire is at the heart of it all. “That’s why we believe we can look forward to welcoming more Oscar-winning films like Phantom Thread and Darkest Hour here in the future.” The combination of all of these factors is helping to further boost Yorkshire’s reputation as a world class center for filmmaking.