Harry Potter’s London Sets Morph Into $156 Million Park, Studio

Warner Brothers Studio
An aerial shot of the newly refurbished Warner Brothers Studios. The studios are on the site of a former Rolls Royce engine factory located north of London. Source: Warner Brothers/Romley Davies via Bloomberg

The film studios outside London where all eight “Harry Potter” movies were shot have been turned into a production facility and theme park by Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. at a cost of 100 million pounds ($156 million).

The site in Leavesden -- where Rolls Royce Holdings Plc once made engines, and where pre-production was done on “Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace” -- now has Hollywood-standard studios for hire. Also available on site is a “Harry Potter” tour where, for 28 pounds per adult ticket, visitors can see sets and props from the franchise. Burbank, California-based Warner would not give a breakdown of how much it invested in each operation.

Tax incentives introduced by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown are encouraging investment in U.K.-based film shoots. Warner Bros. also has been prodded by the success of the Harry Potter series, which has generated $7.7 billion at the box office, and the increasing share of box office outside the U.S.

“Given how great our experience was making the ‘Potter’ series, we decided to plant our flag permanently and invest in these studios,” says Josh Berger, president and managing director of Warner Bros. in the U.K., Ireland and Spain. “It’s a global industry today, and your centers of production are further afield than where you’re based, which is in Hollywood.”

Fiscal Lure

“The tax credits are a very important part of the overall ecology here of film production,” says Berger in an interview at the studios. “Equally important are the incredible talent that exists here behind the camera and in front of the camera.”

The studios, shown to journalists and camera crews, are a combination of vast green fields and rows of former factory buildings.

Unlike other film studios in and around London -- smaller historic warehouses with trailers and a ramshackle charm -- Warner’s Leavesden Studios leave nothing to chance.

Leavesden offers nine giant “sound stages” (soundproof studios), each large enough to fit at least a dozen planes, with heating and air conditioning, wall-to-wall padding and an abundance of power points. The site also has an underwater filming tank -- basically a giant, empty concrete pool.

Indoor areas have the feel of a corporate headquarters. Dressing rooms look like little motel rooms, each with a built-in desk, sofa and bathroom. Make-up rooms have wrap-around neon lighting, tidy desk drawers and swivel chairs.

A large on-site canteen offers year-round catering and comfortable seating. There is no need for improvised trailer cafeterias serving food in Styrofoam trays.

London Street

The only standing film set on view is a strip of a typical London street that was used both for “Harry Potter” and for “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (2011).

“A number of people said to me, ‘Hollywood has come to Hertfordshire,’ and that’s fantastic,” says Dan Dark, senior vice president and managing director of Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden. “We’ve got a 200-acre site here that can cope with pretty much anything.”

Dark says the back lot -- or open green field -- was where the streets of St. Petersburg were created for the James Bond “GoldenEye,” and where the Hogwarts Express was operated in “Harry Potter.”

Now, he says, Leavesden can be used not just by Warner Bros. but by producers of commercials, music videos, television programs and full-length features.

“We’re open for business to all comers,” he says.

Information: http://www.wbsl.com

Muse highlights include Jorg von Uthmann on Paris art, Hephzibah Anderson on books and John Mariani on wine.

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