Photographer: Larry Ellis/Express/Getty Images

Amazon Prime Awakens the Force Within Britain’s Star Wars Studio

Streaming services like Amazon and Netflix are spending big on original productions. A famous British studio spies an opportunity.

For 80 years, Pinewood Studios just outside London has provided soundstages and locations for films like James Bond, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars. But as an independent studio, it’s never seen much upside from even the biggest blockbusters. Now, it’s aiming to get in by producing content – via a deal with Amazon.

Pinewood is spending an undisclosed amount on Amazon Prime’s first U.K. original drama called “The Collection,” the story of a Paris fashion house just after World War II. The studio is also building a set for the production in Wales, and Amazon says the eight-part series will be shot in the country, as well as in France.

“It’s a natural extension of our business,’’ said Michael Grade, the chairman of Pinewood Studios. “We’re looking to do deals that producers bring to us. We are more of a bank than anything else.’’

The studio has long been at the heart of Hollywood. Filming on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” wrapped late last year and preparations are underway on the next instalment, so far only known as “Episode 8.” Pinewood has provided studio space for dozens of megahits over the years, from “Pink Floyd: The Wall” to the latest James Bond film, “Spectre.”

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens’’ was filmed at Pinewood.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens’’ was filmed at Pinewood.
Source: Lucasfilm 2015

Demand is at an all-time high at Pinewood as U.S. studios are increasingly shooting big-budget productions in the U.K., thanks in part to a 20-25 percent tax break on feature films with a budget of at least £20 million ($30 million). Pinewood is also in the midst of a £200 million expansion to double the size of its existing studios, adding another 100,000 square meters, which will include new stages, workshops and production offices to accommodate growing demand.

Grade said Pinewood has been so tight on space it’s had to turn some film productions away, while at the same time he welcomed the arrival of Amazon and its rival, Netflix Inc., saying “the more customers there are, the better.”

Streaming services like Amazon, Netflix and Hulu LLC are giving Hollywood a run for their money by spending big on original productions. Those shows that have starred Kevin Spacey in Netflix’s “House of Cards” and Jeffrey Tambor in Amazon’s “Transparent.” Netflix Chief Executive Officer Ted Sarandos said this week the company will release 31 original series in 2016. More recently, it has sought to finance its own films, including a Brad Pitt movie expected in theaters and on Netflix during 2016.

In the U.K., “The Collection” has been greenlit by Amazon and by BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the public broadcaster. It will be produced by Lookout Point and starts filming in January in Wales and France.

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