Netflix is looking at opening a permanent production base in Birmingham as it seeks to spend more of its annual budget in the UK.
The California-based media company has held discussions over taking space in Birmingham’s Digbeth as plans for a new film studio there advance.
The maker of UK crime drama Peaky Blinders, Birmingham-born film director and screenwriter Steven Knight, is planning to build a £500m film and TV studio in the area. It will be located on up to 40-acres of land, alongside a residential, retail and food and beverage offering.
Knight is in talks with both Netflix and the BBC as potential occupiers of the studio space.
Speaking at MIPIM in Cannes, Knight said: “I’ve had meetings with Netflix in the UK and then met their people in Los Angeles. They are coming to see the site as they are looking for headquarters in the UK.
“The BBC has also expressed a strong interest in having a presence at the studio. We want to get the blue-chip tenants and people like the BBC encourage others to come as well.”
Netflix, which made around 40 productions in the UK last year, is understood to have prioritised the UK for studio space to film its growing roster of UK-based productions. The firm is in advanced talks to take a long lease at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, while it has already launched its first production hub in Europe with a 237,000 sq ft facility north of Madrid.
The UK is an attractive destination for the likes of Netflix as it is one of the few countries outside the US where major films can be crewed locally, as well as offering tax relief of up to 25% for films and high-end TV programmes that qualify as British through a cultural test or as an official co-production.
But there is a dearth of quality space, with Lambert Smith Hampton estimating that land equivalent to the size of 100 football pitches is required to host the estimated 1.9m sq ft of new studio space needed by 2032.
Knight said he first conceived the idea for a Birmingham film studio four years ago when a US production company struggled to find space in the UK to shoot one of his films. “They couldn’t find any space. [Surrey’s] Shepperton, [Hertfordshire’s] Leavesden and [Buckinghamshire’s] Pinewood Studios were all fully booked. It just seemed bizarre you could have a decent budget and not be able to find one.”
The majority of studios are in London and the South East, including Warner Bros’ 198-acre Leavesden complex – where developer Landid helped create the Harry Potter studio tour – and Pinewood Studios, where work on the second phase of a £200m expansion started onsite last year, doubling its more than 440,000 sq ft studio space.
Knight targets £500m green ‘neighbourhood’
Knight is also looking at integrating residential, food and beverage, and retail into the £500m 40-acre venture.
He said: “It would be probably between 18 and 20 acres of studio but around it will be related industries, food and beverage and residential as well. I want to create a neighbourhood with a studio in it rather than a studio with stuff around it. There will also be room for artisan retailers, live theatres, cinemas and a gin distillery.
“Studios are usually out in the fields somewhere and it is rare to find a studio that is part of a community and a neighbourhood. But they don’t have to be as secure as they are sometimes. I want this to be a place where people go and hang out.”
Knight is focused on launching the studio in Birmingham due to his roots in the city, as well as the upcoming HS2 high-speed train connection to London, due to open in 2026.
“I’m from Birmingham and seemed odd to me that this city didn’t have any filmmaking capacity. I just wanted the city to bang its own drum, which it never does, and do something which would put it on the map creatively.”
He adds that funding is not an issue “because of where it is and the circumstances with HS2”.
In addition, Knight is aiming to create the “greenest studio” in the world. He added: “I want grass roofs, bird sanctuaries, no plastic bottles and electric vehicles. It will have an ethos and spirit to it that’s of its time.”