National impact of northern filming

The north of England continues to grow as a production centre of national significance in the UK. The Knowledge explores how cities like Liverpool and Manchester are making their mark.

British film and TV production has increasingly shifted north in recent years. Driving forces include the availability of varied locations, the development of new studio facilities (like The Space Project in Manchester, pictured right) and more money being channelled into regional funding bodies. 

Manchester, Liverpool and Yorkshire offer production resources that complement each other across the north’s M62 corridor. The cross-country motorway connects Liverpool and Manchester in the west of the region on to Leeds and eventually Hull on the east coast, while production costs are lower than in the south-east.

“It can be considerably cheaper to film in Yorkshire than in the south-east and we’re hearing the same message from incoming enquiries that demand is outstripping supply,” says Richard Knight, head of production at Screen Yorkshire

Hire costs for existing studio facilities in Manchester can undercut London by up to 30%, according to a December 2015 report for Creative England, Manchester City Council and Salford production facility dock10. The same report found set construction costs in the north-west region can be up to 20% cheaper than in London.

“In Liverpool producers can find commercially-viable filming locations,” says Lynn Saunders of the Liverpool Film Office, in comments to The Knowledge. “Thirty minutes away in Manchester you have the studio infrastructure, and then further east you have the Yorkshire Content Fund.” 

The Liverpool Film Office is part of the city council, so there’s immediately a close relationship with authorities like the mayor’s office and Merseyside Police. Saunders says these city connections help the film office to arrange street closures and other location filming logistics that might need municipal support.

“We get a lot of repeat business,” Saunders says. “We also often do joint location recces with Yorkshire and other parts of the north as part of a close regional relationship – we see ourselves as an alternative production offer in the UK.”  

Most of the UK’s major TV broadcasters now have a presence at MediaCityUK in Salford, 30 minutes east of Liverpool. Nearby Manchester offers The Space Project, a purpose-built production facility that has five stages and has hosted dramas like the period adventure Houdini and Doyle (pictured above), drama series The Five and comedy series Boy Meets Girl. 

“We have a bespoke production facility with acoustically-treated stages and direct fibre links to MediaCityUK,” says Sue Woodward, founder of The Space Project (pictured below). “Word-of-mouth and the practical experience of filming here have been keys to our success – we get a lot of returning productions.” 

The Space Project interior

The Space Project is a sister facility to Manchester’s digital hub The Sharp Project and is distinctive for being one of the only purpose-built facilities in the north suitable for large-scale scripted TV productions. Indeed, the site’s popularity has helped secure funding from Manchester City Council to enable the building of new resources including a 30,000 sq ft stage.  

“We originally saw a gap in the market for alternatives to ‘leaky sheds’,” says Woodward, referring to the now-common practice of adapting existing industrial buildings into production facilities, usually when purpose-built studios are either booked up or too expensive.

“The main London studios are very busy, while ‘leaky sheds’ often need their own 24-hour security and can be challenging to weatherproof.”

The Space Project is an alternative option. It lacks some of the facilities that characterise larger studio spaces like maintenance catwalks on its stages – which is why it opts for the semantic distinction “space” rather than “studio” – but it is still a sophisticated £45m production hub.

Adapting existing warehouses into production facilities can certainly be a challenging process, but the results can still be effective for both TV and film productions.

Film London has warehouse retrofitting as a long-term strategy to help meet the surging demand for filming in the capital from both national and international clients.

Liverpool is investing in an adapted studio of its own with plans to turn the former Littlewoods building into a production facility.

On the other side of the country, The Yorkshire Studios comprises two converted former RAF hangars between Leeds and York, which has already hosted the eight-part ITV drama Victoria, telling the story of the young Queen Victoria. 

Screen Yorkshire says the facility has attracted international interest, much like the Yorkshire Content Fund, which can invest up to £500,000 in individual dramas and films. It's the largest regional fund in the UK and has supported films like the Belfast-set '71 (pictured above) 

“Screen Yorkshire works closely with the British Film Commission to market ourselves globally, but because of our ability to invest through the Yorkshire Content Fund we also receive unsolicited enquiries,” Knight says. 

“A key driver for film and TV production in the region is the Yorkshire Content Fund, and it’s this combination of investment, along with the studios, crew, facilities and location, that makes for an extremely attractive package.”

The northern production hubs consider themselves an alternative to London and the south, rather than being in direct competition. For Woodward, The Space Project’s objective is to help improve Britain’s overall infrastructure offer, and the Liverpool Film Office is among the regional authorities working with the British Film Institute to bring more UK productions to the north.


Houdini and Doyle image: ITV

'71 image: Screen Yorkshire

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