Is the Mouse displacing Bond?

With its acquisition of Fox in March of this year, Disney acquired the studio’s intellectual property, but it did not take over the studio’s 2-million square foot production lot in Culver City. With packed movie schedule planned out through 2028, the one thing the Mouse will need is production space to shoot the Marvel, Lucasfilm and other features. To that end, Disney just inked a long-term deal to lease all of the production facilities at the legendary Pinewood Studios in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire in the UK.

Pinewood Studio's main location at Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire.
Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath

In a statement on its webpage, Pinewood announced that it has “entered into a long-term agreement with The Walt Disney Company Limited. The arrangement will see Disney take all the stages, backlots and other production accommodation at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire.

It should be noted that Pinewood has six facilities in five countries. In addition to the famous original lot some 20 miles from central London, it also owns Shepperton Studios, Pinewood Studio Wales as well as Pinewood Toronto and Pinewood Dominican Republic. Pinewood is currently in the process of selling off its Pinewood Atlanta location.

Only the original facility – which is also the largest – is affected by the agreement with Disney. There are 21 stages, three television studios and a unique Underwater Stage which is one of Europe’s largest exterior tanks, even having a green screen background to allow for easier CGI to accompany the actual underwater action. As mentioned in the press release, the acres of backlots and thousands of square feet of production office and workshop space are also available for Disney’s use. According to Variety, almost a third of all movies with budgets exceeding $100 million have filmed at one of Pinewood Group’s studios around the world.

One of those stages is the legendary Albert R. Broccoli’s 007 Stage which was originally built for 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Other Bond movies including, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, and others through to Quantum of Solace and the upcoming No Time to Die were also filmed in part on this stage. Superman II and III, The Fifth Element, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Star Wars: The Last Jedi are just a few of the many non-Bond films that also had scenes filmed within its walls.

Mickey Mouse

Disney’s history at Pinewood dates back to 2012, shortly after its acquisition of Lucasfilm. It has served as the production facility for every Star Wars film produced since then. On the Marvel side, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange (and depending on how you want to count it, X-Men First Class) add to the relationship as will next year’s Black Widow. Disney’s own Mary Poppins Returns, Dumbo and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil were filmed there as well. Pinewood Group’s chairman, Paul Golding said, “They’ve been making great films with us for many years and the fact they want to shoot so many more here is testimony not only to the quality of the teams and infrastructure at Pinewood, but also to the British film industry as a whole.”

Wither James Bond?

World-wide, studio space is at a premium. And, that puts constraints even on Disney who now owns some 40% of the film industry. Netflix recently announced a similar long-term deal with Pinewood’s Shepperton Studios location. While Netflix will have near-exclusive use of Shepperton’s current sound stages, the facility is adding an additional 16 sound stages which will not be included. The first should be ready in 2021. This expansion will bring Shepperton to near the same size as the Iver Heath location. Netflix will need the facilities to continue generating content as it attempts to dominate rivals, including Disney, in the Streaming Wars.

The deal gives Disney some security in having a long-term dedicated facility in addition to the production facilities it owns. The deal is near exclusive. It doesn’t cover the three TV studios nor the underwater stage, but it does include the 007 Stage. While the duration has not been confirmed, it is stated to be a 10-year agreement. When the agreement comes into effect in 2020, existing studio bookings will be honored, but competitors will be increasingly shut out. The one exception may be the James Bond franchise. It is thought that they will continue be filmed at Pinewood because of the tradition and long-term connection between the stage and franchise.

In addition to the expected further Star Wars movies – three of which will be released in the next seven years – the fifth Indiana Jones movie will likely be shot in part at Pinewood. A dozen of the 22 Marvel films were shot at one of the Pinewood locations – Iver Heath, Shepperton and Atlanta. With Shepperton no longer available due to the Netflix agreement, and Disney boss stating that future filming in Atlanta would be “very difficult” due to Georgia’s impending draconian abortion law, the likelihood is that Iver Heath will be the location for many more Marvel films.

In addition Disney’s competitors finding it harder to get onto the soundstages, smaller production companies – including British independent studios – will also be similarly squeezed. New production facilities are being built across the UK, including Leeds, Edinburgh, Liverpool and east London. The BBC reported that 200 independent British films were made in 2018 which was down 42% from five years ago.

Editor’s note: this is the same facility at which the scenes on the planet Degobah were created for “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”.

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