US film studios to build Reading production hub

A US studio that helped the state of Georgia become a Hollywood production hub is to build a new film and television complex in Reading, as Britain’s entertainment sector races to cater for the worldwide boom in content production.

The £150m investment by Blackhall Studios, an Atlanta-based company that has housed movies such as Venom and Jumanji: The Next Level, will develop one of Britain’s biggest production facilities and create up to 3,000 jobs in the Berkshire town.

Blackhall’s plans for a new complex on a University of Reading site comes as entertainment groups such as Walt Disney, Netflix and Sky have scrambled to secure prized studio space in the UK.

Britain’s creative industries have benefited from the battle between US streaming platforms, which has driven record levels of investment in content production. The sector attracted more than £3bn in international funding in 2019, according to figures from the British Film Institute.

Ryan Millsap, chairman and chief executive of Blackhall, said clients such as Disney, Universal and Sony were all “asking us to expand into the UK to meet their desire to create productions here”.

The Blackhall investment is one of several development plans that are part of the biggest expansions in UK filmmaking capacity since the heyday of studios such as Elstree and Pinewood. In December, Sky also announced plans to build new facilities near the Elstree Studios, north of London, where the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones films were shot.

With production space at a premium, Netflix also established a production hub at Pinewood’s Shepperton Studios, which hosted the filming of Mary Poppins Returns. Disney has also signed a long-term lease of highly-sought after space at Pinewood Studios.

Blackhall was founded three-years ago to serve the flourishing Georgia movie industry, which benefited heavily from state tax breaks. The Reading project is the company’s first investment overseas.

The facilities will be run by Nick Smith, a veteran of the British film industry who was commercial director at Pinewood-Shepperton.

Mr Smith said that while the UK had “an enviable array of filmmaking talent” the industry was “short of high-quality studio facilities capable of catering for the new and emerging technologies that will form the core of television and film production in the future”.

UK trade officials were involved in negotiations over the investment. Liz Truss, secretary of state for international trade, said the plans were “a strong endorsement of our creative industry”.