Manchester

This section covers The Pie Factory, Manchester Island, The Sharp Project and Space Studios.

 

 

Manchester has long been recognised as a centre of creative talent in music, drama and comedy.  Quite rightly, a number of dramas and entertainment programmes are being made there now with a desire to reflect this on network television.  A TV studio centre was constructed in the fashionable and trendy area of Salford Quays.  Those MediaCity studios opened in 2011.  However, a few enterprising organisations have also opened film/TV drama studios in other parts of Manchester.  The most recent is Space Studios.  Before that was The Sharp Project and before that was The Pie Factory.

 

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The Pie Factory

 

Early in 2007 a new facility opened next door to the MediaCity site in Salford Quays called The Pie Factory.  This was a studio complex that was originally a pie factory.  No really.  It had three ‘studios’ (I would prefer to call them stages) curiously named after northern towns.  ‘Salford Studio’ was 3,000 sq ft, ‘Leeds Studio’ was 5,500 sq ft and the largest ‘Manchester Studio’ was 6,800 sq ft.  They made a number of single camera TV productions including The Visit, Cold Blood, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Boy A, Hebburn, Car Share, Give Out Girls and Ragged.

The Pie Factory was part owned by the Peel Group, the company that built the huge MediaCity complex.  It was thought that by opening these studios a clientele of production companies would build up over the years leading to the opening of the four main multicamera studios in the new building in 2011.  The Pie Factory remained in business even after the MediaCity studios opened, providing complementary single camera facilities.

These studios closed and were demolished in 2018 to make way for another phase of MediaCity.

 

 

 

In 2008  Manchester Island was added to the cluster of studios owned by the Island group along with a couple of studios in South Africa and Duke’s Island & Black Island in West London.  They are all owned by Panalux so not surprisingly, Manchester Island is situated at Panalux Manchester’s base in Kearsley, Bolton.  They have a single 5,500 sq ft. stage which is 114 x 48ft. It has a semi-permanent 30 ft high cyclorama.  There is an attached production office suite and dining area.

 

 

 

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Stage 2 in the Sharp Project
with thanks to the Sharp Project website

In 2010  The Sharp Project, located in Newton Heath, north-east Manchester, was handed £6.3 million pounds by the Northwest Regional Development Agency and the European Regional Development Fund helping them to turn the former Sharp electronics factory into a ‘digital production complex’ that provides a range of sound stages, scenery storage areas, office and production space.  There are four stages: stage 1 (64 x 52ft), stage 2 (130 x 80ft), stage 3 (78 x 80ft) stage 4 (282 x 105ft).  Typically for converted industrial buildings, they all have relatively low ceilings around 20 – 25ft.  The first TV programme shot here was actually Casualty 1909 for BBC1 in 2009 (before the redevelopment) whilst a CBBC series – My Genius Idea, was filmed here by production company Shine in the summer of 2010.  Comedy drama series Mount Pleasant was made here by Tiger Aspect for Sky 1 in 2011 and 2012.  Other productions include Fresh Meat (C4), The Making of a Lady (ITV) Old Jack’s Boat (CBeebies) and The Gadget Show (North One TV for C5).

A number of media companies are now based here.  The Sharp Project has several converted shipping containers inside the building that it lets out as office space for small and startup creative businesses.  In May 2013 it was announced that four sound-proofed green screen studios had been built here.  These are in addition to the existing stages and range in size from 450 sq ft to 1,270 sq ft.

 

 

 

In October 2013 work commenced on turning a former Fujutsu factory into yet another 4-waller studio complex – this one is called Space Studios.  It is in Gorton, about three miles from the Sharp project on the east side of Manchester.  The site is being run by the same people as the Sharp Project and was created because they were having to turn bookings away from their original facilities.  It opened in May 2014 and initially contained 5 stages.  These ranged in size from 8,891 sq ft – 11,194 sq ft.  Very specific dimensions there!  It was described as ‘high quality but affordable.’ 

This facility is aimed at TV drama and single camera comedy, rather than commercials or multi-camera productions.  The first booking was from CBBC drama World’s End, which took over stages 4 and 5.  Other productions have included Sky’s Mount Pleasant, Danny Baker’s autobiography Cradle to Grave for BBC2, Boy Meets Girl for the BBC, The A Word for the BBC and No Offence for C4.  Big Talk’s 10 part drama Houdini and Doyle occupied two stages for much of 2015 and Sky 1’s sitcom Rovers was also shot here.  ITV’s Cold Feet was made here in 2016, 2017 and 2018.  Other productions have included The Feed  for Amazon Prime, Curfew for Sky 1, World on Fire for BBC1 and Intergalactic  for Sky 1.  In 2020 Space Studios were home to the 6th series of Peaky Blinders for the BBC, series 2 of Cobra for Sky and Viewpoint – a new thriller for ITV.

Having said that multicamera productions are not made here, in fact the 13th, 14th and 15th series of  Dragon’s Den were recorded at Space Studios in 2015, 2016 and 2017 – although this show is shot using several cameras simultaneously recorded and edited later, rather than vision mixed.  The output of the cameras was sent across Manchester via high speed fibre to dock10 at MediaCity for post production.  In 2018 the show moved again – this time to the Old Granada Studios.

The stages (or ‘spaces’) are as follows:

1 – 140 x 80ft

2 – 132 x 80ft

3 – 104 x 97ft

4 – 105 x 97ft

5 – 97 x 92ft

6 – 212 x 140ft

Stages 1 and 2 are a useful 31 feet high but 3, 4 & 5 are only 21ft high, which could limit the kind of sets that can be built.  The new stage 6 has an impressive height of 40 feet.  The site also contains a workshop, prop store and all the usual dressing room and production office facilities.  The stages have acoustic treatment to the walls and roof, I-beam lighting grids and air conditioning.  These facilities are certainly not all found in some of the more basic 4-waller studios elsewhere.

In October 2016 The Space Project, as it was still known, was granted planning permission for a £14m expansion totalling 90,000 sq ft.  This consists of the 30,000 sq ft ‘Space 6’ plus workshops, business units and other facilities.  The new stage opened in February 2018 with Cold Feet as its first booking.

In September 2020 Space Studios announced that they would be adding two new 20,000 sq ft stages.  These stages are due to open in 2023.

 

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Above – Space Studios. On the left is ‘Space 6’. On the upper right are the original stages and at the top are the planned ‘Space 7 and Space 8’
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the new Space 6 and below that – how it looks inside.
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how it looks inside