Wales

This section covers Dragon Studios, Enfys Studios, Barcud Derwen, Bay Studios, Seren Stiwdios and Wolf Studios.

 

 

 

Dragon Studios –  South Wales  (2009 – present)

 

For nearly the whole of the first decade of the 21st century, various evolving plans were announced for an ambitious development in south Wales.  This was Dragon International Studios, sited mid-way between Cardiff and Swansea – nicknamed ‘Valleywood.’  The complex was to be based at Llanilid which is just off junction 35 of the M4 near Bridgend.  The scheme was originally a £330m film studio and ‘media city’ with the late Richard Attenborough as its chairman.

When first announced in 2001, the plans included twelve sound stages, five silent stages and two fully equipped TV studios of 8,000sq ft and 12,000sq ft respectively.  If it had been completed as planned, the complex would have been bigger than any other UK film studio at the time and would certainly have been very busy now!

 

dragon studios site
The site of Dragon Studios.  It occupies an impressive 1,000 acres and was previously an open-cast coal mine.  The M4 is in the foreground – the site is near junction 35 but it was hoped that a new junction connecting directly to the site would eventually be built.
dragon studios proposed plan
The drawing above shows how it might have looked upon completion.  The existing 4 stages are located top left of this illustration.

 

The scheme was granted outline planning consent in 2004.  When completed, the site was to include hotels, housing ‘for sale or rent to media-related occupiers’, business park, ‘drama village’, training facilities, hospital, golf course and even a theme park.  It was hoped that other supporting industries would be attracted to the area, providing local employment. 

Sadly, the project encountered many problems and its target date for opening was for ever being postponed. In fact, that passed in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008. 

Early problems were caused by a lack of support from the Welsh Assembly which was later secured.  Then came delays in obtaining funding, which threatened a move to another site.  In January 2004 Lord Attenborough announced that work was about to begin but as luck would have it some rare dormice were found living on the site in September which delayed work until 2005.  (I’m not making this up.)  The next delay was caused by issues surrounding permits for sewerage works.  Nothing happened until October 2005.  Bad weather then stopped the work (during a Welsh winter? – surely not) and construction was due to start in March 2006.  As far as I can discover, it did not happen after all.

 

In October 2006 it was announced that the first phase of five silent stages (described rather tactlessly by a local councillor as ‘posh warehouses’) would at last begin construction soon.  These were planned to open in 2007 but once again, it seems that construction did not happen.  At the time these stages were said to be aimed at ‘TV drama and low budget feature film’ production. 

However, at last there was some progress.  Judy Wasdell, the studio coordinator, wrote to me in January 2008 with some exciting news…

‘We started construction in August 2007 on phase one of the development which consists of four sound stages (1 x 20,000sq ft and 3 x 10,000sq ft), each with adjoining production offices.  We anticipate the first of these will be completed by the spring with the final stage ready by the summer.

We hope to be submitting a detailed planning application shortly for phase two of the studios which will consist of a number of workshops and a studio village with further production/post-production space, a preview theatre and commissary.’

We originally planned phase one of our project to consist of a number of silent stages but have since upgraded the spec on these so they are now soundproofed.  We may have TV studios within a later phase but we won’t have any stages specifically designed to TV immediately.’

 

Unfortunately, even this relatively modest development became a victim of the banking crisis.  Yet another setback occurred in March 2008 when the development was put on hold and the administrators were called in.  According to Broadcast magazine on 14th October 2008…

‘The scheme, financed through a mix of private and public money and chaired by Richard Attenborough, apparently ran out of funding at a time when investors were starting to tighten up on property development money.  However, administrator Rob Lewis, a partner at accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, didn’t rule out the possibility of finding alternative means of finance.  “The preferred option would be to see the studios completed and films being made there, or to mothball the site until something else comes along,” he says.’  They appointed property consultants Edward Symmons to try to sell the studios and to market them as a going concern in the meantime.  In fact the four stages with their attached production offices were then completed and became available for use around 2009.

 

In February 2014 David Ferris was the man in charge and he kindly wrote to me with the latest information:

The site currently in use occupies 24 acres and has the 4 stages plus planning consent for one more.  There is also a back lot of around 5 acres with power and water.  The three 10,000 sq ft stages have air conditioned offices of around 3,800 sq ft and the largest (stage 2) has offices of 6,900 sq ft plus a pit within the stage (see below.)  David informed me that the stages are very much open for business.

 

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dragon stage 2 int with pit 450p
The images above show the site as it stands now.  The bottom photo was taken inside stage 2 which includes a pit, as can be seen.
photos thanks to David Ferris

 

For a while it looked as though these studios might have been bought by the BBC no less.  In November 2008 the Corporation announced that they were looking at various sites to set up a new production centre.  Wales was planned to become a ‘creative hub’ for drama – with Casualty crossing the Severn estuary from Bristol in 2011.  The four stages here were briefly considered as a possible base but in the end the attractions of Cardiff Bay won out and the BBC announced in 2009 that they would set up their new drama HQ at Roath Lock.  There seems to be a fascination for building studios next to water – have you noticed?

In fact the BBC did use one of the stages in 2010 for the first series of Upstairs Downstairs.  Curiously, one end of the staircase was located here at Dragon Studios but the other end was on a stage at Upper Boat studios (The Dr Who base) – several miles away.  For the second series both ends were united at the new Roath Lock studios.  Dr Who briefly used the studios in Sep 2010 for the ‘Doctor’s Wife’ episode.  Whites (comedy series with Alan Davies) and Merlin have also been shot here.  I gather a live audience show for S4C was also made on one of the stages.

The studios have actually been used to make at least one movie.  In 2009/2010 the film Ironclad, starring Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox and Derek Jacobi was shot here.  The stages were used for interiors and a replica of Rochester Castle was built on the lot.  The castle set was sadly dismantled a year or two later.  As far as I am aware, no other features have been shot here.  This seems surprising – having four decent sized stages and a large back lot on a self-contained site would, I’d have thought, be ideal as a base for a film. Maybe the right people don’t realise that it is here.

 

At last, Dragon Studios have now been used to make a few high-end TV drama series.  In 2015 The Bastard Executioner was shot here.  It was a 10 episode story made by Fox for the FX channel.  The show had a provisional booking for 5 years but unfortunately only 1 series was commissioned and the show left the studios at the end of January 2016.

Later in 2016 the stages were occupied for 9 months by US production Will – a drama for TNT based on the early life of Shakespeare.  It was said to be the most expensive TV production ever made in Wales and was backed by finance from the Welsh government.  Unfortunately, in September 2017 the show was axed after just 1 season.  In 2019 and 2020 US TV drama series Brave New World was filmed here.  It was made for NBC Universal and was also shown on Sky One.  From the summer of 2021 the new Disney+ drama series based on the original Willow movie starring Warwick Davis took up residence.  As well as shooting interiors on the stages, exterior sets included a castle (again!) and a medieval village.  Location sequences have been filmed all over Wales.

 

 

 

 

Enfys Studios – Cardiff  (1990 – present)

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Enfys was formed in 1984 by Alwyn Roberts.  Having left TV-am he invested in a 750sq ft studio and a small OB truck, specialising in making programmes for transmission in Wales.  The business did well and in 1990 they moved to their present site, building two studios – one at 4,800 sq ft and the other at 1,000 sq ft.  Studio 1 is 79 x 57 metric feet wall to wall. Studio 2 is 34 x 30 metric feet wall to wall.  he studios share a well equipped gallery suite.  The studios are fully HD and studio 1 had a new floor laid a few years ago.

As well as programmes for S4C and BBC Wales, the studio has also made every series of BBC2 quiz Only Connect from 2014 onwards.  Other credits include Grandpa in my Pocket, Pyramid and Big Cook Little Cook.  Dramas such as Dr Who, Casualty and Sherlock have also used the facilities as sound stages.  With the closure of Studio 1 at Culverhouse Cross, this is the only independent TV studio remaining in Wales.

 

 

 

 

Barcud Derwen – North Wales  (1992 – 2010)

 

Based in Caernarfon, for a number of years Barcud established themselves as the leading provider of OB facilities in Wales.  Merging with Derwen in 1992 to form Barcud Derwen they set about building a couple of studios.

Studio 1 was 88ft x 72 ft (6,300 sq ft) and had pull-out audience seating on one wall for up to 250 people.  It had a saturated lighting rig with motorised bars and 450 dimmers.  The gallery was equipped to support up to 12 cameras.  Studio 2 had a simple scaffold grid and was 52ft x 31 ft.  The two studios shared one gallery suite.

The studios mostly made programmes for the Welsh market but did make one series I know of that was not purely for Wales – Captain Mack for CITV.

Sadly, in June 2010 it was announced that Barcud Derwen had got into financial difficulties due to cash-flow and entered administration.  The administrators immediately closed the Caernarfon facility with the loss of 30 jobs.  Sadly no buyer was found for these facilities and during the summer of 2010 much of the technical equipment was sold on eBay, the studio’s Galaxy lighting console being bought by Riverside TV in Hammersmith.

 

 

 

 

Bay Studios, near Swansea  (2012 – present)

 

In 2012 a former Ford factory in Jersey Marine – a village in Neath Port Talbot, Swansea – was converted into film stages for the filming of Da Vinci’s Demons.  It was originally transmitted on the Starz channel in the US and on Fox in the UK.  The car components factory itself had opened in 1965 and closed in 2010.  There were three seasons of the drama, which ended in 2015.  Other productions that have used the facilities since then have included Apostle for Netflix and The Collection for Amazon/BBC.

There are three very large stages with a relatively low height of 20ft.  Stage 1 is 135,000 sq ft, stage 2 is 54,000 sq ft and stage 3 is 38,000 sq ft.  There is additionally a very large building called Stage Elba which has a greater height of 27 – 37 ft.  This area has so far not been used for filming.  The studios also have 30,000 sq ft of production offices and plenty of workshop space and prop storage.

In April 2020 construction company Kier built an 850 bed ‘Nightingale Hospital’ inside Stage Elba to provide facilities for the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

 

 

 

Pinewood Studio Wales / Seren Stiwdios  (2015 – present)

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On 17th February 2014 it was announced that the Pinewood Group would be creating a new studio complex in south Wales.  The site was previously owned by G24 Innovations – a company that designed and manufactured small flexible solar cells.  Unfortunately, they went into administration in December 2012.  The business was purchased in March 2013 and a new company was formed – G24i Power Ltd.  This company moved to a new base just along the coast in Newport and recommenced manufacturing in November 2013.

The plant they vacated was known as The Energy Centre – it even includes its own wind turbine – and is located in Wentloog, between Cardiff and Newport.  It was constructed in 1998 and is said to be in very good condition.  The 180,000 sq ft building is near to the coast and would certainly be a very attractive place to make films or TV dramas.  At the time, Pinewood were also running other studios in various locations around the world including Canada, Germany, Malaysia and the USA.

The building is actually owned by the Welsh government – they bought it for a reported £6m.  Pinewood, it seems, took out a 15 year lease of about half a million pounds a year.  The government put up £1m towards fitting out the studios – the total cost was estimated to be £1.8m so for the price of a modest 3-bedroom house in London it looks as though Pinewood got a pretty good deal there.  Within the building there are 2 acoustically treated stages, each of 20,000 sq ft plus an additional 38,000 sq ft of shooting floor.  The height to roof beams is reported to be only 7m (23ft), which is very low for purpose-built film stages (Pinewood’s own stages range from about 35ft – 50ft in height) but typical for converted industrial units such as these.  Unless the roofs are raised, this will somewhat limit the range of sets that can be built within them.

 

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The Welsh government also agreed to invest up to £30m into projects brought forward by Pinewood.  They would then share in any profits made from sales of productions filmed here that they had invested in.  Of course, the current tax breaks for large scale TV drama make the UK a very attractive place to film major international series. 

The studios were completed early in 2015.  In January it was announced that the first booking would be a pilot for a major historical drama series called The Bastard Executioner.  In fact, much of the series itself was shot at Dragon Studios.  Since then these studios have been used by Journey’s End, Showdogs, series 4 of Sherlock and Roald & Beatrix, the Tail of the Curious Mouse.

 

In June 2018, it was reported that Pinewood had decided not to renew their lease. The studios had turned out not to be as busy as was hoped.  It was suggested that the low grid height in the stages was a factor.  (Possibly if they had read this website, that might have been realised sooner but I couldn’t possibly say.)  The Welsh government was apparently paying Pinewood more than £390,000 a year just to keep the studios open.  They were also reportedly paying Pinewood an undisclosed amount as a management fee.  Looks to me that Pinewood came out of this rather well.

In April 2019 it was announced that Bad Wolf (makers of the His Dark Materials trilogy) had made an agreement to use vacant space at these studios for at least 12 months with an option on another 2 years.  They planned to shoot season two of A Discovery of Witches here.  They were also intending to use the studios for an HBO drama set in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash called Industry.  Their own Wolf Studios are about 4½ miles away in Cardiff docks.

 

 

Seren Stiwdios

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In October 2019 Pinewood announced that they would no longer run these studios from April 2020.  They were also withdrawing from their sites in Malaysia and Atlanta – they said they were concentrating on their plans for expanding both Pinewood (Iver Heath) and Shepperton.

In October 2020 there were reports that media investment firm Great Point had entered into an agreement with the Welsh Government to manage the studios for 10 years.  Over the previous summer after Pinewood left, the studios appeared to be marketed by Oh So Small Agency, who had been based here since the studios opened.  They are now called Seren Stiwdios.  Seren means star in Welsh – but I’m sure you knew that.  And Stiwdios means… I’m sure you can work that one out.

Great Point have an option to acquire and expand the studios – they were expected to take this up in 2021.  They say they have plans to add 150,000 sq ft of stages, offices and backlots.  The company already owns Lionsgate Studios in Yonkers, New York and another studio centre in Buffalo, NY.  As of October 2021 there was no news of further developments – please let me know if you have any information.

 

 

 

 

Wolf Studios Wales (2017 – present)

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One of the stages at Wolf Studios nearing completion

 

In 2015 the BBC announced that they would be commissioning a drama series based on Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy.  If you don’t know what this is, shame on you.  Go straight to the nearest bookshop and buy a copy of Northern Lights – the first book.  (If you happen to be American it’s called The Golden Compass, for some reason.)  Anyway, these books are quite extraordinary fantasy novels set in a parallel universe in which every human has an accompanying daemon, in the shape of an animal.  The books are arguably as ground-breaking as The Lord of the Rings or the Narnia novels.

A feature film was made in 2007 at Shepperton called The Golden Compass, which wasn’t bad but nowhere near caught the depth or subtlety of the novel.  In particular, it avoided any critical mention of God or organised religion, which is a strong thread running through all the books.  This is obviously a big problem in the US but in the UK far less so.  Frankly, it would have been impossible for the other two books to be made into Hollywood films, due to their subject matter.

So – the series has Philip Pullman as executive producer and has been written by Jack Thorne.  Bad Wolf is the production company making the series.  You may recognise the Dr Who connection of this name – the two founders of the company, Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner, both worked on that show.  Their company was set up to create His Dark Materials, as well as other projects.

 

They were said to be looking at suitable studios in south Wales to make the series.  Having investigated existing facilities they decided to create their own.  In May 2017, Wolf Studios Wales opened at Cardiff’s Trident Park on Ocean Way, not far from the city centre and with easy access to the M4.  The facility was formerly the Nippon Glass factory.  The building was acquired by the Welsh Government and has been leased to Bad Wolf on a 10 year term.  There are two linked units containing 5 stages totalling 125,000 sq ft.

Stage 1 is 21,661 sq ft, stage 2 is 14,531 sq ft, Stage 3 is 14,531sq ft, Stage 4/5 is an impressive 51,135 sq ft and Stage 6 is 24,497 sq ft.  Grid heights are around 35-41 ft in four of them but stage 6 has a height of an impressive 57ft. 

The first production made in these studios was A Discovery of Witches for Sky.  His Dark Materials began shooting in June 2018.  The first 8 episodes were directed by Tom Hooper and starred James McAvoy as Lord Asriel and and Ruth Wilson as Mrs Coulter.  Having watched seasons 1 and 2, I can confirm that this production has exceeded my expectations and is absolutely outstanding.  Shooting on season 2 was completed early in 2020, just before the Coronavirus lockdown, but one standalone episode that would have focused on Lord Asriel sadly had to be abandoned.  Press reports showed the wardrobe department making scrubs for local hospitals early in the pandemic – good for them!  Season 3 was due to begin filming in 2021.  It will have 8 episodes.  I can’t wait to see it!

 

In 2022 it was announced that Dr Who would be moving from the BBC’s Roath Lock studios to Wolf Studios.  The sound stages at Roath Lock are now marketed by BBC Studioworks.