When Manchester’s city council made a strategic decision back in 2013 to improve the infrastructure of its creative industries, it decided to put its money into bricks and mortar with the construction of the £35M ($42.7M) Space Studios Manchester. The purpose-built facility for high-end TV, film and commercial production, which sits in West Gorton, Manchester, features more than 85,000 square feet of sound stages and has housed high-end TV drama ranging from BBC’s Peaky Blinders to season 4 of The Crown to, most recently, Sony/Marvel’s morbius.
The studio currently boasts six sound stages: one sitting at 30,000 square feet, four stages at 11,500 and a sixth of 9,000 square feet. The one-stop shop has purpose-built dressing and makeup facilities, production offices ranging from 409 square feet to 1,851 square feet to 25,000 square foot prop storage/workshop. What’s more, in a bid to meet the steady demand for space, the city council recently granted the studio planning permission for two new sound stages of 20,000 square feet each, taking the total sound stage space to more than 100,000 square feet.
“We’re just now finalizing the design and costing part of the plan with a hope to start construction sometime in Q4 this year,” says Space Studios managing director Rob Page. “We’re expecting a build time of between 12-16 months.”
It’s a quick turnaround for the project which, he says, will cost anywhere from £18M ($22M) to £22M ($27M), and is a direct response to the steady demand it’s having now.
“We are still very much being booked two or three months ahead,” says Space Studios sales director Mark Hackett. “So, we have current availability from January, but we don’t feel too distressed about that because we know that a broadcaster or a streamer may come along, and our pipeline will be fuller. The reason really for building these larger stages is to bring in more of those people from the long-running drama space. That’s what we’re currently talking to the streamers about.”
Hackett stresses that while there is space now, it would only take one or two long-term series to change that – “I feel like there’s a bit of a race at the moment amongst the obvious buyers to get one over the line.”
Both Page and Hackett point to one highlight during their tenure at Space Studios, when FX/Hulu’s sci-fi thriller devs, created by Alex Garland, came to shoot at the studios and transformed stage six, its largest and standalone stage into “a huge, golden quantum computer.”
“It looked fantastic on screen and even more fantastic on stage,” says Page.
Hackett adds, “It was a real example of what this space is capable of on a high-end international TV drama level.”
He adds, “We believe, and I’m very confident about this, that Manchester is the obvious and sensible choice for UK crew, film stages and all the services you need in a mature model from drama to film. So, it’s just about capturing their attention.”
With the new build set to put the studio at the 105,000 square foot mark, Page says this is a significant marker for them as this is what many incoming US productions look for as a minimum.
“We’ll be competing in a new market that we haven’t been able to compete in before because we simply didn’t have enough stage space,” he says. “We are arguably a large operator in the North [of England], but we’re not necessarily a large operator in the UK. The next stage of development will take us into that market.”
The expansion will also see the current studio look spend internally by re-jigging and reformatting existing layouts in the facility, such as expansion of custom departments, moving the canteen and creating spaces for production teams that aren’t taking on an office.
“I definitely look forward to even the next stage beyond this next expansion,” says Page. “There’s a lot of ambition and, given where we are located, there will be expansion plans beyond what we’ve currently got planned. So, if we can make a success of operating a facility that’s got 100,000 square feet of stages, could we make a success of operating something that’s got 200,000 square feet of stages? I’d like to think that we could.”