Steven Knight says the 40-acre site near Birmingham will help the UK meet high demand from production companies
After creating the Bafta-winning gangster drama Peaky Blinders, which unveils season five on BBC One this spring, with a sixth series shooting later this year, Steven Knight is now planning his most ambitious production yet – a 40-acre film and TV studio in the West Midlands.
Alongside investors, the local council and leading production companies, Knight plans a £100m state-of-the-art studio near Birmingham offering advanced facilities and specialist crews for productions ranging from blockbusters to small-scale projects.
He told the Observer: “So many American and international producers want to shoot in the UK because of our crew base and tax incentives. Many high-profile production companies are begging for [studio] space. I’m from Birmingham. I felt it was a shame that there was no production going on in the centre of the country.”
Peaky Blinders, a Bafta-winning series set on the lawless streets of 1920s Birmingham, has been watched by tens of millions of people worldwide.
Among his feature films, Knight wrote Dirty Pretty Things, the acclaimed thriller directed by Stephen Frears, and directed Locke, starring Tom Hardy, described by the Observer as a “compelling portrait of a man in transit and in crisis”. He also co-created Who Wants to be a Millionaire at a time when “people said quiz shows were dead”, and has watched it become a worldwide franchise.
He wants the studio, to be called Mercian, to be the “greenest on earth”. “I want to grass the roofs so they’re bird sanctuaries. All sets that are dismantled will be burned for energy. All vehicles will be electric.”
Knight began exploring the studio project four years ago. An official announcement is expected later this year, with an opening within two-and-a-half years.
The name Mercian is inspired by one of the most powerful kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England, whose borders spanned the West Midlands. The site, near Birmingham, covers between 36 and 40 acres: “A lot of land,” Knight said.
The studio will have six sound stages for film and television, as well as post-production facilities. Knight wants to encourage a terrestrial television franchise to be based there, and the BBC is among those who are “very keen”, he said. “We’ve got a backlot which is basically countryside, where people can build castles and shoot things. A local landowner is happy to have productions.”
Basing professional crews at the studio will also cut accommodation and transportation costs for producers, who would no longer have to ferry people from London and elsewhere.
Adrian Wootton, chief executive of the British Film Commission and Film London, said the organisation was “entirely supportive” of the venture. “The UK needs more studio space. Tax credits, our fantastic infrastructure, our talent base, our crew base … all combine to create an irresistible package. We’re one of the most popular destinations for film and high-end television. The demand for studio space is growing.”