Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden
Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden is a 200-acre studio complex in south east England. Formerly known as Leavesden Film Studios and still colloquially known Leavesden Studios or simply Leavesden it is a major film and media complex owned by Warner Bros.. The studios and backlot were all repurposed from the site's original use as a Rolls-Royce plc factory known as Leavesden Aerodrome, which was an important centre of aircraft production during World War II. It is situated in south west Hertfordshire approximately 18 miles (29 km) northwest of central London, in Watford.
Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden, is one of only a few places in the U.K. where large scale productions can be made. The studios contain approximately 500,000 sq ft (50,000 m2) of flexible space which includes stage space, one of the largest filtered and heated stage-based water tanks in Europe, production office space and support buildings, along with an extensive 80-acre (320,000 m2) backlot which offers a 180 degree uninterrupted horizon, favourable for exterior sets.
Since acquiring the site Warner Bros. have opened a public attraction called The Warner Bros. Studio Tour - London, which sees over 5,000 visitors a day to the site whilst maintaining a secure studio space within the same complex.
Construction of Leavesden Aerodrome began in 1939 with the outbreak of World War II. The de Havilland company, who were based in nearby Hatfield, were under contract by the Ministry of Defence to produce what would become known as the Mosquito fighter craft and the Halifax bomber. This new site was acquired as the large scale hangars needed to accommodate the production of huge number of planes required could not be constructed at de Havilland's Hatfield base due to a lack of space. The two planes were both critical successes for Britain during the conflict. After the war, the aerodrome was acquired by Rolls-Royce who used it as a factory producing engines for airplanes and later helicopters. However by the early 1990s they had sold their interests in the site. Unable to find a new owner, Leavesden Aerodrome was left disused.
Then, in 1995, Eon Productions' James Bond film GoldenEye was to be the next film in the series after an unusually long six year break. Pinewood Studios, the series' traditional home, was not expecting their return and was thus fully booked with other productions. Facing little time to find a space in which they could build the number of large scale sets required, the production discovered the unoccupied Leavesden Aerodrome. The wide, tall and open aircraft hangars were uniquely well suited to conversion into a studio space. Eon leased the site for the duration of their shoot and went about gutting the factory, turning it into a working studio with some haste. This process is shown on the 2006 DVD's special features.
A succession of major feature films quickly made use of the site, including the first of the Star Wars prequels. By the year 2000, Heyday Productions had acquired the site on behalf of Warner Bros. for use in what would be the first in a series of films, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Every one of the Harry Potter films was based out of Leavesden Studios over the following ten years. While other productions - mostly other Warner Bros. productions - made partial use of the studios, the site was mostly occupied by Harry Potter's permanently standing sets. During this time it was noted that there were some ways in which the site's facilities might be improved. None of the stages were adequately soundproofed and the WW2 era ceilings had a tendency to leak during rainy weather.
One of the more noticeable exterior sets constructed on the Leavesden backlot (outdoors) was a row of 10 houses (5 per side) along a street which were created as "Privet Drive". As of September 2012, this set is still visible on the Google Maps and Bing Maps aerial views of the area, along with the Hagrid's Hut and Hogwarts Bridge exteriors.
In 2010, Warner Bros. announced their intention to purchase the studio as a permanent European base, the first studio to do so since Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1940s. In November 2010, Warner Bros. completed its purchase of Leavesden Studios, and announced plans to invest more than £100m on the site they had so frequently occupied. The studios make Warner Bros. the only Hollywood film studio with a permanent base in the UK.
Much of the redevelopment involved converting stages A through H into soundstages and equipping all the facilities with the latest fittings a production might require. The refurbished stages were retrofits of the original buildings and were very respectful to the site's storied and important history. The runway and control tower from the site's days as an aerodrome remain in tact as are all of the buildings' original structures. The full scale refurbishment and re-build of the production facilities was completed and the studios reopened to film and television work in 2012.
As part of this redevelopment Warner Bros. also created two entirely new soundstages, J & K, to house a permanent public exhibition called The Warner Bros. Studio Tour - London, creating 300 new jobs in the local area. Currently the whole attraction is dedicated to The Making of Harry Potter and is now home to many of the series' most iconic sets, props and costumes. It was opened to the public in early 2012.
Almost twenty years after the complex was re-purposed from aerodrome to film studios - and over a year since the completion of work on the newly refurbished studios - the site was officially opened by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the 26th of April 2013. On their royal visit, they were accompanied by the Duke's brother Prince Harry and J.K. Rowling (who had unfortunately been unable to attend the tour's grand opening the year before) among other illustrious guests. Before their visit several hundred beneficiaries of charities they all support were given exclusive invitations to the tour on the day of the royal visit. The royal entourage visited both the tour, meeting many of their beneficiaries, and the studios, where they saw some of the props and costumes from Christopher Nolan's Batman films, before conducting the site's royal inauguration.
The first film to shoot at the newly refurbished studios was the Warners Bros. production Edge of Tomorrow. Though the studios are now privately owned, the shooting spaces are available to rent for any film company and are not limited only to Time Warner productions. The studios are now one of the largest and most state-of-the-art secure filming facilities in the world.
Films that have made use of the facilities include:
- GoldenEye (1995)
- Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)
- Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
- Sleepy Hollow (1999)
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
- The Dark Knight (2008)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
- Sherlock Holmes (2009)
- Inception (2010)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011)
- Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
- Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
- 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)
- Jupiter Ascending (2014)
A studio tour on the site, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, opened to the public on 31 March 2012 with a grand opening event, attended by many of the Harry Potter film series cast and crew members including: Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, Bonnie Wright, Evanna Lynch, Warwick Davis, David Thewlis, Helen McCrory, George Harris, Nick Moran, Natalia Tena, David Bradley, Alfie Enoch, Harry Melling, David Heyman, David Barron, David Yates, Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell.
With each tour session typically lasting three hours, the studio tour has the capacity to handle 5,000 visitors daily. Despite Warner Bros. being the film company behind Harry Potter, the tour is not styled as a theme park, due to Universal Studios obtaining the rights to build Harry Potter theme parks, such as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, in Orlando, Florida. The tour, which was designed and produced by Burbank-based Thinkwell Group in close collaboration with Warner Bros. and the filmmakers, includes major sets, props and costumes from the Harry Potter film series, including the Great Hall, Dumbledore's Office, Diagon Alley, the Ministry of Magic, Gryffindor Common Room and Boys' Dormitory, Hagrid's Hut and a 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts Castle, which Anita Singh of The Daily Telegraph described as "the highlight" of the tour. Liz Thomas, of the Daily Mail, was critical of the tour's cost, describing it as "a somewhat less magical price tag". Diagon Alley is available to explore virtually on Google Maps Street View.
The Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter has won several awards since its opening, including a 2013 Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement, 2013 Telly Award for Editing, 2013 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence, 2013 UKinbound Award for Individual Attraction of the Year, 2012 Event Technology Silver Award for Best Use of Handheld Technology, 2012 UK Customer Experience Award for Best Leisure & Retail Experience, and 2012 Group Leisure Award for Best UK Attraction. The Studio Tour has also been honoured with awards for its lighting design, including the 2013 IES Illumination Award of Merit and 2013 Lighting Design Award for Lighting for Leisure. In addition, the Studio Tour was named one of the Top 10 Most Innovative Entertainment Design Projects of 2012 by EntertainmentDesigner.com.
Although the tour currently only focuses on Harry Potter, Warner Bros. have highlighted the possibility to expand the tour to other Warner Bros. franchises in the years to come. Although the possibility of a full Warner Bros. theme park has been ruled out due to planning restrictions and lack of space, Warner Bros. have said that they would like to add more interactive rides during the expansion, similar to Universal Studios Florida. A hotel is also expected to open next to the plot, but it is unclear whether this will be operated by Warner Bros.
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