Studios Spotlight – The Bottle Yard Studios

Studios Spotlight – The Bottle Yard Studios

The latest spotlight in our Studios series shines on Bristol’s Bottle Yard Studios, the largest film and TV studio in the west of England.

We spoke to Laura Aviles, head of film at Bristol City Council, who oversees The Bottle Yard Studios and Bristol Film Office, about the past, present and future of the large facility.

History of The Bottle Yard Studios

The Bottle Yard Studios is the largest film and TV studio in the West of England. We are owned by Bristol City Council and we offer 11 stages in total across our two sites. Eight at our main site and three at TBY2, our expansion facility, less than half a mile away.

Our main site opened in 2010. It’s a repurposed site that was originally a winery and bottling plant, so tall and spacious buildings, ideal for hosting productions. We opened when demand for out-of-London space was starting to build, and soon we were hosting a steady stream of HETV dramas, films, gameshows and children’s programmes. Since we opened, we’ve hosted more than 75 productions.

Background of TBY2

TBY2 is our newer, state-of-the-art facility which opened in 2022. We pushed hard for expansion because we knew we had enough demand from productions to fill additional space, and we also knew that adding premium, soundproofed stages would take our business to the next level, giving those higher- band productions what they were looking for. As a council-owned facility, we’re always thinking, how can we attract more productions into the region, and build a stronger industry that benefits more local people and companies?

We made the case to Bristol City Council and £11.8m investment was secured from the West of England Combined Authority to make our vision a reality. We were involved every step of the way with redeveloping the industrial building that is now TBY2.

TBY2 main

We made sure it has everything our clients could possibly need; high spec, soundproofed, clear-span stages (20,000, 16,000 and 7,000 sq ft), heated and cooled, plenty of ancillary space, vehicle access, parking and production offices.

TBY2 Studio 9, 20,000 sq ft

Our first two bookings were confirmed before the contractors had even handed over the keys! We ensured a fully sustainable design and build processes from the outset, and TBY2 was one of the first to receive the albert Studio Sustainability Standard last year.

What types of production does The Bottle Yard host?

The majority of our clients are scripted productions, usually Band 2 or Band 3 budgeted shows. At our main site we host a lot of BBC dramas (or BBC co-pros), for example in the past few years we’ve had all three series of The Outlaws, Rain Dogs, Am I Being Unreasonable?, Chloe, Showtrial, The Girl Before.

We also have a strong track record with ITV Studios, having hosted all four series of McDonald & Dodds and going back further, series 3 of Broadchurch, plus all of Poldark’s studio filming. More recently, we’ve been hosting an increasing amount for streamers like Paramount+, for example The Killing Kind and The Flatshare.

The Bottle Yard Studios – TH4 Upper

We’ve always actively welcomed children’s productions too. Malory Towers (CBBC) moved studio production here from Canada last year for series 5 and have already confirmed series 6, plus we’ve recently had two series of The Beaker Girls, and three Dodger specials.

We put in our huge greenscreen studio (80ft x 40ft x 27ft) in 2016 especially for Andy’s Prehistoric Adventures (CBeebies), so we can take a lot of CGI-based work too. We’ve hosted every single Andy’s Adventures series since, which is great as it’s produced by BBC’s Natural History Unit, also here in Bristol.

We try whenever we can to find space for local talent emerging from our part of the country. Often that’s indie features, like Bristol writer/director Michael Wright’s The Undertaker (2023) starring Paul McGann and Tara Fitzgerald, or DarkGame (2024) starring Ed Westwick, produced by Tom George of Bristol’s Happy Hour Productions (now streaming on Apple TV in the US).

Christopher Walken gets his own headline!

Every production is so different! Having Christopher Walken here for The Outlaws was a great experience, in fact that whole production has just been a joy to host. You can tell how much they’re enjoying making it. And of course Stephen (Merchant) being a local talent makes him particularly special to have on site.

Christopher Walken filming The Outlaws S1 at The Bottle Yard Studios

Is there a difference in the types of productions at TBY2?

Our first two bookings for TBY2 were season three of Alex Rider made by Eleventh Hour Films for Amazon FreeVee and Jilly Cooper’s Rivals for Disney+ made by Happy Prince/ITV Studios. Rivals stars a big ensemble cast (David Tennant, Aidan Turner, Danny Dyer, Alex Hassall) and we’re definitely seeing the bigger titles with leading talent lean towards the premium space we offer at TBY2, whereas the BBC, ITV or C4 dramas are more interested in our less polished spaces at the main site, as it suits their budget better.

For that reason, we’re catering for a range of production across our two sites, with TBY2 really proving itself as having the perfect specification for higher-budgeted HETV shows. It is also a prime option for medium sized feature films, another booking type that brings inward investment into the region. We’ve also seen an increase in light entertainment enquiries which the facility also lends itself to well.

Have you noticed any changes in the last few years?

It’s been a really changeable few years. Obviously there was the Covid disruption, then the boom that followed which meant we filled up again quickly. Last year’s strikes slowed business again – our bookings ticked along quite well until Autumn because luckily the productions we already had in weren’t affected, but after that we went down to approx. 25% capacity, like most of the country.

Since then it’s been a case of ongoing enquiries and tentative pencils which finally started firming up in the New Year. We now have seven productions moving in throughout March/April which will see us back up to around 80% capacity this summer with a positive enquiry slate for the second half of the year.

It’s definitely been a tough time for many in the industry, we saw a lot of smaller enquiries fall away because of how tough it was out there for people to pin down dates. But overall, the feedback we’re getting from the production community is that work in Bristol is bouncing back more quickly than in other parts of the UK.

Am I Being Unreasonable? filming at The Bottle Yard Studios

What would you say is The Bottle Yard’s standout facility?

I’d say TBY2 is the jewel in our crown now. We’re so proud to have seen it through from concept to reality, all with public investment which is an incredible achievement.

TBY2 also has the USP of the 1MWp solar array we’ve installed on its rooftop, which came about thanks to an innovative collaboration with Bristol Energy Cooperative and Bristol Council’s Energy Services. Not only is it one of the biggest solar arrays on any UK film studio, it’s the biggest community-owned PV rooftop in the UK capable of generating enough electricity to power the equivalent of 250 homes a year.

The energy it produces doesn’t just benefit TBY2, it is also helps the wider city, because surplus electricity will be sleeved off to other Council-owned buildings via Bristol’s groundbreaking City Leap project. It won the Global Production Award for Sustainable Initiative last year and has attracted a lot of interest across the industry.

TBY 2, aerial view

Do you have a sustainability strategy?

Yes we do. Our Green Team is made up of staff from the studios and our partners Bristol Film Office. We have a Sustainability Statement (available on our website) and an Action Plan which sets out priorities that the Green Team reviews regularly.

We’re in the process of upgrading the older buildings on our main site to reduce carbon output as much as possible. For example we secured £280k from The Salix Recycling Fund to increase insulation and add low carbon heating solutions in two of our main site stages, for example replacing temporary diesel generators and warm air handling units with electric radiant heating.

These types of measures have reduced heat loss by up to 90% in these buildings. Bristol Council recently invested £1.6million into other main site renewal works and improvements so we’ve ringfenced funds to continue to retrofit our buildings as sustainably as possible.

We’ve installed EV charging points, communal water coolers and cycling facilities, worked with Bristol Waste to put a waste management and re-use strategy in place for clients. We arm productions with info in the form of our green suppliers list which has details of sustainable local companies providing everything from equipment hire to catering or transport.

We connect productions with local crew and accommodation – why move people across the country when everything is here? Long term, we would like to seek funding for a dedicated Sustainability Coordinator who can assist productions to film sustainability whilst basing at the studios and filming on location in Bristol.

The Bottle Yard sets

What’s next?

Our big focus for 2024 is skills. Late last year we secured £300K from the West of England Mayoral Combined Authority’s Mayoral Priority Skills Fund to deliver our new Film and High-End TV Workforce Development Programme for the region.

It’s a brand new, industry-focussed training scheme for regional participants from backgrounds currently underrepresented in the workforce, that will equip them with skills to become ‘set-ready’ for a scripted film and TV production career. Three cohorts will be supported throughout 2024.

It’s important that we strengthen our local scripted crew-base and we want to see those opportunities going to people from our region, so we’re really excited to be getting started on that. Once they’ve completed the scheme, the trainees will be added to a New Entrants Portfolio that we’ll give to all film and HETV productions filming with us, so that will directly link them to employment opportunities. It’s an exciting time!

With many thanks to Laura Aviles, head of film at Bristol City Council, who oversees The Bottle Yard Studios and Bristol Film Office, for taking part in our Q&A. You can find more on The Bottle Yard Studios on p18 of our most recent World of Studios UK.

All main studio images courtesy of The Bottle Yard Studios.

Christopher Walken filming The Outlaws S1 at The Bottle Yard, credit BBC, Amazon Prime Video, Big Talk and Four Eyes.

Am I Being Unreasonable? filming at the Bottle Yard Studios credit BBC/Boffola Pictures/Alistair Heap.

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