Studios Spotlight – Behind the scenes at FirstStage Studios
As the latest in our series of Studios Spotlights, we spoke to Bob Last of FirstStage Studios in Edinburgh about how, in just three years, the facility has become a major player in the north-of-the-border studio landscape, with set-builds including oil rigs, London streets, deserts and discos…
Can you fill us in a little about the history of your facility?
We opened FirstStage Studios in 2020. It is a large and unique industrial building on its own, self -contained-acre site.
It was built to a very high specification in 2000 for a subsidiary of Rolls Royce, which closed within 24 months of taking occupation of the building; it has now been a film and television studio for longer than any prior use.
We have been fortunate to be extremely busy with high-end TV (HETV) dramas since opening in 2020, but have worked hard to squeeze in a significant rolling programme of works with the next phase scheduled to commence this autumn.
As we have been so busy we have also racked up a lot of valuable intel as to where best to deploy our resources to enhance usability and creative potential for our customers.
Can you tell us about some of the recent productions/projects you have hosted?
We cannot discuss our customer’s budgets, but the larger projects have shot across every spare inch of over 100,000 sq ft of our clear span stages with ambitious sets - which gives you an idea of the budget level.
Our very first show was The Rig, a Wild Mercury production for Amazon which, by a complete fluke, was a show written by the talented David MacPherson who lives a bicycle ride away from our studio.
It is great to have welcomed The Rig season 2 back in 2023, and to see the exciting new world they are creating for the show’s fans.
It has been really rewarding to witness the ambitions our unique space has helped facilitate - we have had oil rigs, entire London streets and everything from deserts to discos built on our stages.
Anansi Boys, a Neil Gaiman project, seemed to build sets from around the globe but we can’t tell you more as the series has not yet aired. Last summer independent feature Outrun were the first to use our tank in stage C for an underwater shoot with Saoirse Ronan and that was also the first time we landed a helicopter for a shoot on our hardstanding.
Have you noticed any changes since you’ve opened in terms the types of enquiries or bookings?
We founded our studio as a response to the developing wave of VoD/SV0D platform HETV drama as we saw an opportunity to attract it north from the M25 with the right scale of facility at the right price.
I think everyone is aware that the second half of 2022 saw a significant slow downturn in growth if not an actual retraction; we are grateful we got FirstStage Studios on the map before then and, in particular, developed a good relationship with Amazon Studios who, along with the other streamers, seem very alert to - and supportive of - the potential outwith the M25.
We do not foresee the same rate of growth in the sector returning in the immediate future, but nonetheless 2024 is looking to be another strong year at FirstStage. Of course, in between HETV shows we have been happy to welcome ambitious commercials and independent features.
What would you say is your studio’s standout facility?
Its scale, and its height - which offers distinctive ambitious build capabilities alongside the provision of extensive onsite offices and parking.
Has Covid highlighted any safety measures that may be adopted long-term for anyone using the studio?
We operated at almost full capacity throughout Covid: the secure self-contained nature of the site and its scale helped our customers implement a generally successful management of Covid risk.
Have you any plans to expand?
We are certainly looking at other opportunities but not necessarily confined to the UK; in the meantime we have a new partnership with our neighbours Forth Ports to develop up to 60,000 sq ft of creative hubs/workspaces adjacent to the studio.
How do you see the future of production in your region?
We see ourselves as part of an international marketplace - we are able to pitch the scale of our offer at an attractive price point and of course our friends at MBS [studio operators the MBS Group] also have some substantial facilities in the region, which helps us collectively counter the residual gravitational pull of the M25.
We expect growth to kick back in later in 2024 and as activity continues to drive the rapid development of our local crew base and supply chains, we look forward to servicing more and more of that international growth. We are also watching with interest an emerging trend of UK broadcasters’ production arms teaming up with the streamers.
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Images via FirstStage Studios.
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