If These Walls Could Talk: Live and let's buy

If four walls could actually talk, it is doubtful there could be many with a more fascinating tale to tell than those at the iconic UK film studios, Pinewood Studios.
After eight decades as home to cinematic extravaganzas such as: the ‘James Bond’ franchise; ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’; the original ‘Superman’ and ‘Batman’ films, the walls and corridors at Pinewood must surely be oozing with stories of scandals, tantrums and gossip.

But sadly Pinewood closely guards its secrets, and not just metaphorically-speaking, because the site, based in Buckinghamshire, 20 miles west of London, is surrounded by trees and fences preventing prying eyes and ears from intruding, meaning that, even in today’s defamation-defying social media-friendly times, rumor and even hearsay are thin on the ground.

The studios is currently on the crest of a wave after a string of recent box office smashes, including Bond films ‘Spectre’ and ‘Skyfall’, ‘Jurassic World’, the penultimate ‘Harry Potter’ film and of course the £1.6 billion ($2.1bn; €1.9bn) moneymaker ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens.’

It is this success that buyer Venus Grafton – the wholly-owned subsidiary of Léon Bressler’s investment firm Aermont Capital, formerly known as PW Real Assets – clearly wants to capitalize on over the coming years. Speaking after last month’s acquisition, industry doyen Bressler described his new £320 million buy as an “iconic brand at the heart of the global creative industries.”

Venus Grafton has in fact bid for the entire Pinewood Group, which runs not only Pinewood but Shepperton Studios and Teddington Studios in the UK as well as further filming sites in Canada, Germany, Malaysia and the Dominican Republic.

But it is Pinewood which is the jewel in Pinewood Group’s crown. The studios have become part of the fabric of British and international cinematic history and as a result interest in it has been high for many years. In February, the group announced plans for a strategic review, citing a tightly-held shareholder register which has stifled liquidity and prevented the business from listing on the stock exchange, and it was this announcement which alerted prospective buyers to its potential availability.

Another appealing aspect for the new owners must be the fact that Pinewood was given permission, following a planning inquiry in 2014, to double the size of its film studio property over three stages, the first of which was completed in June.

Aside from more than 1 million square feet of stages and sets, the studios are also home to more than 200 specialist media and production support companies, including artists, stage designers and special effects teams which pull together to create a fully-functioning, collaborative creative hub, further enhancing the appeal for prospective film producers and, evidently, investors.

The site was built on the estate of Heatherden Hall, a large Victorian era house, but in 1934, flour magnate J. Arthur Rank and building tycoon Charles Boot bought the estate and set about transforming it into a network of film studios in the image of Hollywood. In fact, the name Pinewood was chosen by Rank because of the similarity to its American equivalent.

It was the James Bond franchise which provided the cornerstone of its longevity from the early 1960s onwards. Over the next 50 years, up until 2015’s ‘Spectre’, all but two of the 24 official Bond films to date have been filmed there. The business’ impact on the industry was finally recognized in 2009, when Pinewood and Shepperton received a BAFTA Award for their Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema.

Pinewood’s success story is showing no signs of slowing down either because the as-yet-unnamed eighth installment of the Star Wars saga is also due to be filmed there this year. Should Aermont manage to float the company before the manically-anticipated next instalment of the space opera, £320 million could be a steal.