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International Insider: ‘War Of The Worlds’ Leads Drama Restarts; UK Studio Space Race; Johnny Depp Trial


Happy Friday, Jake Kanter here. Here’s a rundown of the six things you need to know about the global film and TV business this week. If you want to subscribe to get this alert in a timely fashion, sign up here.

1. Scoop: The ‘War Of The Worlds’ Pandemic Masterplan

Apocalypse now: It seems fitting that War Of The Worlds, a dystopian story about deserted streets, will be the first UK drama series to return to production in the pandemic era. We can reveal that cameras will begin rolling in Newport, Wales, next Monday after months of meticulous planning on the part of producer Urban Myth Films.

Test test test: Deadline understands that Urban Myth has worked with Welsh authorities to design a testing regime for cast and crew. Crucially, this will allow actors to break two-meter social distancing rules where it is dramatically necessary. Urban Myth director Johnny Capps also told us how he has created color-coded bubbles on set, with all staff wearing an armband dictating their level of access to different areas of the studio.

The big takeaway: Capps says that Urban Myth conducted a “Covid rehearsal” last Friday, which basically involved a full day of shooting, with extras standing in for actors, to test all safety procedures. He says the day was a success and has given War Of The Worlds the confidence to start its three-month shoot next week. Read the full story here.

2. UK Studio Space Race

The British Hollywood: That’s how Sky described the major new studio complex it is building with sister company NBCUniversal in Elstree, North London. The Comcast-owned firms got a big thumbs up for their plans on Wednesday at a Hertsmere Borough Council meeting, where everything from traffic to local tree life was poured over in seemingly infinite detail.

The pitch: Sky Studios CFO Caroline Cooper told Deadline that the plan is to make Sky Studios Elstree “the best studio in the UK” when it opens in 2022. It will consist of 12 sound stages, production offices, a set construction workshop, a screening cinema, a multi-story car park, and post-production and digital facilities.

But but but: Sky is just one player in the UK studio space race. To mark your cards, there are at least four other major studio developments going on right now:

  • Ashford International Film Studios: The Creative District Improvement Company’s £250M ($315M) development in the Kent town of Ashford.
  • Dagenham Studios: Planning permission was secured this week by Be First to build a six-sound-stage studio on former industrial land in the London suburb of Dagenham.
  • OMA Film Studios: A converted industrial depot in Enfield, north London, which will be opened by the Location Collective in the coming months.
  • Twickenham Studios: Another Creative District Improvement Company project. The outfit is pumping £50M of investment into expanding the existing site.

Can demand meet supply? With the pandemic-induced wobble in global production, some might wonder if the UK could go from not having enough studio space, to being somewhat oversupplied. Not Cooper, though — she is confident that Sky Studios Elstree will be busy come launch. “We’ve seen a huge influx in production and to be able to house films and TV shows in the UK that would otherwise have been made abroad is fantastic. As long as the UK continues to be an attractive place to work, continues to develop talent, I don’t see that changing,” she said.

3. Depp’s Dramatic Libel Trial

London’s Hollywood blockbuster: There may not be loads of drama being made in the UK right now, but there is certainly no shortage of it thanks to Johnny Depp’s explosive libel battle with Rupert Murdoch-owned British tabloid The Sun.

What’s happening: Depp is suing The Sun after it branded him a “wife-beater” for allegedly assaulting his ex-wife, the Aquaman actress Amber Heard. Depp strenuously denies the claims, and spent the first four days of the three-week trial in the witness box making his case.

A string of revelations: The court has heard detailed accounts of Depp’s relationship with drugs and alcohol, claims and counter-claims of verbal and physical assault, and a gruesome picture of the Sweeney Todd star’s severed finger. There’s also been the publication of deeply personal texts and emails, not least a long missive written by Heard in which she ruminated on Depp’s “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” persona.

Why it matters: Depp is staking his entire reputation on a legal battle with a British tabloid newspaper. If a judge rules in his favor, it will effectively exonerate him from claims that he assaulted Heard. If the decision goes against Depp, he will ultimately be deemed a “wife-beater” in a British court of law.

4. Festivals Forge On

Green shoots: After months of cancellations since lockdowns began, the film festival calendar is finally seeing tentative signs of a return to business. This week, Deadline tracked the progress of 17 upcoming events, from Venice to Toronto and Sarajevo to Sundance, to find out how they are planning to hold their events during the pandemic. Here’s your handy bookmark.

5. Best Of The Rest

The relief of relief: There was widespread creative industry celebration this week when the British government announced a £1.57BN ($2BN) coronavirus rescue package for the country’s arts and culture venues, including independent cinemas and theatres. Full story here.

Sky has cake and eats it: Deadline revealed this week that Sky has taken full control of The Great British Bake Off producer Love Productions, acquiring a 30% slice in the company it didn’t previously own. No word yet, though, on when the baking show will return to production. It was mysteriously absent from Channel 4’s autumn highlights. Go deeper.

Britbox gets into big-league drama: We also brought you news this week of BBC and ITV-owned streamer BritBox’s first drama commission: An espionage thriller based on the book A Spy Among Friends, which is set to star Damian Lewis and Dominic West. Here’s the full story.

Seven conversations on race: My colleague Andreas Wiseman dropped a must-read piece this week, featuring the first-hand experiences of BAME industry figureheads in the UK. The likes of David Harewood, director Asif Kapadia and The British Blacklist founder Akua Gyamfi shared their views on race, inequality and the Black Lives Matter movement. Read more.

The view from Bollywood: If Indian cinema is “too spicy” for foreign audiences, and international content is “too bland” for Indian viewers, where’s the sweet spot? Deadline Zoomed with Bollywood megastar Abhishek Bachchan, who stars in new Amazon drama Breathe: Into The Shadows, to try to find an answer. Interview here.

‘Jumanji’ keeps rocking: Jumanji: The Next Level has crossed $800M worldwide this week thanks to pandemic-era showings in the likes of Australia, Austria, Belgium and Brazil. The Dwayne Johnson-starrer secured 16 No. 1 openings across Europe and Asia when it launched. Read on.

6. One To Watch

Apple sets sail: Apple may have taken a big bite out of the movie market at Cannes, but it first stuck a flag in the sand back in May, when it swooped for the rights to Tom Hanks’ World War II feature Greyhound in a $70M-plus deal. The film launches on Apple TV+ today and tells the story of fictional Commander Ernest Krause who is tasked with guiding a convoy of 37 merchant ships through U-boat-infested waters.

The verdict: “It is an understated and stoic performance by Hanks — who also adapted the book and whose company Playtone is a production entity — that reminds of the best we can be when duty calls, rather than the worst, as our current leaders seem to remind us each and every day,” says our chief film critic Pete Hammond. Here’s his full review.

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