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Warner Bros. acquires Britain’s Leavesden Studios

Warner Bros. is adding a second home in Britain by acquiring and expanding the 170-acre Leavesden Studios northwest of London where it shot the eight " Harry Potter” films.

The studio’s $161.4-million investment in Leavesden was hailed as a boon to Britain’s film economy, but is likely to heighten concerns in Los Angeles about the continued exodus of feature production to other countries. Having a permanent film base at Leavesden will give the Burbank studio additional incentive to shoot more in Britain, which offers a film tax credit of up to 25% on qualified production spending.

California also offers a tax credit of up to 25%, but it applies only to movies with budgets of less than $75 million, which excludes more expensive productions such as the “Harry Potter” series. The state’s new tax credit has helped slow the migration of movies and television shows, but its effectiveness has been hampered by limited resources: The program has already exhausted its $100-million allocation for the year.

Warner’s plans for the British studio include the construction of two new soundstages to house and display much of the memorabilia, sets, costumes and props from the “Potter” movies, with behind-the-scenes tours for the public. The makeover is expected to be completed in mid-2012 and is expected to preserve an estimated 1,500 jobs and generate an additional 300, including building and specialist contractors.

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This comes as welcome news to the British film community after months of upset over the dismantling of the U.K. Film Council, which supports the local industry.

With the purchase of Leavesden, Time Warner Inc.-owned Warner Bros. becomes the only Hollywood studio to own and operate its own production facility in Britain. Upon completion, Warner said, Leavesden will be one of Europe’s largest studio lots, representing one-third of the dedicated stage space for film production in Britain.

Since 2000, Warner Bros. has shot numerous productions at the 500,000-square-foot studio — site of a former Rolls-Royce factory just outside Watford — including parts of its recent release “Inception” as well as “The Dark Knight” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” In addition to employing thousands of people, the studio’s investment has attracted close to $3 billion in film production budgets.

Britain has long been a popular filming location for big Hollywood productions, including the James Bond movie series and Marvel Studios’ current filming of the comic book adaptation “Captain America: The First Avenger.”

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Last year, Warner stepped up its investment in the local British film industry, acquiring Shed Media, the producer of “Supernanny” and “Wife Swap.”

“For 86 years, Warner Bros. has been intrinsically involved in film production in the U.K.,” said Warner Bros. Chief Executive Barry Meyer, noting that the investment “demonstrates our long-term commitment to, and confidence in, the skills and creativity of the U.K. film industry.”

At its Burbank headquarters, Warner Bros. has 35 soundstages, where it shoots most of its television shows, including “Two and a Half Men,” “The Mentalist” and “The Big Bang Theory” as well as movies such as " The Hangover Part II.”

claudia.eller@latimes.com

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richard.verrier@latimes.com


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