Birmingham NEC c Elliot Brown Flickr

Source: Elliot Brown/Flickr

Birmingham NEC

The NEC Group is planning to offer its arenas in Birmingham for film and TV productions, as they lie empty during Covid-19 restrictions.

Both the Utilita Arena Birmingham in the city centre and the Resorts World Arena on the NEC campus will be made available to film and TV productions, with full-capacity live events unlikely to take place at the venues until 2021.

“We’ve got a clear diary for both our arenas from now until the end of the year, so we’ve been exploring ways we can utilise our space to get business into the venues, and film and TV production seemed like the perfect fit,” said Guy Dunstan, managing director of arenas within the NEC Group.

“We’re aware there’s a big backlog in schedules for film and TV productions, and a lack of space to support that, as the industry gets back to filming.”

Dunstan and his team have already held discussions with at least two UK-based film and TV production companies interested in utilising the arenas for filming this autumn.

“We have also been in contact with Film Birmingham (Birmingham City Council’s film and television office) to see where further opportunities are available, as they are the go-to organisation for filming in the Birmingham/West Midlands area,” added Dunstan.

Space and facilities

The Utilita Arena offers 62,500 square feet (sq ft) of space inside the arena bowl. Below that – linked via a lift, stairs and a loading area – is a sports-hall facility with a further 16,000 sq ft of space.

“These two significant areas can either be used concurrently for filming, or productions can utilise one space for set builds and workshops, and the other for actual filming,” suggested Dunstan.

The arena already offers a suite of dressing rooms, furnished production offices, crew and catering facilities, including a fully-serviced kitchen, as well as an on-site team of rigging and technical experts for sound, lighting, video PAs etc. Ancillary space includes concourses, suites and hospitality areas.

“A lot of the infrastructure normally found on sets is already in place for film and TV productions, so they don’t need to bring in portacabins and mobile kitchens,” said Dunstan.

It’s a similar story at the Resorts World Arena, which offers 49,000 sq ft of arena floor space, and an annex, known as Forum Live, with 30,500 sq ft of space. There’s also a suite of offices, dressing rooms, and rigging capability and expertise.

“It’s the same team that run the two arenas,” added Dunstan.

Productions also have the opportunity to use the NEC’s vast exhibition spaces, which encompass 250,000 square metres. These are also currently available and could be used by several production companies concurrently.

Dunstan insists the company can adapt these facilities to productions of any size or type. “In normal times, we can go from an Iron Maiden concert to an Esport event to a major exhibition. We are all about adapting and being flexible,” he said.

Covid preparations

The NEC Group has also been active in preparing its sites for Covid-19 requirements and restrictions, so that business can resume. Dunstan has also written guidance for the National Arenas Association, which has been put forward to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, so that the sector can resume work practices safely. This will be reviewed by government but can be adapted to film and TV productions that take place at the NEC sites.

“It includes how we operate, sanitisation, social distancing, one-way systems, control measures, PPE – every aspect to enable us to get back to business is part of that documentation,” said Dunstan.

This story first appeared on Screen’s sister site KFTV.