The British video game company making waves in TV and film

Yahoo was given a behind-the-scenes look at Rebellion Film Studios

Rebellion Film Studios (Rebellion)
Rebellion Film Studios in Didcot Parkway, Oxfordshire, where the video games company has begun making movies. (Rebellion)

Rebellion Studios is ready to support the next generation of young British talent, and it is doing so through its film and TV studios which it launched in 2018.

The company originally began as a video games studios, which it continues to work as, but the independent studio has since begun branching out on its own, developing movies such as Duncan Jones' Rogue Trooper. It has a long history of working with the film industry on VFX and motion capture, with past titles including A Monster Calls and Ready Player One, and now the team are ready to do more.

Yahoo UK was given access to the company's studio to learn more, with CEO Jason Kingsley and head of film, TV & publishing Ben Smith sharing insight into why their company is the next big thing. The key thing, Kingsley says, is to support those coming up: "We're very keen and we take chances on people, we give people chances as well... Ben and I felt there's some really good talent that needs a chance."

"It's all about valuing British talent," Smith agrees. "British storytelling talent, British technological talent, British craftsmanship, all of that is something that the company has always embraced."

From games to movies

Rebellion Film Studios (Rebellion)
Rebellion has a vast studio equipped with all sorts of things, like a motion capture stage (pictured) which is used for games and films. (Rebellion)

Founded by brothers Jason and Chris Kingsley in 1992, Rebellion made its big start with video games and made titles like Sniper Elite and Zombie Army. The reason for this venture, Kingsley tells Yahoo, was to focus on narrative and bring great stories to audiences.

"I've always been interested in narrative," he says. "I was writing new rules for board games as a young boy and that went through my academic education... throughout that there's been a background of storytelling.

"That really manifests itself in the games we make, who are the big financial driver for the company at the moment, 70% roughly of our business turnover is generated by computer games and it's a huge industry. But there's a big gap we felt in what we do, which is telling stories on the screen and we've always wanted to do that."

It is through this thought process that making movies came about, kick-starting their search for a studio which they could use to bring their stories to life. They founded one in Didcot Parkway, Oxfordshire, a location that was once the printing press for the Daily Mail and is only a short distance away from the station.

Rebellion Film Studios (Rebellion)
The studio also houses a vast in-house costume department that has the UK’s second largest complete historical military costume collection. (Rebellion)

The vast studio houses a number of facilities including a main stage and secondary shooting areas, an Audiomotion studio where film and video game crews can do motion capture and is Europe’s largest of its kind. There's also a prop workshop where staff with 20-plus years of experience work.

The studio also houses a vast in-house costume department that has the UK’s second largest complete historical military costume collection (as seen in Masters of the Air, Saving Private Ryan, and The Continental to name a few). It is a sprawling, well-built studio that has everything one could possibly need for a production.

With all this at their fingertips, Rebellion is hoping to become a self-funded entity, but making movies works quite differently to the games industry, Kingsley admits: "We didn't really know how it all worked and it was all a bit Byzantine to negotiate.

"The games industry is very simple, we can come up with an idea we fully funded ourselves, take it to the marketplace via Steam, Epic, Sony, Microsoft, and the consumer pays us money.

Rebellion Film Studios (Rebellion)
Founded by brothers Jason and Chris Kingsley in 1992, Rebellion made its big start with video games and in 2018 opened its first film studio. (Rebellion)

"It is about as transparent as you can imagine it to be. Film and telly is a bit different, you've got broadcast channels, you've got time slots, you've got geographical channels, you've got styles of watching. And so it's all quite complicated for somebody who comes from the games [industry] who makes something and gets it to an audience."

The benefit of having the studio where it is, though, is that it allows creative talent from across the UK, not just London, get their start and thrive in the industry, he adds: "I think it's essential and sensible because talent exists everywhere.

"The advantage of this place is it's also a location, we left quite a lot of the infrastructure [from when it was bought] because it makes great locations. We had quite a lot of indie films —science fiction, fantasy, horror films— where they go, 'Oh, this is a good corridor we could just light it and we've got the set.'

"It's a bit more spread out and a bit more exclusive, we've got very good security here, very good infrastructure and you're not crammed in. We had a very big director here the other day and he was saying 'I've got a bit of space to do things,' and he was thinking about having a very major franchise be filmed here — whether that will happen or not I don't know."

To achieve what they've set out to do in the industry perseverance is key, and to become a force to be reckoned with their focus is on the back catalogue of titles from their comic books company 2000 AD.

The legacy of 2000 AD

2000 AD comic book montage
Rebellion is the home of 2000 AD comics, an IP the company is exceedingly proud of and hopes to continue its legacy through new film and TV projects. (Alamy)

Smith first joined Rebellion in 2009 to help oversee the publishing of 2000 AD, the comic book company that is the home of classics like Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper, and was the place to launch the careers of renowned artists and writers like Alan Moore and Garth Ennis.

"As we've grown, that business has expanded on both sides of the Atlantic and in the course of that time we put together this enormous catalogue of comic books," Smith says. "It goes back 130 years, to 1892, to the first comic to be called a comic.

"I'm very fond of being responsible for working with the team to develop that IP, to reissue and curate the history of British comics but also to then iterate and tell new stories with interesting characters."

One way of doing so is to begin working on bringing these stories to wider audiences through the magic of cinema: "We always have conversations about how to take these things into film and TV, and the reason there haven't been as many adaptations as people might expect is because Rebellion is really, really careful about how we protect the legacy of these characters."

Rebellion Film Studios (Rebellion)
A sound stage at Rebellion Film Studios, where shows like Richard Hammond’s Crazy Contraptions have been filmed. (Rebellion)

Kingsley admits that Rebellion is "not really trying to compete with the other studios" but rather set on bringing their own IP to the silver screen on their own terms: "Our business, this part of the business, is running a studio that is really there for us to make our own things.

"Quite frankly we won't sell anything or licence things, we want the library to keep going. It's taken us ages to build the library and to acquire it. Our comics library goes back to the 19th century for goodness sake, it's an incredibly deep back catalogue, we've got early work by some of the comic greats, we're very proud of that.

"We see it as an important heritage legacy, what we don't wanna do is just sell it piece meal and dilute it. I sometimes upset people, fellow professionals, by asking them how are we gonna prevent this from being crap? Because people can make bad things and we want to avoid [that] if we possibly can.

"You can't guarantee you're gonna make something good all the time, but you can damn well try to make something good all the time."

Rogue Trooper and Judge Dredd

Rogue Trooper (Rebellion)
Rogue Trooper is an upcoming release that was launched by Rebellion and filmed at their studio, it is directed by Duncan Jones and stars an A-list cast. (Rebellion)

The pride that they take in their existing IP is palpable the moment you walk into Rebellion, where you're greeted with a huge statue of Judge Dredd in action. The character is everywhere, and it's clear that the work of 2000 AD is an important part of Rebellion's mission statement as a film studio.

Soon Rebellion will bring another of their classics to the big screen though: Rogue Trooper. Duncan Jones is directing, and the film stars Aneurin Barnard, Hayley Atwell, and Jack Lowden amongst others. Kingsley and Smith are excited about the project, which wrapped filming at Rebellion earlier this year and used the studio's motion capture stage to bring the animated film to life.

What is most exciting is the love the film's director has for the original, Smith says: "We knew Duncan Jones understands Rogue Trooper. He's a reader of old, he's got a love for the character, and so there was never an instance where our ambitions were different from what he wanted to do.

"We want to tell a great Rogue Trooper story, so that [project] was the complete opposite of development hell, that was just very synergistic."

Director Duncan Jones at Netflix Films
Ben Smith, the head of film and TV at Rebellion, said of Duncan Jones: 'He's got a love for the character, and so there was never an instance where our ambitions were different from what he wanted to do.' (Getty Images)

Kingsley was keen to be involved with the project, sharing: "That's why we own our own IP, so it enables me to be as involved as necessary. Rogue Trooper, for example, [I was] actively involved, it's Duncan's movie but we talk a lot.

"[I'd] fling ideas at Duncan and he sometimes says 'yeah, that's good, that would work' or he might go: 'No, that won't work for this reason'. That's great, he's a professional but it's a really good dialogue and it's nice to be involved in that."

The CEO hopes to be able to do the same with Judge Dredd again one day, whose story was previously adapted into a film in 2012 with Karl Urban and in the 1995 film starring Sylvester Stallone.

Read more: Karl Urban in talks for Judge Dredd TV show

Kingsley says Rebellion are "absolutely" interested in bringing the character back to the screen, adding: "We've got lots of projects in the background, we've got a slate of things we're working on, scripts being written. Dredd's obviously up there, the Dredd TV show, another movie, we've got all of those on the list of what we're trying to do.

Karl Urban in talks for Judge Dredd TV show
Another project that Rebellion is hoping to bring back is Judge Dredd, the 2000 AD character has been seen onscreen twice before including the 2012 film starring Karl Urban (pictured). (Alamy)

"I don't think anything's been announced yet, but what we've gotta do is find the right routes to market so we've talked to various potential partners like Netflix. We haven't yet concluded a deal with people because we're slightly different, we don't want to sell things to people, we want to work with them. We want to license things to people, we want to help them build their business, but we also want to build our own business.

"I've got a big company that makes computer games, we own our own IP and we want to continue to own and make things, we want to work with the right partners in the right way so that's the idea. We haven't yet managed to close any of these deals [for Judge Dredd] but a lot of people are interested in working with us."

There's certainly a bright future ahead for Rebellion, and with a second studio lot set to be built at their Oxford base things can only get better. Smith certainly agrees: "There's more coming in the future, it's an interesting time for film and TV, I think what hopefully people will see is that we're open for all business — Hollywood or otherwise.

"Hopefully we'll see that this is a real home for independent British film production."