– . – Location Focus
From Hitchcock to Spielberg, Star Wars to Kick-Ass, Elstree has seen it all. Rinaldo Quacquarini delves inside a British icon.
For foreign filmmakers choosing to shoot abroad, the global economic downturn has ensured that the European production landscape offers endless possibilities, with virtually every major country within the European Union touting attractive tax credit incentives to lure productions to their shores. In many instances, substantial investment in studio infrastructure has ensured that productions considering some of the more remote corners of Eastern Europe now have access to the most modern of studio facilities. This, coupled with the ready availability of experienced local crews, has seen competition among Europe’s production facility providers— seeking to secure foreign production spend—reach new heights.
Those choosing to shoot in the United Kingdom can expect an attractive combination of easily accessible tax rebates, professional and experienced crews, high-quality post-production and visual effects facilities and an impressive selection of world-renowned studios. And one of the best of these is Elstree Studios, located just 13 miles from the heart of London in leafy Hertfordshire.
While Elstree may today be more synonymous with television hits like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Big Brother and Dancing on Ice, London’s premiere TV and film studio has a long and distinguished film history. Once described by Charlie Chaplin as “the home of the British film industry,” Elstree has survived World War II, the changing entertainment landscape of the 1960s and near financial ruin in the 1970s, and has a heritage as impressive as the stream of regular, high-profile productions which the studio has constantly managed to attract.
A British Icon
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its standing, Elstree has always been regarded as a pioneer. As early as 1929, Alfred Hitchcock—by then already recognised as a promising talent—entered the record books when he directed Blackmail at the studio, a film widely credited as being the first British ‘talkie’ to emerge at the end of the silent film era. And as innovators, Elstree has been involved in numerous breakthroughs in motion picture technology, including colour production and the making of multilingual films during the late 1920s and early 1930s. By the time the outbreak of WWII had put a halt on production in 1939, the studio had overseen the production of some 200 features.
While such an impressive output is unlikely to be repeated given the current nature of international production, Elstree continues to attract some of the most recognisable directors and talent in the business, who have collectively spawned some of the most iconic films of all time. These include George Lucas in 1976 with Star Wars (as well as two sequels), Steven Spielberg in the 1980s with his Indiana Jones trilogy and, more recently, productions such as Malcolm Venville’s 44 Inch Chest and Matthew Vaughn’s hotly anticipated, genrebreaking superhero movie, Kick-Ass.
On The Lot
Offering a combined space of over 60,000 sq. ft., Elstree sports six sound stages (two with nine ft. water tanks) and one silent stage, ranging in size from the modest—Stage 6, which measures 3,844 sq. ft.—to the impressive—Stage 1 and Stage 2 each measure 15,770 sq. ft. Completed in 1999, these two huge state-of-the-art sound stages, each with a clearance height of 49 ft., were used by George Lucas during the filming of the Star Wars trilogy, with both stages aptly being named ‘The George Lucas Stage’ in appreciation of the director’s long association with the studio.
Benefiting from exceptional onsite supporting facilities, workshops, luxurious dressing rooms (once described by British actor Martin Freeman as being “nicer than most hotels”), wardrobe and make-up facilities and full in-house catering that is second to none, Elstree Studios has long been the preferred choice of many.
Going That Extra Mile
Commenting on his time at Elstree during the filming of Star Wars, producer Rick McCallum had nothing but praise for the studio. “In truth, for us all stages are pretty much the same. What distinguishes one studio from another is the people who run it. At Elstree, the studio provided us with the most efficient, organised and dedicated team, who were always able to adapt and respond immediately [to] our production requirements.”
Similar sentiments were echoed more recently by Daniel Barber, director of the Michael Caine-led UK crime thriller Harry Brown, which wrapped at the studio in 2009. “Elstree Studios were fantastic to do business with. Their excellent staff and the seamless service they provided allowed myself, the crew and cast to simply focus on shooting the best film possible. Everything else was taken care of.”
Mark Cooper, co-producer of costume drama The Other Boleyn Girl, summed up the general consensus of the many who have graced the lot at Elstree over the years by describing the studio as “The only independent major film studio in London [able] to give a very personal and boutique service to the more demanding producers today in the British film industry.”
Under the careful stewardship of Hertsmere Borough Council since 1996, Elstree Studios has blossomed into a hub of continual film and television production with a promising future. Roger Morris, Managing Director of Elstree studios added, “Elstree is reinventing itself as the home of the British film industry, supporting British filmmakers and linking up with the London Film School to train the next generation of filmmakers and cinematographers. Elstree is also endeavouring to become the leading British studio for electronic film production and ultimately 3D.” And, with a number of features scheduled to begin shooting at the studio in the summer, the studio’s legacy as one of the UK’s most loved production facilities is set to continue.
Contact: Laura Palmer, Elstree Studios
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 8953 1600