Mark Cantrell, Author

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FILM: From Motor Car To Movie Crew

Posted by Mark Cantrell on October 26, 2016 at 3:10 PM

 Hooray for... Dagenham?


Here's one for movie industry buffs out there, writes Mark Cantrell. Long known as a centre for motor manufacturing, now Dagenham Council and the Mayor of London want to shift gear and drive the borough to a motion picture future


DAGENHAM has done with cars. Now it seems the borough's political bigwigs have caught the movie bug and want to bring a little Hollywood magic home.


So move over Pinewood and Elstree – lights, cameras, action! – Dagenham aims to take to the stage and transform itself into a major centre of motion picture production.


London is already an important part of the move-making industrial machine. The capital is apparently the third busiest city for film production in the world, coming behind only Los Angeles and New York.


Around three quarters of the UK's film industry is based in and around London, and last year international film production injected £1 billion of inward investment into the city.


Hardly surprising, then, that the East London borough of Barking & Dagenham would fancy a slice of the action; especially after decades of decline in its traditional manufacturing industries.

A CGI of the proposed studio

The UK's talent has long been prized within the movie industry, too. While talk of a distinct British industry may sometimes ring hollow, British talent – be it acting prowess or technical expertise – makes an undeniably strong contribution to the movie world.


Indeed, London can boast world-class crew, locations, talent, and tax reliefs that make it a competitive place for filmmakers. Inevitably, this means demand for studio space is high. With its eye on a slice of this action – as good as on its doorstep – civic leaders clearly feel they can capitalise on their convenient location.


The biggest US studio-backed productions can bring in over £100 million in UK spend and new studios in Dagenham would enable London to bid successfully for more overseas film productions, it is claimed.


Position alone, however, just isn't going to cut it; like any industry, it needs its equivalent of factories and supply chain. That's why the council, with the support of the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is looking into creating new studio and production facilities in the borough.


“From James Bond and Star Wars to Harry Potter and Bridget Jones’s Baby, London has a vibrant production history and some of the best studios in the world,” said Khan. “To sustain and grow this success story, it is critical that the capital gets significantly more studio and production capacity to maximise the opportunities for filmmaking. London is open to the best creative and cultural minds and I am looking forward to exploring whether a new film studio in Dagenham could help the capital’s film industry thrive for years to come.”


It's clearly a big deal for the Mayor, who wants to bolster London's creative industries in the wake of the vote to leave the EU. These industries, including the movie business, is said to account for one in six jobs in the capital and they are regarded as a major area for economic growth.


This sector already provides 800,000 jobs in London and it generates £35 billion for the economy, so it's clear to see why it would be a big deal for Dagenham too.


Sadiq Khan and Darren Rodwell with a CGI of the proposed studio

“We are working together to create a blockbuster deal to generate hundreds of exciting opportunities for local young people and bolster Barking and Dagenham’s reputation as London’s latest creative hotspot. Our ambition is that in future, Dagenham will become world famous for films rather than Fords,” said Councillor Darren Rodwell, the borough council's leader.


London and its immediate hinterland are home to some of the best studios and facilities in the world, from major studio spaces hosting global blockbusters to Oscar-winning visual effects companies, and smaller television studios catering for homegrown TV hits, according to the Mayor’s office.


A new studio in Dagenham would complement the capital’s existing industry, which includes the likes of Ealing, Elstree, 3 Mills, Twickenham and Industrial Light Magic and Framestore studios, as well as other studios located near London such as Pinewood and Leavesden.


The site for what would be – if built – the capital's largest film studios has been potentially identified in Dagenham East. The industrial park has been “scoped out” because of its large size, but also because of its transport links to central London.


The Mayor has tasked industry agency Film London and the capital's Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to work with Dagenham council to commission a feasibility study into turning the studio concept into a reality. The process will be led by former organisation in close consultation with the film and television industries.


“London is one of the world’s busiest destinations for the film industry, with international filmmakers making a beeline for our city because they know it offers the very best by way of facilities, expertise and creative talent,” said Adrian Wootton, Chief Executive of Film London and the British Film Commission.


“Our global reputation means demand for studio space is incredibly high, and unlocking new studio space in east London would help maintain the capital’s competitive edge. If realised, this major new infrastructure project would mean a tremendous economic boost for Barking and Dagenham, the capital’s film and TV industries and the UK as a whole.”


Dagenham would be “entirely complementary” to London’s existing studio system, it's argued, and would ease the pressure on existing film studios at Twickenham, Ealing and Three Mills. It would also be able to accommodate large-scale production, so it's certainly an ambitious shift in direction for post-Ford Dagenham, but it also sounds as if the borough isn't entirely set to be the director of its own fate here.

As it is, the London LEP and Barking and Dagenham Council will invest up to £80,000 to develop a business case for the proposed new studios. This will look in close detail at the demand for such a facility and the economic benefit that it could bring to East London and the city as a whole.


That's a lot of money – especially for hard-pressed local authorities in post-austerity, post-Brexit Britain – to spend on brainstorming an idea, but it's argued that the benefits of attracting inward investment will be worth it. Provided the idea proves feasible, and subsequently goes ahead, of course; otherwise it just pays for a whole lot of reports and consultancy fees.


That's regeneration for you; somebody makes a packet, even if the supposed beneficiaries only end up lumbered with an expensive white elephant. For now, the idea of new studios is just that – an idea. It remains to be seen if the pitch will make it to the movies.


Cut! And that's a wrap.


Mark Cantrell,


23 October 2016


Copyright © October 2016. All Rights Reserved.


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