LONDON — East London is seeing a surge in film business courtesy of initiatives like the East London Moving Image Initiative, which has been designed to promote the area as a creative hub.
ELMII’s official remit — a large part of its funding comes from the European Community’s European Regional Development Fund — is to regenerate areas suffering industrial decline. But it has focused on the area of visual arts due to many film-based businesses were already in place.
“It used to be cheap to live and a lot of artists and filmmakers moved east,” says Rebecca Maguire, development project manager for Film London, major partners in ELMII. “Since then the east has had a strong awareness of the visual arts.”
The area has challenged the traditional dominance of Soho, London’s media hub. Soho is home to Hollywood studio offices, London’s post-production community and myriad screening rooms. It was a fact that concerned many new businesses setting up in East London.
“When we moved we were worried that the clients would not come,” says Joan Leese, of VET, a post services company. “There are some clients that will always go to Soho, but as the infrastructure has improved, clients find they enjoy coming here because the bars and clubs and eateries have grown alongside the media businesses.”
Founded in 1986, VET is s mall business of 10 people and as such was an ideal candidate to kickstart East London’s transformation. “Changes like this tend to begin with the smaller companies, where costs like rent are an issue and they are able to change and move quickly,” Lees adds.
The company moved from the inner east suburb of Shoreditch when rent became too high and is now based in Hoxton Square, slightly further out. Lees says that there is now a strong network of filmmakers and facilities in the area.
Another key plank to the strategy of ELMII is the London Development Agency’s purchase of 3 Mills Studios, one of the U.K.’s leading film and TV studios.
The East London studio includes 16 stages varying in size from 3,000 to 14,000 square feet and has played host to recent horror hit “28 Days Later” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” and is currently home to Tim Burton’s new animated feature “The Corpse Bride.”
With a renewed focus on the film industry has come a lift in location shooting. The London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Greenwich, Newham and Hackney have all seen filming go up by a third in the past 12 months.
“The east has a range of diverse backdrops, we have industrial, railway arches, Victorian terraces and also modern social housing. There are also the cafes and bars of Shoreditch and Hoxton,” says Felicity Jump, film officer, Borough of Hackney, which has seen shooting days rise from 285 to 369 days (January-August) in just one year.
Recent shoots include Julia Roberts starrer “Closer,” Jude Law remake “Alfie,” thriller “Trauma” and Charley Stadler’s “Dead Fish.” The area regularly hosts TV production and fashion shoots.
The key to location shooting is to make things as smooth as possible for the crews, and Jump is on 24-hour call should there be any complaints from residents — one of the borough’s main concerns. “There are very few complaints, but it is actually helpful when people do complain,” she says. “If people complain you can work with them to understand what works and what doesn’t.”
Camilla Stevenson, location manager on “Trauma,” says the film saw itself as a very London film, but shooting in the east helped it avoid the usual capital cliches.
Shot in and around Hackney, Lambeth and Borough, Stevenson sought to create a London where real people live. “East London has a lot of interesting architecture and shapes and colors that don’t always get shown,” she says. “But the other key is film friendliness. We needed a lot of night shooting from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m. and that is a difficult thing to approach a borough about, but in the east you get a sympathetic ear.”
Stevenson adds, “It’s no use filming a beautiful location if you have nowhere to park your trucks. Unfortunately, shooting in London is not purely about creativity, you have to be practical as well.”