LONDON — “We’re up for filming in London like never before,” says London film commissioner Sue Hayes, reflecting Film London’s new can-do approach to bringing in film projects. “And we’re here to make it easier, to be the screamer and the shouter.”
But what does that mean for crews wanting to use London’s iconic cityscape? Most if not all of the capital’s landmarks are open to filming, though the royal palaces or Westminster take more planning.
“There are security issues, but with time and negotiation it is doable,” says Hayes. “Something like a Woody Allen film is straightforward, whereas car and gun chases might need much longer.”
Future plans include re-creating wartime London in the center of busy Soho for BBC Films’ “Mrs. Henderson Presents.” “It will mean road closures, night shoots and the involvement of the local community,” says Hayes. “But ’28 Days Later’ proved that by shooting early in the morning and at odd times it can all be done.”
A perennial favorite with those seeking an instantly recognizable landmark (“Tomb Raider” and Franchise’s upcoming “Dead Fish”), the gothic grandeur of Tower Bridge made an eye-catching appearance in Working Title’s “Thunderbirds.”
The south bank of the Thames has become London’s most popular shooting location thanks to an ever-evolving skyline that features the Tate Modern, London Eye, the National Film Theater, Millenium Bridge, Oxo Tower, Saatchi Gallery and City Hall. Recent shoots include “Wimbledon,” “Closer” and “Bride and Prejudice.” The Tate Modern charges between $360-$900 per hour depending on length of shoot and size of crew. Filming is restricted to outside opening hours, unless the crew consists of five members or less using handheld equipment.
Filming in London’s most famous square requires public liability cover of $9 million and at least five days notice. As a public place, it is possible to close only part of the square at any one time and generally only on weekdays. Booking is done through Greater London Authority’s Squares Management Team at City Hall and will set you back $770per hour.
City of London
The capital’s financial center features some of London’s most modern buildings and this summer Woody Allen took a break from New York to film at London’s newest skyline attraction, the Swiss Re building. Nicknamed the Gherkin by Londoners, building was designed by Norman Foster. Security remains high in the wake of 9/11, though most of the area’s buildings are accessible. “The Lloyds Building has been seen as difficult in the past because it is full of many people, organizations and companies,” says London film commissioner Sue Hayes. “But the Corp. of London and Lloyds Building themselves have embraced the idea of filming.”
The city center’s royal parks have served as leafy English backdrops in “About a Boy,” “101 Dalmations” and “Spice World.” A minimum of 10 days notice is required and restrictions include disruption to wildlife and vehicle access, depending on time of year and ground conditions. But there is another factor: “The unpredictability of English weather makes location filming in London a challenge,” says producer Jan Vocke, who shot scenes for Cold War drama “A Different Loyalty” in Hyde Park during a scorching 2003 summer. “We wanted to shoot a gloomy pub scene in Islington, but it was a gorgeous sunny day. So we ended up using rain effects, in London of all places.”
Filming on London’s tube system is subject to script and layout review. “We want the underground to be shown in a positive or neutral light,” says commercial film liaison manager Kate Reston. “There’s a lot of negative press about us already and we don’t want to add to it.” Taboo subjects include people being attacked, graffiti, vandalism and fare evasion. Filming must take place outside of peak hours with a London Underground rep present; and for platform shoots no additional lighting is permitted. Charing Cross and Canary Wharf are the most popular stations, with “Code 46,” “Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London” and “The Yank” all having shot recently. Fees are $540 upwards to $1,800 per hour.
In addition to its famous facade and collections, the British Museum boasts interior locations that include underground corridors; a 300-foot, 19th-century gallery; and the Great Court, which features a Foster-designed glass roof. Neil LaBute’s “Possession,” David Kane’s “Born Romantic” and Karan Johar’s “Kabhi khusi kabhie gham” all filmed here. Noise restrictions apply from 8 p.m.-8 a.m., and the museum reserves special measures such as cordoning off large parts only for productions of “a relatively grand scale.”
Filming on London’s stretch of river means getting permission and a license from the Port of London Authority; and boats used during filming must carry a licensed official, known as a Thames waterman, onboard. There are charges not only for the use of the river itself, but for land used during filming. For larger productions, part of the river can be closed off, but this requires a longer period of notice as unlike cars, there are no alternative routes for boats through the city.
Even the hallowed halls of British Foreign Intelligence are not completely off limits, though special permission is required. When MI6 learned that a scene for “The World Is Not Enough” was to be shot around its headquarters, security concerns prompted them to block the move. This was eventually overturned thanks to the intervention of then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who said, “After all Bond has done for Britain, it was the least we could do for Bond.”