London’s Twickenham Studios hits 100 this year, but nearly didn’t make it past 99 except for the doggedness of one of its execs and a Kenya-born British businessman.
Last year, the studio was insolvent but Maria Walker, then post-production supervisor and now Twickenham chief operating officer, spearheaded a Save Twickenham campaign supported by leading entertainment industry figures including Steven Spielberg, David Cronenberg, Paul McCartney and Ian McKellen. Sunny Vohra took notice and acquired the southwest London facility.
Twickenham is in the midst of an 18-month £2.5 million ($3.8 million) renovation to restore it to its former glory. “There were lots of surprises,” Vohra says. “The studio is 100 years old this year but suffered under a lack of investment for the past 30 to 40 years. It needed investment in infrastructure, upgrading, maintenance.”
Because of the lack of investment, Twickenham had received only the remnants of business with productions settling for the studio rather than choosing it. “We want to be the first choice. We’re not here to compete with the big studios. Twickenham is medium size. It is a case of creating a very good niche in a medium-size space. We’ll have all the facilities. It’s a very big market, but to get a share of that market we have to invest.”
Walker agrees that while Twickenham is a smaller facility it can compete on its own merits for suitable productions. “We have fantastic sound facilities, we will have superb picture facilities. We’re focusing on being the best we can be. We are boutique.”
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A principal part of the investment has gone into a complete equipment upgrade for the studios’ three theaters that position Twickenham as the prime venue for post-production in Blighty. The new Hollywood-standard 64 Fader 12-stem DFC Gemini consoles boast pure USP processing, use Encore 2 V8 software, and have the latest Quad MADI 64 channel cards that allow up to 1,000 paths from a theoretical maximum of 1,280 physical inputs and outputs.
“We are now ahead of anybody in Soho,” Vohra says. “The original budget for equipment was $380,000, the new equipment budget is more than $1.5 million.” Paramount’s “World War Z” most recently took over Twickenham’s two lead theaters for mixing.
Around the rest of the studio work is well under way such as new roofing, air conditioning, a reception building and other changes, including the completion of apartments kitted out for stars just ahead of the arrival of Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth, whose thriller “Before I Go to Sleep” shot at Twickenham recently.
The studio’s London location, with strong direct transport links that provide an advantage over the more remote big studios, has proven a key draw for producers.
Scott Free’s Liza Marshall agrees the location was a huge benefit for “Before I Go to Sleep.” “We used Twickenham as our base from which to find our other locations. Our production office was there, we did all the pre-production there.”
Refurbishments will continue into 2014. “I’m in it for the long haul,” says Vohra. “I want to turn Twickenham into a creative village for anyone from the creative arts. I want to make a hive of creativity, but it will take time.”