Cen­tre stage

HAYES-BASED STU­DIOS BE­COM­ING THE GO-TO PLACE FOR FILM AND TV SHOWS

Ruislip & Eastcote & Northwood Gazette - - Front Page - By FRED­ER­ICA MILLER fred­er­[email protected]­plc.com @Fred­diAMiller

NES­TLED in a no man’s land off Uxbridge Road, you prob­a­bly have not heard of West Lon­don Film Stu­dios, but it is rapidly be­com­ing one of the UK’s hottest spots for film and TV mak­ers.

We went be­hind the scenes at the stu­dios where sea­son one of BBC Amer­ica’s as­sas­sin hit, Killing Eve, the fi­nal se­ries of Peep Show and Idris Elba’s di­rec­to­rial de­but film, Yardie, were all made.

There is a lot more than meets the eye to what could eas­ily be mis­taken for soul­less stor­age units. From a fully func­tion­ing hos­pi­tal set (the only of its kind in the UK), to star dress­ing rooms which have kept the likes of Bradley Cooper, Renée Zell­weger and Colin Firth happy, the Hayes lo­ca­tion has more than a touch of Hol­ly­wood about it.

WLFS was bought and re­named by en­tre­pre­neur Frank Khalid, 50, in 2005. South-east Lon­doner Frank runs suc­cess­ful cater­ing and cash and carry busi­nesses, but tak­ing over a film stu­dios was a child­hood dream come true.

Frank said: “Since I was a very young boy I’ve been very pas­sion­ate about films and it was just one of those things, I just wanted to get in­volved. If you can’t be in the film, at least you can be part of it. This was my way of be­ing part of the film in­dus­try – by own­ing a film stu­dio.”

The stu­dios were pre­vi­ously used by Sky and The Rac­ing Chan­nel to film pro­grammes, but went into ad­min­is­tra­tion after the ten­ants moved else­where. Since its 2005 pur­chase, Frank has breathed new life and money into the place and says a mas­sive re­fur­bish­ment and new man­age­ment has seen it go from strength to strength.

Frank’s proud­est projects at the stu­dios in­clude sea­son one of Killing Eve and 2014 Os­car­win­ning film The Imi­ta­tion Game, which starred Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch as maths ge­nius Alan Tur­ing, whose ma­chine helped de­crypt Ger­man in­tel­li­gence code in World War Two.

A mas­sive replica of the Tur­ing Ma­chine was built on set and re­mains Frank’s favourite prop to this day.

So what’s the se­cret to mak­ing a suc­cess­ful film stu­dios? Ac­cord­ing to WLFS gen­eral man­ager Matilda Wi­ley, a lot of its to do with its west Lon­don lo­ca­tion.

She said: “West Lon­don is known as the film clus­ter. A lot of the pro­duc­tions pre­fer be­ing in west Lon­don be­cause of the air­port, and it’s an eas­ier com­mute for a lot of the tal­ent, who live in west Lon­don. They can get straight to the West End from here as well, which they like. Lots of the film stu­dios are in this area, so pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies can come here and use other fa­cil­i­ties.”

Pinewood Stu­dios, in Buck­ing­hamshire, and Eal­ing Stu­dios are just two of the big names WLFS is com­pet­ing with.

It has a steady stream of busi­ness, but Frank is keen to ex­pand to at­tract big­ger pro­duc­tions like Dis­ney’s Mar­vel projects, who have turned WLFS down be­cause of lack of space in the past.

Frank said: “I want to ex­pand – the space we have is not big enough at the mo­ment. We’ve got the likes of Mar­vel and Net­flix ap­proach­ing us, but we don’t al­ways have the space they need. So we want to make an­other big­ger stu­dios in Hilling­don, hope­fully in the next 12 to 15 months – very soon.

“Most of our peo­ple who work here are lo­cal but it’s not just us the pro­duc­tions who come here also em­ploy lo­cal peo­ple. The whole com­mu­nity ben­e­fits from us be­ing here – the busi­nesses and lo­cal cater­ers too.”

On the day we vis­ited one of the most talked about se­ries of the year was on set film­ing its sec­ond sea­son, but se­crecy around the show is so high that we were not even al­lowed to set foot in the part of the build­ing it was be­ing filmed in, let alone re­veal its name to you.

WLFS has six stages of vary­ing sizes, which are kit­ted with all the nec­es­sary el­e­ments, in­clud­ing sound re­duc­tion and ad­join­ing prop work­shops.

A tour around Stages 1 and 2 re­vealed to­tally dif­fer­ent sights. Stage 1 still housed half dis­man­tled sets from BBC com­edy se­ries Hold the Sun­set, which stars John Cleese and has its sec­ond se­ries due out next year.

WLFS stages are gen­er­ally used for in­doors scenes as most pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies will film on lo­ca­tion for out­side ac­tion.

Mo­bile home-esque cab­ins kit­ted out with kitchen side­boards, liv­ing room fur­ni­ture and even wall­pa­per filled most of Stage 1.

Sub­ur­bia had been recre­ated inch for inch in the mid­dle of a mas­sive ware­house. Ca­bles strewn across the floor of a kitchen where a ply­wood side­board had been moved off the wall clearly showed it was a con­structed do­mes­tic scene.

Pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies dis­man­tle the sets once shoot­ing is over, which some­times means spec­tac­u­lar props be­ing com­pletely de­stroyed. An en­tire 1940s ho­tel was built at WLFS to film ITV se­ries the Hal­cyon. It cost £3 mil­lion to make and was built to last five years, but was de­stroyed after sea­son one of the se­ries flopped.

WLFS some­times gives ma­te­ri­als left be­hind by pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies to nearby schools and col­leges.

Frank said: “We some­times give left over wood and ma­te­ri­als to the work­shop at the Guru Nanak Sikh Academy op­po­site, and the flats (the porter cabin­like sets), go to Uxbridge Col­lege’s drama de­part­ment.”

The Hos­pi­tal Lo­ca­tion is a ten­ant at WLFS and does ex­actly what its name sug­gests. It’s the only UK film set de­signed spe­cially for hos­pi­tal scenes and was set up by peo­ple from med­i­cal back­grounds who have got its au­then­tic­ity down to a tee.

It has a fully-equipped op­er­at­ing the­atre which has all the rel­e­vant ter­ri­fy­ing in­stru­ments, in­clud­ing med­i­cal scis­sors, for­ceps and scalpels.

Frank said: “All the equip­ment is real. The guys who run the com­pany are all from a med­i­cal back­ground so it’s gen­uine. It’s even creepier when we show you where they keep the dead bod­ies.”

There are hun­dreds of props in films and TV se­ries which help to bring the on-screen magic to life and a lot of them are painstak­ingly put to­gether by teams of tal­ented de­sign­ers.

Art di­rec­tor and free­lance prop de­signer Jo Mar­shall, when asked what the strangest thing she’s ever had make is, said: “God, so many things – I’ve had to make some ele­phant legs, some iron rail­ings that a suf­fragette had to wear over her head – so many things.”

PHOTO: GRAEME LARTER

The Hos­pi­tal Lo­ca­tion is the only med­i­cal film set of its kind in the UK

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