HAYES-BASED STUDIOS BECOMING THE GO-TO PLACE FOR FILM AND TV SHOWS
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.”
The Hospital Location is the only medical film set of its kind in the UK