Thursday, January 10, 2008


Pinewood Studios, originally uploaded by Nattydreadful.

I had to go up to Pinewood Studios yesterday for a meeting about an upcoming film project upon which I hope to be working. It's always an interesting experience because the reality of going to a film studio is so far removed from the popular perception as to be almost comical.

When you arrive you pull into a gate which looks like a mixture of a small rural airport departure lounge and Checkpoint Charlie. Here you exchange a series of pleasantries with the security personnel who come in two flavours: not really bothered and retired Stasi officer. Yesterday's guards were of the former type. Once you're through Checkpoint Charlie you're on the backlot itself. Our meeting was in the very glamourous sounding "Kubrick Building".

To get there we had to circumnavigate the 007 Stage, which is huge. The last time I was there was for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the whole building has burnt down and been rebuilt since then. It looked identical to me, but then I suppose there's a limit to the number of ways you can build a giant metal shed. The whole area feels like a downtrodden, disused airfield from the 70s. You have the hangars/sound stages and the backlot which is mostly a wasteground with the odd carpark and a lot of rubble and long grass.

The Kubrick Building itself looks like a dull school building we were disappointed but not surprised to discover. It's red brick and two stories with lots of large classroom sized rooms painted white and a bunch of tiny cubicled offices. There's nothing quite like the sight of a noted film director sat in standard-issue grey office cubicle pecking away at a computer with a look of boredom on his face to make you realise that 90% of indoor work is the same the world over regardless of what you actually do for a living.

Mind you, compared with Leavesden Studios, Pinewood is extremely glam. Leavesden, where they shoot the Harry Potter movies, is a converted engine factory. Only it's not very converted. In fact it's a massive, evil, diesel smelling tin shed outside Watford, a very hum-drum suburban town just outside London. At least Pinewood has the decency to be in the middle of the Hampshire countryside so the drive to and from is picturesque.

It's quite remarkable the power that mystery has over people. Pinewood don't do tours (there's bugger all to see so there'd be no point) and yet every day there are people taking photos of the entrance and asking if there is a public tour available. I will admit that when you're on a soundstage with a big set it is impressive for about 10 minutes. Then you realise it's cold, nothing's happening, they've only built the set to head height as we'll add the rest in post production and the place reeks of petrol, paint and other unsavoury chemicals. People say I'm cynical and jaded when I complain about being sent on-set. I say I'm realistic. I prefer being in a warm room, with people I like, in easy reach of a decent coffee and lunch. But perhaps that's just me.

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Blogger booda baby said...

You need to get a gig in Hollywood. Inexplicably, the studios are exactly what you'd expect, if you watched old movies, a movie studio to be. Paramount is straight out of the 40's and you would NOT be at all surprised to turn the corner and run into a film noir dame. Or private dick.

Of course, none of the above can be a surprise to you. We LOVE the way we look when we're strutting into work in the morning. Getting us to work when we're actually THERE - well, that's something else entirely.

2:01 am  
Blogger Churlita said...

Awesome post. I always wondered what some of those studios looked like.

6:34 am  
Blogger Mr Atrocity said...

Booda Baby, I think the flower budget at most of the L.A. studios exceed the entire running costs of most of the UK facilities. It is much more low-key here.

Thanks, Churlita. If I get to work on this film there'll probably be a lot more set visits so there can be more reports from the front line. A special report on the café breakfasts will definitely be in order - it's the only good thing about being on set.

9:14 am  
Blogger Beverly Sutphin said...

Oh yeah, nothing more boring than being on set. I can't count how many times I've had this conversation:

Me: I work in the film industry.
Random: Wow! Do you get to go on set?
Me: No. Because I have specifically asked not to.
Random: What? Why?

I reckon about an hour on set is my maximum - then I can't bear it any more.

9:58 am  

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