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The Decade That Was

Date posted: 21.12.2009

The capital has been an exceptional witness to the development of film in the UK and worldwide over the past decade. With the curtain of the noughties about to fall, and as the industry starts to recover from the hardest-hitting recession in recent times, we say farewell to a pivotal decade for film in London.

An Epic Transformation

Over the past ten years, thanks to the introduction of tax incentives and a warmer attitude towards filming, London has ditched its reputation as an expensive and difficult place to film and has transformed itself into the third busiest production centre in the world - just behind LA and New York.

Since the inception of Film London in 2004, there has been a 31% recorded increase in filming in the capital. 13,700 shooting days took place across London in 2008, and now there is an average of 35 film crews out on the streets at any one time.

Initiatives such as the London Filming Partnership, which launched in 2005, and the ground-breaking legislation for road closures, introduced in 2008, were crucial to making London ‘film-friendly’ and opened up the capital to bigger and more ambitious productions. Today, the Partnership has almost 240 members, including all of London’s local authorities. This collective all adhere to a best practice code, ensuring filming is beneficial to all –not only meeting the needs of productions, but also keeping London’s residents at its heart.

The breakthroughs in film production came hand in hand with a growing appetite for film in the capital. The number of cinema screens in London went up from 451 in 2000 to 783 in 2008 and cinema admissions have been on the rise for the last ten years, with the summer of 2008 recording the highest figures since 1969. Moreover, the most important date in the capital’s industry calendar, the London Film Festival, has enjoyed a steady upward trend (sales up 15% in 2008) and ends the decade reinforcing its position as a key showcase of productions ahead of the awards season.

From London With Love

With the changes in legislation and improved administration and accessibility, London was able to secure a vast number of productions of unprecedented size and ambition, pushing the boundaries of filming in the capital.

Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) both shot in London with many locations – from St Pancras to the Docklands – used to double for Gotham City. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) saw Matt Damon trying to lead Paddy Considine to safety through a crowded Waterloo, a logistically demanding scene that took place among real-life crowds and commuters at one of the country’s busiest stations. Making the ‘most’ of the capital’s landmarks were V For Vendetta (2005), from the makers of The Matrix, which included a scene where Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament are blown up; and Nicholas Cage’s action hit National Treasure 2 (2007), which shot a city-wide car chase sequence and gained unprecedented access to Buckingham Palace.

The list of London-shot worldwide hits and national gems goes on, including the entire Harry Potter saga, Bond titles from the decade – Die Another Day (2002), Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008) – Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001) and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004), 28 Days Later (2002), The Da Vinci Code (2006), Atonement (2007), St. Trinian's (2007), Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), Last Chance Harvey (2008) and An Education (2009).

The new, ‘film-friendlier’ London also lured high profile auteurs to the capital. ‘Regular’ Woody Allen completed four projects here: Match Point (2005), Scoop (2006), Cassandra’s Dream (2007) and his latest, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010), starring Naomi Watts and Antonio Banderas. David Cronenberg chose London as the set for Eastern Promises (2007) and Clint Eastwood recently shot on London’s streets for his latest film, Hereafter.

Meanwhile, London studios and post-productions facilities continued carving their world-class reputation, championed by film-makers of the likes of Tim Burton, Wes Anderson and Danny Boyle.

Beyond Hollywood

However, it was not only the English-speaking film world that fell for the capital’s charms. During the noughties, London also became a top destination for Bollywood film-makers shooting outside Mumbai. Hits shot here include Bride & Prejudice (2004) and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (Dance Baby Dance) (2007), which filmed almost entirely in the capital and involved ambitious scenes featuring 1,100 extras and 400 dancers.

Alongside film, TV and commercials also enjoyed a good decade. Long running series such as Spooks and Ashes to Ashes, The Bill and the new Law & Order: UK shoot regularly on the streets of London, as did the memorable Life’s For Sharing advertising campaign by phone network T-Mobile. The ambitious ads involved hundreds of extras breaking into a spontaneous dance routine in Liverpool Street Station at rush hour and hundreds of members of the public descending on Trafalgar Square for a mass sign-along with pop star Pink, setting new heights for what can be achieved filming on location.

The noughties were also marked by the digital revolution, bringing on the ‘democratization’ of film production and distribution and the rise of the small and micro-budget film. London led the way thanks to innovative schemes such as Film London Microwave which, under the premise of a limited budget and shooting schedule, has produced successes such as critically-acclaimed, BIFA nominated feature Shifty.

Impact of Film in the City

The production industries (film, TV and commercials) play an important role in the capital, contributing an estimated £13.6bn income to London’s economy. On top of that, film has a strong impact in industries such as tourism, with one in ten tourists citing film images as a reason for travel.

Also, in line with the growing global concerns around environmental issues and with London’s aim to cut carbon emissions by 60% by 2025, Film London launched Green Screen in 2008 - giving London-based production industries guidelines on how to reduce the environmental impact of their work. Upcoming films Nanny McPhee and The Big Bang, and Ricky Gervais’ debut Cemetery Junction, are examples of recently shot films which prioritised the green agenda by adopting simple measures, such as using double-sided scripts and durable water bottles to minimise plastic waste.

Welcoming the Teenies

With the end of the decade looming, cinemas will be full of high profile London releases including Nine, St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold, Sherlock Holmes and Nowhere Boy.

The start of the teenies will also have a distinctive London flavour. Next year will see the release of a healthy number of projects filmed in the capital in the past months: London Boulevard and Never Let Me Go with Keira Knightley, Gulliver's Travels starring Jack Black, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, Green Zone with Matt Damon, The Wolfman starring Benicio del Toro, the new Christopher Nolan starring Leonardo Dicaprio –Inception– and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I & Part 2.

As the industry starts to forge a clear path out of the economic crisis and with a good assortment of London-shot films ready to roll, this coming decade promises another vibrant ten years for film in the capital – with yet more groundbreaking initiatives and more London on screen than ever.

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