This October, Tom Hardy returned to the big screen as the lethal protector Venom, one of MARVEL’s greatest and most complex characters. Directed by Andy Serkis, the film also stars Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris and Woody Harrelson, in the role of the villain Cletus Kasady/Carnage. As part of filming for Venom: Let There Be Carnage, the team travelled to Tobacco Dock in London.
Film London’s Winona Navin-Holder spoke to Sarah Clayton, PR & Content Manager at Tobacco Dock, Emily Gunn, Account Manager at The Film Office, and Steve Mortimore, Location Manager for Venom: Let There Be Carnage, about their shared experience in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Could you tell me how long Venom 2 was filming at Tobacco Dock, and which parts of the venue the production made use of?
Sarah: The filming took place over three weeks in total, with the North Bandstand used for the actual shoot. However, most of the venue was taken over in order to house the 900 plus extras, all of whom needed lots of room for costume changes.
Steve: The actual filming at Tobacco Dock took place across three nights I think, with around one week preparation beforehand and a few days reinstatement after. It was in January 2019, not long before COVID hit us. We pretty much took over the entire site, they have around 16,000 sq metres there in total, and there wasn’t really a single part of the venue that we didn’t have some kind of footprint in. In order to facilitate the 900 extras, and all 150 crew members we pretty much had to use all available space, which worked out very well.
Emily, The Film Office was involved in facilitating the shoot, can you explain a bit about how you worked with the production and venue?
Emily:Venom 2 contacted us here at The Film Office in October 2019. The Director (Andy Serkis) had been to Tobacco Dock many years ago and thought it would be a good fit for the large carnival scene they had in mind. I took on the management of site visits with Steve and his team, along with the Director and of course the wonderful team at Tobacco Dock in October. During the course of these visits we discussed areas of interest for the scenes involving both the paved exteriors and internal rooms.
The initial recces of course lead to further interest and my work involved talking through the movement of action and logistics at the location. My role really entails helping the production understand how their creative vision can be facilitated given the locations existing operations and other event bookings. I essentially broker the productions needs and alongside my existing knowledge of the location and then present the production’s request to the location after refining it.
In doing this I helped the production determine areas which are out of bounds; how to service the workable areas logistically; agreeing unit basing on site; setting out any borough related activity such as traffic management or road closures; agreeing power management throughout the location with their onsite contractors and communicating proposals to all relevant stakeholders in the area.
A big shoot like this has a wider impact which we manage for the location, the production and the local area. Seeing Andy direct the action and the end result on screen was thrilling, as coordinating a highly complex build, film and strike involves many months of hard work.
Was Tobacco Dock used for any particularly notable moments within the film that audiences might remember?
Steve: The scenes we shot at Tobacco Dock were depicting a Mexican, Day of the Dead themed indoor carnival. We were originally looking to film the scenes as an external street carnival, but then we got nervous about the idea of mixing 900 extras with the Great British January weather…and decided to switch to an indoor venue instead. I started researching San Francisco locations (where the film is set), and having been there before had a good sense for their general look and feel. Plus, I had previously used London to depict San Francisco while filming All the Money in the World a few years prior. When I visited Tobacco Dock I immediately felt it would be a great fit for a San Francisco nightlife scene.
Sarah: We also appear in a pretty impressive chase scene.
How much set dressing took place at the venue? Did it look radically different or was it still easily recognisable?
Steve: We converted the Great Gallery courtyard and the West Mall walkways into the Day of the Dead Carnival and filled them with party goers and stilt walkers, it looked very cool. The Art Department did an amazing job dressing up the place, I think Andy Serkis was very pleased with the end result.
Sarah: The venue was filled with lots of bright colours and streamers which looked great. We’re not sure if audience members will immediately recognise us, but our distinctive brick arches are still very much visible in the background.
What do you think makes Tobacco Dock such a great filming location for a production of this size and scale?
Sarah: The amount of space that we have, definitely, as well the ability to theme that space, our power supply and available crew facilities. We also have access to off-site spaces that can be used for crowd holding, and access to off-street loading, which is really convenient when working with a production as ambitious as this one.
Emily: Visually the location gives filmmakers a sense of being underground in the Vaults, but not in a natural cave way, more in the manner of a purpose built, stone complex. The repeating archways are liked by directors of photography as this brings balance to the overall picture and they can play with depth of field to give the space a sense of scale.
The main ground floor offers open air passageways and large open plan rooms which can be adapted to meet various uses. It is also a large, self-contained space, so the production were able to work into the later hours on location without disrupting the local area from issues caused by light or sound.
Steve, what made you decide to shoot at Tobacco Dock?
Steve: Tobacco Dock is a very unique location in London and fitted in very well for a San Francisco venue. It was originally a Tobacco Warehouse on the Thames and then in the 1990’s it was converted into a shopping centre, later becoming the event venue is it today. San Francisco has these Bayside Piers and there were real similarities in the architecture there and Tobacco Dock. It really does remind me of that particular style of US architecture.
Could you tell me a little bit about the location research and recceing process for Venom 2? How many of your locations did you manage to find within London?
Steve: We found the majority of the locations in London, we just had three from memory that were out of town in Hertfordshire, Hampshire and West Sussex. We filmed around Christmas time, so as you can imagine, London and our various locations were covered in festive decorations. We had an interesting challenge in having to remove and then later reinstate all of the Christmas decs!
We’d love to see more filming here. It’s exciting to see film makers’ imaginations at work and to see the venue through new eyes.
Sarah Clayton, PR & Content Manager at Tobacco Dock
As you’ve already mentioned, London is used to depict San Francisco in the film, what do you think makes London as a location so successful in doubling up for US cities?
Steve: London really is a great double for an array of Countries including many US cities and San Francisco worked well. I just spent hours researching the actual locations in the script and then trying to best match them with places that I knew of in London. I had done it a few times before on films like World War Z, where London doubles for New York and Philadelphia, Infiltrator where London stands in for Florida and Wonder Woman 1984, where we double for Washington DC, it really does get your creative juices flowing!
Sarah, how was your overall experience hosting Venom 2?
Sarah: It was the first filming project of this size that we’d worked with, so it was a great opportunity to get to grips with what a production like this needs. It was great to see so many people here and to experience the atmosphere of filming. It was also great to see what the team did with the decoration and how they’d let their imagination run riot!
Steve, were there any particular challenges within the shoot that you and your team had to overcome? Or any particular highlights?
Steve: Tobacco Dock worked very well for us for Venom 2, it is primarily an events venue so we had to make some logistical and contractual adjustments to fit in with our filming protocols, but once we did, it ran very smoothly. As we were filming at night, and we were filming a party, one challenge was ensuring we adhered to the strict noise restrictions within the borough. We had to work closely with the local noise abatement team and do various tests to ensure that the music and voices couldn’t be heard outside by local residents. I would walk around the perimeter every hour and if I could hear even the slightest noise, I would radio through to the crew and get them to turn the music down and keep all the venue doors closed. We didn’t get any complaints, so that was great. In terms of highlights, I think Tobacco Dock’s ability to facilitate the entire production, including the 900 extras, all within the same venue was a huge plus.
What about from a Film Office perspective, Emily?
Emily: I would say that the sheer scale of the production made for the greatest challenge. The number of extras needed and the planning with maps, drawings, equipment lists and so on was considerable and formed a complex picture to then present the Location with a clean proposal. Naturally this was refined over time so that all parties were happy.
My colleagues in the Tower Hamlets Film Office team sit next to me here at The Film Office and our close collaboration ensured resident consultation took place in a timely manner plus local area parking was also facilitated nearby. It also meant I had to direct a lot of security and equipment needs.
A huge highlight was of course seeing Andy Serkis and Tom Hardy’s vision come to life here. On all the recce’s Andy was extremely creative, polite and hugely dedicated towards making an incredible picture with his team.
The hard work everyone puts in really does pay off and we’re delighted to add further reason’s to make London a standout destination for creativity globally.
Does working on a Marvel production differ at all to working with other studios? Perhaps in regards to the huge fandom attached to the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Steve: I would say a little yes, and very similar to my experience working with DC too when I did Wonder Woman 1984 a few years back. The script is a little more secretive than usual studios and all the concepts need to be carefully distributed to ensure that there are no leaks at all, a lot more red tape, which is understandable.
Sarah, as a venue are you keen to host more feature films of this size in the future?
Sarah: We’d love to see more filming here. It’s exciting to see film makers’ imaginations at work and to see the venue through new eyes. It was also great to work with Andy Serkis!
Interview by Winona Navin-Holder
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is in cinemas now, and will be available for streaming from December 14th
You can find further details about filming at Tobacco Dock here.