By Oliver Bennett
The EC1 area has long been attractive to filmmakers seeking a historic
location. Here, EC1 Echo finds out why the area is such a draw.
With Georgian streets and squares, normally busy cafes and streets, and a number of period estates and tower blocks, Clerkenwell is one of those versatile areas that offer locations for many kinds of films.
Hence the high numbers of film crews in the area – and they’re mostly here thanks to company FilmFixer which is, says senior film officer Tim Reynard, “a third party contractor that manages 14 London boroughs, including Islington.”
With staff that are all passionate about film, working for FilmFixer is rewarding. “Everybody’s got a film and TV background,” says Tim. “It’s a great feeling to bring a production off.”
With its historic ambience, many films in Clerkenwell are period dramas. “Obviously, the architecture lends itself very well to those kinds of production,” says Tim. “Popular locations include Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell Green and Clerkenwell Close, where the church and buildings really lend themselves well to period dramas.”
How do they mask off modern life? “Obviously, visual effects take place and productions do use a ‘green screen’,” says Tim. “But it’s absolutely remarkable what they can add and remove, whether it’s a parking sign, yellow lines on a road – which can be completely covered – or street lights.” Sometimes, a film’s director of photography puts a coloured gel on a light to make it a bit warmer, or simply uses its own lighting. “There’s not really anything that we can’t cover in order to facilitate a period feel,” says Tim.
In Clerkenwell, there’s been big budget shoots like Suffragette in Middleton Square, a major TV show called Anatomy of a Scandal recently filmed at the House of Detention and at the Fox and Anchor pub, and a drama called Last Letter from Your Lover in Wilmington Square, which stars Felicity Jones set in the early 1960s.
But it’s not all about Georgian terraces. “We’ve had three major shoots at Bevin Court and Hatton Garden,” says Tim. There’s also a big call for TV dramas, fashion shoots, music videos and other shows in the area, including Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway – anything and everything that demands a good location. “It’s remarkable how attractive Clerkenwell is to filmmakers and TV producers,” says Tim.
Much of the location manager’s art is in diplomacy. “We make sure we’re not overusing certain locations,” says Tim. “And we’re also very heavily involved in resident engagement, whether that’s dropping letters or doing Zoom meetings.” Parking is one of the biggest issues, which is why Northampton Road is popular, as it’s not very residential and offers plentiful parking opportunities as well as local “green rooms” at The Peel and Bourne and Hollingsworth for costume and makeup. A BBC3 TV show called Starstruck was recently completed in the area, for airing this year
Money exchanges hands, of course. “The majority of location fees go to the local Council – usually to specific departments,” says Tim. “So if, for example, we’re filming in a park the income is distributed for park improvements: perhaps maintaining a pavement or new signage or security.” And if they’re featuring somebody’s house, there might even be the good fortune of a financial transaction between the filmmakers and that resident, or potentially to a Residents’ Association or community group. The company has a training and development manager who works to source talent from local communities to often get that first step on film and TV sets.
In New York people seem to be very excited about on-street filming – is that the same in London? “On the whole people are supportive, as long as they’re not impacted too much,” says Tim. “And residents usually like seeing their local area on the big screen. You just have to give people as much information in advance as possible, and give them an opportunity to speak directly with production so they can relay any concerns that come up, whether it’s an elderly person who’s reliant on meals being delivered to them, or a disabled parking space.” There are ways of ensuring that the show goes on.