With previous attempts at revitalising the Welsh films and entertainment industry in the form of Dragon International Studios (aka Valleywood), people involved in the business are eagerly waiting to see how well the new Pinewood Studios Wales will perform. ALEX JAMES JONES looks into how important filming is to the Gwent area and how this ties in to Pinewood.
GWENT can boast a number of filming accolades over the years, drawing in a number of recognisable names in the process.
With idyllic scenery and a wealth of heritage, Gwent has given film-makers ample opportunity to create their vision. Locations such as Raglan Castle in Monmouthshire, to Tredegar House in Newport have hosted productions such as Time Bandits (starring John Cleese), Being Human and Casualty.
And of course everyone knows about the area’s continuing connection with the ever-famous Doctor Who series, and its short spin-off Torchwood, giving Gwent, and by extension Wales, a great standing point in the world of filming.
But the list does not end there. The little village of Trefil, in Blaenau Gwent was used extensively in the BBC’s Merlin, as well as in Wrath of the Titans and Trefil Quarry also had a starring role in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
People may also remember the televised version of Archibald Joseph Cronin’s novel, The Citadel, which was filmed in, and based heavily upon, Tredegar and Tredegar Medical Aid Society, which inspired the basis for the National Health Service.
More widely known stars have also graced the sets of Wales, with both David Schwimmer, best known as Ross from Friends, and Simon Pegg starring in Big Nothing, which had some shots filmed on location in areas of Monmouthshire. Along with this are companies such as 33Story Productions and Boomerang, both local to the area.
All these factors make Wales, and more specifically Gwent, a strong option when it comes to where a film might be shot.
Head of school of media, and part of Newport City Campus’ reputable Film Studios, Dr Garrabost Jayalakshmi, was also on hand to provide expert and detailed insight to the matter.
She said: “Gwent is the destination of choice for film makers. The landscape surrounding it and proximity to London definitely allows this."
She added the dramatic backdrops and local facilities, such as sailing and golfing, are a big pull factors for any potential producers from the US.
This is also accentuated by the fact that Gwent, and Wales as a whole, already have a strong basis in films and filming, with the “father of documentaries”, John Grierson, setting up the Newport Campus Film Studios himself almost 50 years ago.
More recent developments include the movement of BBC Drama from London to Wales, making it a stalwart location for the UK’s main broadcaster.
Dr Jayalakshmi said: “Pinewood and the Welsh Government are investing the area because of the relocation of BBC Drama and its success, making it the most significant development to happen for Welsh film making.”
She also said that films did particularly well during recessions, as people wanted more mediums for escapism and relief from hard times.
Smaller independent companies are continuing to start-up, growing the local film industry in Gwent.
Red Beetle Films, based in Cwmbran, is doing its own bit to help grow this budding industry. Starting in 2011, the company has a small team of talented and dedicated staff who have helped produce features such as Loserville and the documentary Vince and Cherry’s Greatest Hits.
Lawrence Smith-Higgins, marketing, rights and business manager at the company, , said the film industry can cover a lot of new and exciting products, constantly changing the way in which things are advertised, far beyond more traditional means of advertisement.
This is particularly relevant as the Gwent area maintains a strong connection with BBC broadcasts of various types, with Red Beetle Films currently producing two radio documentaries which are aimed at BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Wales.
He said: “Whilst current economic constraints makes growth difficult, the continuous march of online content and technology opening up new media outlets to the mass public.
“More and more people are taking the initiative into their own hands and starting their own individual productions, some of which garner moderate success and can help highlight aspects of local communities, including Gwent.”
Mr Smith-Higgins added that people can seize opportunities which might not have otherwise been there, and showcase strengths which may have remained undiscovered without it.
He said: “Steady growth in the filming industry will also inevitably lead to local job growth and open up career paths for the young, or provide new avenues of interest for those already in a career.”
Graphic designer turned film maker Andy Toovey is also someone heavily involved in local filming and production. The Argus interviewed Mr Toovey a year ago, after he and fellow film maker Joe O’Hare created a short sci-fi film, ‘The Return’, which nearly scooped a prize.
Since then Mr Toovey has continued in his efforts to spread the merits of local filming, and said: “The amount of skilled people it can bring and the community spirit can really boost the morale of everyone involved.”
He cited an example of his own, where towards the end of last year he had worked on a film in Cwmfelinfach Working Men’s Club:“Members of the club enthusiastically took part as extras, with even more people from the local area coming to join.”
The potential for local growth is also massive, he believes. Having set up a small community called TorFilm, Mr Toovey is doing his own bit to encourage growth. He sees it as a chance for people who are out of work to get involved with something that can give them a sense of self-worth and help them with experience in a real working environment, perhaps even granting them new skills in the process.
He added: “Cinema can get people to relate with different perceptions, potentially changing their world-view, their ambitions or their hope for the future.”
Philip Cowan, who also works at Newport City Campus, provided an extensive list of alumni from the university who have gone on to become heavily involved in the creative industries. These include directors such as Justin Kerrigan (Human Traffic) and Asif Kapadia (Senna documentary and winner of two BAFTAs), cinematographer Matt Grey (Broadchurch), editor Martin Elsbury (Deep Blue) and more recently Nathan McIntosh and Rhys Waters, owners of Zipline and creator’s of ‘Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience’ show. Such talent from the past, near or distant, has helped to continue to grow the local appetite for films and all other creative industries.
With so much local enthusiasm continuing to gather momentum over recent years, and the more central-based location of the Pinewood development, people could be forgiven for feeling more optimistic about this new venture. Along with this is the fact that the Welsh Government is providing significant investment toward the project (more than Pinewood itself).
Offering urban environments, rustic villages and mountainous terrain, the Gwent area could provide ample opportunity for filming. The studios are projected to bring in upwards to £90m for the economy, and provide a new opportunity for talented people interested in the filming industry.