U.K. town takes on movie studio

Stephen Beard Jun 9, 2009

U.K. town takes on movie studio

Stephen Beard Jun 9, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: You’ve heard of Hollywood, of course. And Bollywood, probably too — India’s movie industry based in Mumbai. But what about Pinewood? It too is part of the film business. It’s a studio about 20 miles outside London. It’s been kind of a mini-Hollywood since the 1930s, turning out movies like “Day of the Jackal” and “Phantom of the Opera.” Now Pinewood’s got plans to expand out into the surrounding countryside. But the neighbors claim that like everything else in movie-making this plan is not quite what it seems. Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports.

STEPHEN BEARD: Sprawling across 100 acres of rural southern England, Pinewood is already big. All the Bond movies were made here, along with scores of American blockbusters: “Dark Knight,” “Wolfman,” and the “Bourne Ultimatum.”

But Pinewood’s Group Director Andrew Smith says he and his colleagues want to expand. They’ve bought another 100 acres of nearby countryside, and they’re planning what he calls a visionary project.

ANDREW SMITH: What we are looking to do is to build a living and working community for the creative industries. And this will be the first of its kind, we think, in the world actually.

The plan at a cost of $300 million: to build up to 1,400 homes for movie-workers, cameramen and carpenters, and set designers and the like. These homes will then double as a film set. They’ll be arranged in a series of permanent, street scenes available as a backdrop for moviemaking.

SMITH: We’re building 16 street scapes, which will replicate your typical street in Paris, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, Venice. There are street scenes from New York, Boston, New Orleans, and San Francisco.

He says the project will save money and the environment. There’ll be less need to fly film crews to different locations around the world. That will cut Pinewood’s carbon emissions. But the plan is not going down well with the locals.

In The Black Horse Pub in the neighboring village of Fulmer, there’s almost total opposition. Pub manager Kay Keane says, the landscape around the studio is designated as Green Belt. That means it’s legally protected with strict curbs on building and development.

KAY KEANE: Green Belt is Green Belt. You cannot build on Green Belt. And it should never be allowed.

She says Pinewood is in the business of creating illusions, and this project is just another one. She believes it’s a sham, a way to get round the Green Belt planning restrictions and make a mint out of the real estate.

KEANE: They’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes by making it into Little Venice and Rome, having that as a concept.

BEARD: You think this is just a residential development project?

KEANE: That’s all it is.

RONNIE LAMB: Arthur! Arthur’s coming. Come on Fred!

Ronnie Lamb calling his two pet donkeys. Ronnie is chairman of the local Parish Council. He says no one could possibly object to Pinewood building its street scenes. The problem is then populating them permanently with up to 4,000 real people.

LAMB: The major concerns from the locals, who actually like Pinewood, is that we’re going to have a huge development where the local roads are simply totally unable to cope with that level of traffic.

Back at Pinewood, the studio is quietly confident that it will eventually assuage local concerns and persuade the authorities to approve the plan. Movie-making, after all, is a lucrative, and highly popular industry.

BOND MOVIE: Good to see you Mr. Bond!

But Pinewood, scene of so many staged confrontations, must know that it now has a real fight on its hands.

At Pinewood Studios, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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