It's late morning in the Thames Suite at London's Park Plaza Riverbank hotel. Actor Sean Bean is clutching a gun having just shot a terrorist disguised as a waiter in front of about 200 horrified wedding guests. But it's far from over because the bad guy gets up and they do the whole thing again… and again. In fact, it takes all day to film Bean running through the wedding reception, throwing a stuntman on to a table of presents and then shooting the villain. It might even have taken all night. But I'd left by then.
Certainly, having spent a long day on the film set of director Hadi Hajaig's new MI5 thriller Cleanskin, the patience of the crew and cast was humbling. But I also found myself admiring the sangfroid of the hotel's general manager, Greg Hegarty.
I'd caught up with him earlier in the hotel's über-chic bar, where most guests seemed blissfully unaware of the vast numbers of extras, cables, cranes and filming equipment on the next floor. It doesn't faze Hegarty, either.
"The first time the crew came they did a scene where they blew out the front of the hotel. They had trampolines and dust-and-debris machines. The place was a mess," he says, smiling.
That said, Hegarty admits to having been worried. Such was the disruption that the local council and police were involved in order to close part of Albert Embankment for the scene. Furthermore, the stunt was at 5pm, so there was only a short turnaround before guests were expected for dinner and drinks at the hotel's stylish Chino Latino restaurant. And, last but not least, there was the real possibility of damage.
As Hegarty says: "It's worth looking at the film company's insurance and liabilities on your property to find out how they would pay for it if it did go wrong."
So why put himself through it? Well, the bottom line is that it's a lucrative fillip for the £25m-turnover hotel. The film crew paid £15,000 for the honour of trashing the Park Plaza Riverbank's reception and putting it back together again, plus a day's shoot in the kitchens and corridor, and a further £5,500 for the use of the function suite for one day - a Wednesday no less.
"The Thames Suite midweek wouldn't have been booked," says Hegarty. "Not a hope. It's an empty room so it's pure profit. This is about how you can maximise downturns and upturns. Many hotels don't think about it, but [becoming a film location] is a perfect way to generate revenue in your downtime."
For sure, Hegarty's strategy of maximising business by luring film crews is paying off. Banqueting room hire was an impressive 50% up year-on-year in August, from £50,000 in 2009 to £100,000 this year.
On top of that, the crew took office space and booked a swathe of Riverview Suites for the lead actors, which could then be serviced and resold in the evening.
"The revenue is incredible," continues Hegarty. "And in some films you can tie in deals, such as leaving your branded menus lying around in shot."
Apart from the money, it's great PR. Hegarty always makes sure the hotel is mentioned in the film credits. "I like to profile the hotel. It helps enormously," he adds.
Disruption, however, is inevitable. In some cases, film crews will want to change the atmosphere, move furniture around or substitute it. "Don't be too rigid," advises Hegarty. "Let them move stuff. After all, it's all making money - if you can't risk your brand, don't do it in the first place."
Similarly, he says, you need to be flexible on timings. "Have an open mind. There's a deal to be done, so if they want to come in at 3am don't just say no, suggest 5am. Think how you can make it work."
That said, if they are using a remote function suite disruption can be minimal and it's often better not to draw attention to it. For instance, Hegarty avoided putting warning notes in bedrooms and as a result guests weren't looking for problems.
Of course, having the likes of Bean and his co-star Charlotte Rampling wandering around your hotel does win guests over. Likewise, the excitement of having a film crew on the premises motivates staff and can even help develop their business acumen, negotiating skills and so on. "Questions come up in meetings that they wouldn't ordinarily have asked," says Hegarty.
In terms of thinking laterally, Hegarty is allowed a lot of autonomy. "As long as I generate revenues and profits, I am left alone to drive the business," he says.
On a practical level, he treated the Cleanskin shoot like any other meetings and events booking. Before the filming, the customer came in and they hammered out details such as points of contact, the fact the crew should leave by 7pm, and so on.
As it turns out, Hegarty is experienced at handling film crews. He worked at the Thistle Brighton, which was often used for interviews during political conferences because it overlooks the pier, and he also managed film crews at the Crowne Plaza London Docklands, which has great views of the O2.
In addition, Park Plaza Riverbank has been used for a number of films and TV series, including BBC's Spooks, because of its iconic London views of Westminster across the Thames.
Cleanskin, the £1.5m MI5 thriller, was filmed in London over seven weeks this summer. It stars Sean Bean, Charlotte Rampling and Abhin Galeya, and is due for release in mid-2011.
GET A CUT OF THE ACTION
If you want a cut of the action, your best bet is to Google one of the many location agencies and sign up. Matthew Bryant at Film Locations UK says few large hotels are amenable to film crews so there could be demand.
Other routes include networking with film industry people and - as in London's Park Plaza Riverbank hotel manager Greg Hegarty's case - using a PR company that also works with film companies.
Hegarty also advises getting a portfolio together. His tip is to identify the cinematic potential of your property - say a functional spiral staircase or a dazzling entrance hall.
It doesn't have to be glamorous, either. For instance, an industrial kitchen is always good for getaway scenes, as is a brick-walled yard and bins. Another selling point is having great views of anything from Big Ben to Snowdonia to an industrial townscape. It also helps if you can provide a plan of the hotel so the location team can visualise scenes.
"You have to be aware of the marketing potential to production companies," says Hegarty. "Not many businesses can make money out of their revolving door."
ALSO IN THE FRAME
Royal Harbour Hotel, Ramsgate
This seaside hotel was used as a location for the indie film Ruby Blue, starring Bob Hoskins, in 2008.
Owner James Thomas says there were other benefits besides getting a fee and lots of press coverage. For instance, Hoskins stayed at the hotel during the shoot and the hotel also did all the catering on- and off-set.
The film's love scene was shot in room 23 and the now-dubbed "Bob Hoskins suite" is still requested by film buffs.
According to Thomas, there were no downsides but his best moment was appearing in a small role in the film opposite an angry Hoskins. "And I wasn't really acting, he was very frightening," explains Thomas.
Since then, the hotel has been used for local film and documentary shoots with Susanna York, Brenda Blethyn, Corin Redgrave, Rita Tushingham, Ken Stott, Maxine Peak, James May, Pauline McGlynn, Paul McGann, Rula Lenska and John Craven.
OTHER HOTELS USED AS FILM LOCATIONS
â- The Crown, Amersham: Where actress Andie MacDowell was famously bedded by Hugh Grant's character in a scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
â- The Ritz, London: Julia Roberts' character stays at the hotel in Notting Hill (1999)
â- The Savoy, London: used for various films including the final scene of Notting Hill, Entrapment (1999) and The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)
â- The Grand Hotel, Eastbourne: Cream in My Coffee, by Dennis Potter (1980)
â- De Vere Grand, Brighton: episodes of Coronation Street, Only Fools and Horses and EastEnders, as well as external shots for the film Quadrophenia (1979)
â- Stoke Park, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire: Hugh Grant's character takes Renee Zellweger's Bridget on a mini-break there in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001). The hotel was also used in Goldfinger (1964) and Layer Cake (2004).
â- Burgh Island Hotel, Devon: used for Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun (1982) and Marple: Nemesis (2007)
THE DIRECTOR'S CUT
Cleanskin's writer, director and producer Hadi Hajaig shares his views on what makes a hotel a good location.
CatererAre you involved in picking the location?
Hadi Hajaig Yes. Location is one of the most important things. I brief the location manager, who goes off and finds a few sites, then I go along to view them. I know immediately if it is right or not.
CatererWhat were you looking for in this case?
HH The hotel should be cinematic and architecturally interesting. What was interesting about the Park Plaza Riverbank is the view of the Embankment and the Thames from the Thames Suite. I walked into that room and it was perfect for the film's ending - the climax shoot-out with the hero saving the day.
CatererPresumably, you also need to be able to work with the hotel?
HH Absolutely. People have to be willing to help us. The Park Plaza did want to help. This is a 24-hour hotel, but we have vehicles, extras, cranes and filming equipment. We needed somewhere to store equipment, good access, parking. Here, it was easy all-round. It was great. When we wanted to blow out their reception windows, they had a "yes, yes, yes" attitude.
CatererWhat else should hotels expect?
HH Well, the crew often wants to come back for retakes or "pick-ups", although usually these shots are low-key, such as an actor picking up the gun, or a car driving by a window.
HH Hotels should be realistic about what they can earn as a location. Some film companies splash the cash, but not all companies have lots of money. Some people hear that we're a "film company" and start thinking in millions, but we're independent. You need to be aware of the company and the type of film being made. Hollywood can afford more.
WHAT A FILM COMPANY WILL LOOK FOR IN A LOCATION
If you are approached by a film company, be aware there's a surprisingly short lead-time so you need to react quickly or they'll be on to the next location
Be flexible, moderate and fair so both sides benefit. Try to compromise where possible, but if the film crew pushes things too far, remember you can ask them to leave
Be aware that the crew may ask for extra time - but if you have a function booked they have to respect that. Similarly, they may need to come back to shoot "pick-ups"
â- Be prepared for a huge film crew even for a quick shoot. Make sure they have somewhere to relax - you don't want 70 people eating sandwiches in the lobby
â- Don't allow the crew into revenue-generating areas - unless they are paying
â- Make sure the crew take responsibility for cleaning up, but appoint one of your managers to monitor the situation and have your own back-up cleaning team on standby, just in case
â- Ensure you have one point of contact - film crews are vast, with everyone from artistic director, to stunt co-ordinator, to sound engineers, to the clapperboard boy - and they'll all be busy
â- If the filming is for longer than a week, Hegarty recommends getting a sound contract. Check out the film company's insurance and liabilities. Consider adding a clause in the contract to ensure that the stars can't sue the hotel
â- Don't be too greedy, not all film companies have Hollywood budgets
â- Draw up a schedule of when filming best suits the hotel - for example, in quiet times such as August and Sundays