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In the movies: Location filming

03 August 2006

The world of film and TV is, by its very nature, one of illusion and make-believe. Often, things will appear to be what they are not. This applies as much to where something is filmed as to how it's filmed.

Would it, for instance, come as a surprise to learn that the popular BBC TV drama series Hotel Babylon, set in a fictitious five-star luxury hotel, has rarely shot a scene in a real hotel? Instead, the whole set, including the lobby where much of the action takes place, was built in a former distribution warehouse in Buckinghamshire.

Even a city can pass for another. But if Liverpool can stand in for Russia in films such as The Hunt for Red October and Bristol for London's Peckham in the BBC series Only Fools and Horses, why not hotels and restaurants for other venues elsewhere?

Take last year's hit film Closer, featuring Jude Law, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. Fans of the film may recall a scene set outside a hospital. It wasn't a hospital, however, but the exterior of the Apex hotel in the City of London "dressed" (film parlance for being equipped by the production's art director with props to suit the scene) as a hospital. The 130-bedroom hotel, which has an occupancy rate of 90% and average achieved room rate of £140, was able to charge the film-makers £4,000 for a day's filming.

Whether it's the exterior or the interior which is used, considering the potentially disruptive impact filming can have on your business, why would a hotel or restaurant want to be involved in the first place? After all, in TV and film, depending on the nature and magnitude of the production, a film crew can vary in numbers from a handful of people to much more than 100, not to mention the amount of equipment they will be using.

The answer is very simple, in terms of business opportunities: you are guaranteed a fee from the film-makers for the use of your premises, and the filming generates free publicity.

London is by far the busiest filming city in the UK, with both British and international film crews shooting there. Westminster is the capital's most-filmed borough, followed by the City of London, Lambeth, Camden and Southwark. Some better-known films which used London hotels and restaurants as locations in the past year include Woody Allen's Match Point, which filmed at Locanda Locatelli, Julie's and the Covent Garden hotel; Separate Lies, which used La Caprice; and Batman Begins, which shot a key scene at Plateau.

Film London, which was formed in 2003, is a strategic non-profit-making agency funded by the UK Film Council and the London Development Agency. Its remit is to encourage and assist filming in the capital, with the support of more than 120 organisations, agencies and advisers, whether the result will be used in film, TV, video, commercials or new interactive media. The agency has scores of London businesses registered with it, including many hotels and restaurants, and has a locations library with 12,000 images.

Media savvy

The agency's film commissioner, Sue Hayes, says: "It's understandable when a new hotel or restaurant is a little cautious in allowing filming to take place in their premises. But the hospitality industry has become a lot more culture-conscious and media-savvy in the past decade. They know that they will not only be paid to be used as a location, but that their establishment may be seen across the world - particularly if it's a major film with a major star."

While Film London does not negotiate on anyone's behalf, the agency will break the script down to see what's required and then suggest suitable candidates to the production's location manager, whose job it is to find appropriate sites for filming. The location manager and the hotel or restaurant will then liaise directly with each other, though the agency will assist further to iron out any difficulties if needed.

Similar to Film London are other regional film commission agencies based around the UK, including Northern Film & Media, Screen West Midlands, Screen Yorkshire, Scottish Screen and the Wales Screen Commission. Some well-known films which have shot in hotels outside the capital include Four Weddings and a Funeral at the Crown hotel in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, and the currently on-release The Truth About Love, which shot scenes in Cardiff's Macdonald Holland House hotel.

Cardiff restaurants such as La Fosse and Bosphorous have been used as locations in the revived series of Dr Who, Manchester's Yang Singh restaurant was filmed for TV's New Street Law, while Bath's Royal Crescent hotel was used for scenes in Inspector Morse.

The 37-bedroom Crown hotel, in Amersham, which has an occupancy rate of 65% and average achieved room rate of £90, had its wedding suite, lounge area, reception and grounds used in filming Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1993. Filming lasted for four days, with the hotel charging £1,000 per day. The current fee is double that amount.

"Once the film was released and became a huge hit, it gave the hotel very good PR and marketing opportunities," says Berna Sermet, the hotel's business development and communications manager. The wedding suite, which has a rack rate of £225 per night for honeymoon couples, even has a plaque on the door stating the date on which it was filmed and subsequently made famous by the film.

Sermet says: "The Crown was suddenly a destination hotel for whoever visited Amersham, and the Elizabeth I wedding suite in which Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell shot their romantic scene together became quite a favourite for guest couples who wanted to stay in it."

She adds: "We've used the film's name in our brochures and advertisements ever since, but we're also aware that we'll have to stop doing that in the next few years, as we start getting a new generation of customers who will judge the hotel on its own merits of comfort and service, rather than which film it appeared in.

"Last year, the Crown was used as a location for filming in the recently shown BBC2 drama series The Line of Beauty. The Crown is a Georgian-style building, so it gives a sense of period and luxury as a backdrop. For both Four Weddings and Beauty, we ensured there was no inconvenience caused to our guests, some of whom got quite excited at the prospect of being in a hotel where there was a film crew. We have various access points into the building, so our main concern of how guests could get to their rooms was taken care of."

Tom Crook, who has worked as an assistant location manager for several TV and film productions, including such upcoming films as Breaking and Entering with Jude Law and Juliette Binoche and the new Leonardo DiCaprio thriller The Blood Diamond, says that the main issue for any hotel or restaurant is how much disruption filming is likely to cause in the day-to-day running of their business.

He says: "Filming can run very smoothly if everything is worked out in advance, in terms of fees, schedules and what the compensation will be in case there is any damage to the property. But, most importantly, everyone must know which areas are allocated for filming and which areas are for guests only.

"All of this will be stipulated in the contract, which both parties will have agreed and signed prior to filming. There are no standard fees, as everything is dependent on the film's budget and the duration of the shoot. The whole process is just like a hotel having an event."

The Park Lane hotel, in London's Piccadilly, has been used in several high-profile films and TV productions over the years, including Mona Lisa, Goldeneye and last year for the period TV detective series Poirot.

The hotel is one of the few art deco buildings left in London, having a full art deco ballroom with a separate listed Silver Gallery entrance, which makes it a self-contained space away from all the public areas. Colin Bennett, area manager for England for the hotel's owner, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, says: "Film producers and location managers really appreciate that, because not only is the hotel centrally located in London, but filming can be done without any disruption to the daily hotel business."

Depending on how big an undertaking the filming will be, the 302-bedroom hotel, which has an occupancy rate of 95% and a rack rate of £260 for its superior rooms, will charge anywhere from £1,000 to £5,000 for a day's filming. For the ballroom, a whole day's hire for filming will cost £9,000.

"When we get approached by film-makers," adds Bennett, "the hotel's PR department will inform me what genre the film or TV production is and roughly what scenes need to be shot at the hotel. What we don't do is to be associated with anything that would have a negative effect on our brand name or the company. Once filming permission has been granted by us, meticulous planning takes over, with one of our PR people always being present during the shoot."

Imran Hussain, sales executive at Myhotels, responsible for overseeing any filming at its two London sites at Bloomsbury and Chelsea, has a similar outlook. "I ensure that our one-sheet contract is signed with the film or TV company," he says, "and that I remain present throughout the shoot to oversee that nothing goes wrong or affects the guests staying with us. As long as that's understood by the film crew, Myhotels is very happy to accommodate filming."

Last year the 45-bedroom Myhotel Chelsea, which has an occupancy rate of 85% and average achieved room rate of £165, was used for one day's filming for an episode of TV's The Bill. The daily rate charged by the hotel was £1,500. "There was a crew of 30 or so people crammed in a small space," says Hussain, "but the filming ran without a hitch."

Other films shot in hotels and restaurants

Notting Hill (1999)
Cast: Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant
Location: The Ritz, London

Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
Cast: Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant
Location: Cantina Del Ponte restaurant, London

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman
Location: Lanesborough hotel, London

Howards End (1992)
Cast: Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins
Location: 51 Buckingham Gate, London

The Italian Job (2003)
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron
Location: Royal Lancaster hotel, London

Wimbledon (2004)
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Paul Bettany
Location: Itsu, Canary Wharf, London

Enduring Love (2004)
Cast: Daniel Craig, Samantha Morton
Location: Parliament Hill Café and Tate Modern restaurant, London

Tomb Raider 2 (2003)
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler
Location: Seiont Manor hotel, Caernarfon, Wales

Chariots of Fire (1989)
Cast: Ian Charleson, Ben Cross
Location: Café Royal, Edinburgh

Highlander (1986)
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery
Location: Glenfinnan House hotel, near Fort William

How to make your hotel or restaurant a more film-friendly location
Register with Film London (020 7613 7676, www.filmlondon.org.uk) or your nearest regional film commission agency. Contact details can be obtained from Film London or your local authority, with whom you can also register as a potential film or TV location.

You can also register with private location-finding agencies such as Location Works UK (020 7494 0888, www.locationworks.com), which will charge a 15% commission from the fee paid by the film company. Contact details for similar agencies can be found via the internet or in media directories such as The Knowledge and The Creative Handbook.

Contact film and TV location managers directly by looking up their details on various search engines on the internet.

E-mail them with good-quality images of your premises and make them aware that they are available for hire.

Include details of the establishment, which should cover:

  • The size of the premises.
  • The appropriate hours when the venue can be hired, such as weekends or night-time when closed.
  • The various features of the premises, such as lobby areas, rooms and grounds available, and whether it's a period building or a temporary construction.
  • Information on parking facilities.
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