FILM / Carrying on regardless: At Universal Studios they get 35,000 tourists every day. At Pinewood they got 40 people, on one day. Action] shouts Sabine Durrant
Monday 18 April 1994
This pack costs pounds 2 which doesn't put too big a hole in your pocket, until you add it to the pounds 35 (half day) or the thunderballing pounds 100 (full day) you've shelled out to visit Pinewood in the first place. Full- dayers get to see Carry on Matron in the morning and nosh up on 'Q's concoction' in the evening, but half-dayers are left to hang around a bit and frankly it can get expensive. You're asked to arrive at 11.00am for the Official Welcome which is delayed until 11.40am, when a man in a Planet Hollywood bomber jacket shouts: 'The tour will start at 12.45 in the car park'. So then you've got all that time to kill, 'browsing around' the small room of displays and memorabilia stalls, splashing out on an Octopussy Souvenir Brochure ( pounds 4) or a mini-memorial Sid James plaque (price on application), or a copy of a July 1991 You Magazine ('A Fiona Fullerton feature; has her on cover as Honey from Dr No - Super': pounds 1.50). And at 20p a throw, the Guess the Weight of the Oscar competition gets a bit pricey too. It all adds up.
Still, at least while waiting for the tour to begin you get to 'mingle with the stars'. 'That old boy in the black blazer with his back to you,' said one man to his companion, 'I've seen him one or two times. And the lady over there, the blonde, I'm sure she's been quite well-known, though I can't remember her name for the life of me.'
Gareth Owen from Action] BFP (British Film Production), who had received acceptance from, among others, Michael Winner and Sylvia Simms, and was still hoping to hear from Sean Connery and Steven Spielberg, was slightly disappointed with the final head count (which did include Jack Douglas, former Bond girl Eunice Gayson and Burt Kwouk, the karate guy in the Pink Panther movies). 'The majority of those contacted couldn't commit themselves too far in advance and a lot of people couldn't make it at the last minute,' he said. 'We've had a few people pulling out, but that's the nature of showbusiness.'
Action] BFP, Owen's brainchild, is an organisation dedicated to boosting awareness of the British film industry. One of their attacks on public consciousness was last weekend's British Film Day held at Pinewood, in Iver, Buckinghamshire, publicised at film fairs and open to limited numbers. In 1986, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pinewood, they opened the doors to the public and 150,000 people turned up. And the council said never again.
Last Saturday was Pinewood's attempt to go Universal. Open 365 days of the year, in both Hollywood and Florida, Universal Studios runs tours and mind-boggling movie- themed spectaculars in conjunction with the regular running of the studios. They open their doors to 35,000 visitors daily. When you're in, everything bar food is free, and it's enormously lucrative. Stanley Bielecki, Universal's European representative, a small energetic man, says, 'Every year the returns are better than the previous year. Every year they beat the years before.'
And it's not surprising. You can take a tram ride through the back lots, past Bates' Motel, around the town square from Back to the Future, through the subway station where they filmed Earthquake - only they didn't. This is a mock up demonstration of the earthquake that the film Earthquake purports to portray. This, along with the ET ride, and the Backdraft fire chamber, and the Back to the Future multi-sensory experience (24 specially designed flight simulators in the shape of the famous DeLorean) and the brand- new Jurassic Park display, are what Bielecki describes as 'three-dimensional representations' of two-dimensional movies. It's a fairground and a boffin's guide in one. Even the escalator, or rather the 'Starway', is the biggest in the world. There isn't a Guess the Weight of the Oscar stall in sight.
Now that's what you call a boost.
Could it be done here? There have certainly been plans - for Elstree, Pinewood and a portion of the Thames basin - but nothing has ever got off the ground. A spokesman from Rank Entertainment division, which owns Pinewood and has a 50 per cent stake in Universal Studios in Florida, runs through the logistics . . .
'Pinewood meets the first requirement which is location - it has to have a lot of land in a good position which the public can get to easily as quickly as possible. Point two is you've got to have a supportive planning authority. Point three is a supportive local population. Theme parks are highly labour intensive and you have to have a willing labour force. Americans are way ahead on showbusiness and showbusiness in the broadest sense means the way you handle your public - obviously the British labour force, which isn't known for its public charm, would have to be trained.
'Point four is whether you are going to get environmental objections outside the local population. Point five is what financial support you are going to receive from governmental agencies. These things are expensive. The Florida park cost dollars 630m to build.'
Point six is what are you going to put in it: 'If you did a movie film park based on British property you can forget it,' says the man from Rank. 'Clearly you need some heritage element - you could have characters in period costume or from the old Ealing comedies wandering about for example. But if you're going to attract the public, particularly tourists, you've got to think American and then you've got to think about movie rights - they don't come cheap.' And then of course there's the weather . . .
But in the case of Pinewood, you could almost see it working. Last week's tour, when it happened, was muddled and badly organised - 40-odd people, one in a wheelchair, straggling through mire and over wasteland - but it still had glimmers of fascination. There's history here. At Universal a lot of what you see are models of former film sets; in Florida you see models of those models. Here that really is the summer house in The Great Gatsby] That's the field from Carry on Camping] That's the alleyway where Clark Kent turns into Superman] Where Gotham City was built] Where the car in Goldfinger crashed] And this - 'mecca' breathed the 007-fan tour leader - is the enormous sound stage Albert Broccoli built for James Bond]
It could have been better still.
'If you'd been here only a couple of weeks ago,' said the guide, standing by the huge empty 'tank' where close-ups in water are filmed, in front of a huge, hand-painted backdrop of a volcanic skyline, 'you'd have seen the whole harbour town they built for Interview with a Vampire which was filming here with Tom Cruise.'
'If you'd only been here in six months' time,' he later said with some reproach, as if we'd had a choice, 'you'd have seen three major movies in production.' There would have been replicas of Old Jerusalem, King Arthur's Camelot and a large section of Victorian London. The secret of theme park management may well be timing . . .
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