Film-makers 'betrayed' by developer of historic studios, says Parker

Promises of a fitting memorial to Hitchcock were a 'total sham'
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The Independent Culture

One of Britain's best-known film directors, Sir Alan Parker, is among a host of leading lights in the film industry who this weekend say they were misled over a £38m property deal to refurbish historic studios where Alfred Hitchcock cut his teeth.

During its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, Ivor Novello, James Mason and Stewart Granger were among the stars of cinema working at Gainsborough Studios in east London. The young, former draftsman, Alfred Hitchcock started his career there with the screenplay for The Passionate Adventure in 1924. His most famous film at the studio was The Lady Vanishes, starring Margaret Lockwood, before he departed for the US.

Ten years ago the former studios were developed into exclusive apartments. At the time, the project received backing from luminaries from the film industry, including Alan Parker and Richard Attenborough.

In order to attract support for the 280 apartments, the developers said they would provide facilities for local film-makers, including a studio to preserve the site's historic film legacy.

However, The Independent has learnt that since the building's redevelopment in 2002, not one film-maker has used the facilities, which are said to be too small and have leases which are too long for the "feast and famine" nature of film-making.

The company managing the commercial lets, IDM Properties, which was not part of the original plan, said nothing to do with film had been done there since it was built. It acknowledged this was the original intention but that the rates were too high for production companies.

The specific section of the plan that the developer, Lincoln Holdings, told the press and public would be a film studio is now a kitchen, leased by an outside caterer.

Parker, best known for directing The Commitments and Evita, said: "It's a disgrace. I, like others, supported it because of the historic connections, particularly with Hitchcock, and any new film studio has to be welcomed."

He added: "Also, I grew up not too far away in Islington. It's a total sham, I'm amazed the council can't do something retroactively."

Parker's comments were part of a chorus of angry reaction from film-makers and producers, hundreds of whom who are writing to Hackney Council to complain about what they hoped would be a great location for aspiring film-makers.

Emily James, the executive producer on environmental film Age of Stupid, starring the late Pete Postlethwaite, said: "I watched the renovation of the Gainsborough Studios with interest, and was saddened, if not shocked, to see that the development made no real or even a token effort to contribute to film production capacity in east London.

"What I don't understand is why we continue to trust the sort of business people who are prepared to put their resources into vague promises and PR campaigns, but who are not willing to make those promises binding."

David Wilkinson, the managing director of Guerilla Films, said: "Ten years ago I was asked to write a letter to the council supporting the development. I got behind it, as I thought it would encourage the Shoreditch film industry. Now it's clear I was misled, as all that has appeared are 300 luxury flats. The film community hasn't benefited one iota."

But the developer Keith Meehan, of Gainsborough Studios Ltd, defended the original plans. "When we acquired the site, the planning permission totally ignored the history. Hackney Council believed our scheme was better designed.

"They liked the fact we were making a link to the site with Hitchcock's sculpture. We were totally flexible on lease terms. We can't say to film companies, you have to rent this space. They could have talked to me directly and I would have helped them. I'm proud we've built a high quality scheme."