London calling for the world's film-makers

Capital draws up ambitious plans to entice the moguls and money away from Hollywood
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The Independent Online
A plan to give movie-makers more powers to film on the streets of the capital is being promoted by the London boroughs to boost the burgeoning film industry.

In a radical reversal of London's notorious reputation for being uncooperative, the proposals would give legal backing for the first time to councils which want to help film crews.

A Bill being presented to Parliament this month would give them the right to close roads, suspend parking bays and take other measures on the streets as necessary in return for a "reasonable" fee.

The London Film Commission, which is backing the plans, believes that formalising arrangements which are already widespread will make the capital even more attractive as a location.

In the past, while many boroughs have worked hard to be flexible, some have proved cautious because of the risk of legal action by disgruntled residents or businesses. However, some film-makers are already worried that giving councils the right to charge would add to costs and force productions to go elsewhere.

The measures are part of the London Local Authorities Bill, a private Bill promoted by the Association of London Government (ALG). It will be presented to Parliament at the end of the month, but is likely to take up to two years to become law.

Ian Keating, the ALG's parliamentary officer, said the measures were not a way for councils to make money, but the Bill would help all concerned.

"It will give boroughs an incentive to take trouble to help, and it will require people to give notice if they're going to film, even if they're not going to do something like close a road."

Chris Waterman, the ALG's arts officer, added: "What we're trying to do is make sure that London is film-friendly."

Warner Brothers plans new studios at Hillingdon, west London, Mr Waterman said. There was also the possibility of another studio at the Arsenal in Woolwich, south-east London, and the new Star Wars trilogy is being made at the site of a former aerodrome in Leavesden, Hertfordshire. He added: "We want to help provide the infrastructure for these studios."

Christabel Albery, of the London Film Commission, said: "Virtually all boroughs were charging anyway, but what this Bill does is make these charges reasonable. A reasonable charge is one that covers the cost of what the borough has done, like rubbish collection. This is more an enabling piece of legislation than regulatory legislation."

But John Hardy, who acts as a consultant for film-makers, said: "Everyone has as much right to be on the highway as anyone else provided they don't cause a nuisance and hazard. No other business - British Gas, Telecom - is charged just for being there.

"Paying will be a retrograde step. At the moment, film-makers have to be on best behaviour because you've got to get the residents on your side. Once a crew has started paying, they're going to say, `We've paid for this.' More confrontation will result."

Chris Wheeldon, who is chairman of the Location Managers' Guild, said the legislation could cause problems for smaller productions.

"The key is no one has a very clear idea of what is a realistic fee. Everybody thinks of pounds 1,000 a day, but a lot of production companies operate on a quarter of that or less. All of a sudden you can't afford to make stuff any more."

Among films being made in the capital at present are Metroland, from the book by Julian Barnes, with Emily Watson, the star of Breaking The Waves, and Romance and Rejection, with John Hannah and Frank Finlay.