Mission possible: red tape cut to boost film industry

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The Independent Online
It looked like a mission impossible: making a Hollywood blockbuster in the heart of London without making the movie-makers mad.

The British capital was notoriously difficult. Dublin, Prague, Berlin - all have welcomed film crews to their heart. But London's reputation was for infuriating red tape.

Until now. The blockbuster film, Mission Impossible, has marked a turning point.

When Tom Cruise and Kristin Scott Thomas, the film's stars, arrive at the gala premiere in Leicester Square tonight, their glitzy smiles will be matched only by the beam of satisfaction on the face of London Film Commissioner Christabel Albery.

She has spearheaded efforts to cajole and persuade police, councils and anyone who cares to listen of the vital economic importance of making London a film-makers' paradise. It appears to be working.

The Saint, starring Val Kilmer, has been filmed this year in corners of the capital from the City to Earls Court. One Hundred and One Dalmatians was shot in Trafalgar and Leicester Squares, St James's Park and on the banks of the Thames.

In Mission Impossible, which opens nationwide tomorrow ,a helicopter swoops past Tower Bridge, Tom Cruise runs through hosepipe-generated rain at Liverpool Street station and regulars will recognise the Anchor pub near Southwark Cathedral.

Paul Hitchcock, executive producer of both Mission Impossible and The Saint, said: "We've found that things are much easier now than they were.

"Nothing is perfect, but Christopher Brock, the location manager, feels that the boroughs and the police have been much more helpful than in the past. We've used numerous locations, and to think it's all gone very well is a compliment to London."

The praise is dear to Ms Albery's heart. More than three years ago, she first dreamt of a film commission to smooth the way for the movie industry. Last year, she won a pounds 100,000 government grant and this autumn she plans the "official launch".

But she and her small team, based in a former pub off the Portobello Road, have already produced a code of practice and helped more than 40 feature films with inquiries on everything from locations to technical staff.

"I watched (the action film) Die Hard With A Vengeance to see what New York does to support film-making," Ms Albery said. "And what they do is staggering. I think if it is possible in a busy city like New York, we should try to make it happen here."

Mission Impossible, a re-make of the hit Sixties' American television show, might not have come to the city without London Film Commission persuasion.

"When they were deciding where to shoot it, they were quite keen not to shoot it here," Ms Albery said. The makers had seen old council rules about filming in London and they arrived at the meeting "absolutely horrified".

"It was a very testing meeting. They came up with all these demands and I just went on insisting that, as long as they gave us notice, we could schedule it."

It worked. "When they left, they definitely had a different feeling about London."

Bill Neilly, who has liaised with filming in the borough ofSouthwark since television's The Bill first arrived on its doorstep eight years ago, said relations had certainly improved in recent years. "We give them as free a hand as we can," he said.

Maurice Pillinger, from Westminster council, said knowing the London Film Commission was on hand if a problem emerged gave them the confidence to be flexible.

When the producers of One Hundred and One Dalmatians wanted to film in central London, the council had doubts about the motley collection of production vehicles. "All the lawyers live in Westminster - everybody knows how to complain," Mr Pillinger said.

So he asked the film company to paint all its vans in uniform blue and white. There were no complaints.

The capital is still losing films to rivals like Ireland which provide generous tax incentives, but Ms Albery said a number were now taking advantage of the newly-forged helpfulness of the capital.

"Film-makers shoot where they feel they are welcome, where things are made easy for them," she said. And London is now trying.

Made in London: A brief filmography

Some movies made in London (and looking like London):

The Long Good Friday


Truly Madly Deeply

Secrets and Lies

A Fish Called Wanda