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Twickenham set to rejoin dynamic studio sector

Twickenham Film Studios has been saved from the brink.

In February, it looked like the end of an era, when it was announced that the studios had to go into receivership and would close in June, one year before its centenary.

The legendary studios was home to some of the best known films of the 60s, including Alfie, The Italian Job, Roman Polanski's Repulsion, and The Beatles’ Help and A Hard Day’s Night. More recently it was used by Stephen Spielberg for the filming of War Horse and for the making of The Iron Lady.

At a time when there’s been significant investment in studios, including the MediaCityUK Studios in Salford and the recently relaunched Warner Bros’ Leavesden Studios, it seems right that one of the oldest studios in the country should be getting a reprieve.

More than that, the new owner, Twickenham Studios Ltd, led by property magnate and film buff Sunny Vohra, promises a new lease of life.

"There will be increased employment opportunities at the studios with investment in additional staff to make the studio a hive of creativity and an exceptional place to work," says Vohra, who will be TSL's new managing director.

It had looked like the studios, which originally opened in 1913, would close in June, after having lost money for the last three years. But a petition to save them was started in March and within one week had over a thousand signatures, including Steven Spielberg, Michael Apted, Terry Jones, Peter Medak, Stephen Daldry, John Landis and Terry Jones.

The petition read, “We have no time to waste! Twickenham Film studios has gone into administration and word has it that property developers are moving in. Please sign our petition to help stop the developers in their tracks!! We don't need more executive homes! Twickenham has been at the forefront of the British film industry for 99 years - let's help it make to 100 and beyond.”

As a reward for her passion and mobilisation, Maria Walker, a post-production supervisor and Twickenham resident who led the campaign to save the studios, will take over the job of chief operating officer and will oversee sales, marketing and business development. “There is a lot of goodwill towards the studio and many people want to see Twickenham return to the top, where it should be.

“The industry is changing. We are looking at tapping other revenue streams such as gaming. We are looking to expand the IT department and to bring in technicians, sales and marketing knowledge.”

It looks as though Twickenham will remain as a production force in a dynamic sector where there is clearly still an appetite for investment.

Posted 25 July 2012 by Pippa Considine

Now is a good time to be an indie

The independent sector is thriving.
This week’s BBC Annual Report revealed that independents produced 83 per cent of the 25 per cent of programmes that fall within the Window of Creative Competition. This represents an 11 per cent rise from last year. Overall, 42 per cent of eligible BBC programming was made by indies.
Pictures of Hartswood Films’ Sherlock are all through the Annual Report and it talks about the independent sector as “responsible for supplying some of the UK’s most valued programmes, such as Earthflight, Call the Midwife and Birdsong.”
Pact’s annual census showed the independent sector revenues growing by 2.3 per cent to £2.4bn in 2011. Growth in 2011 is shown as coming from overseas revenues, but in 2012 there is also more money in the UK.
Sky is putting its money where its mouth is, following its pledge that it is increasing its investment in British content over three years, so that by 2014 it expects to invest £600 million a year in British programmes.
Hardly a day passes without an announcement about a new Sky commission. It might have started with sport, but now it is producing more comedy than Channel 4. Stuart Murphy, the broadcaster’s director of entertainment channels, says that it’s looking to change the game across genres. At Sheffield, it announced a new investment in feature-length documentaries.
Pact’s census did, however show profitability weakening, with production companies across most parts of the industry reporting declining net margins at 6.7 per cent in 2011, down from 13 per cent in 2010.
It also showed that primary UK commissions from broadcasters were down from £1.36bn to £1.25bn, the result of recessionary broadcaster cuts, especially at the BBC and ITV, which saw their indie spend fall 13 per cent and 21 per cent respectively.
But, the recessionary blood letting seems to have stopped. And spending by multichannel broadcasters increased from £130m to £163m in 2011.
On top of what currently seems to be a good UK market for indies, there’s been a big increase in overseas revenues as indies exploit their programming rights, selling and reversioning for different markets. International buyers spent £625m on UK indie productions in 2011, up from £495m in 2010, according to Pact.
Given that the BBC weather forecasters are insisting that the sun is about to come out across the UK, there’s never been a more apt time to say ‘make hay while the sun shines’. Now is a good time to be an independent producer.

Posted 19 July 2012 by Pippa Considine

Is Entwistle the right man for BBC director general?

George Entwistle, the next director-general of the BBC, is a highly respected BBC lifer. Apart from an initial stint as a journalist at Michael Heseltine’s Haymarket Magazines, he’s worked his way through a number of key posts at the BBC, largely in factual programming, and has taken on huge responsibilities, most recently as director of BBC Vision.

He is definitely a safe pair of hands.

But is he too entrenched in the Corporation, too much of a traditionalist and will he have enough political nous when confronted with Whitehall demands and the huge sea changes that broadcasters are experiencing.

Today’s Financial Times reports that analysts are pointing out that he has no corporate experience and little management experience. One media analyst, who asks not to be named, noted that Mr Entwistle had no great political links in his cv.

Nick Thomas, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media says, “The fears are that he is not enough of a digital bod to understand that for millions of its consumers, the BBC is now as much a provider of digital content as a broadcaster."

Thomas goes on to say: “The DG’s job now seems to be more political than ever, too. It’s all about managing up, working effectively (and forcefully) with Whitehall to fight
the BBC’s corner. Other candidates – such as Ofcom boss Ed Richards and BBC chief operating officer Caroline Thomson – seemed to have more experience in those circles.”

Others are dismayed that the post has once again gone to a man.

Answering questions about Entwistle’s qualifications for the post on Radio 4’s World at One today, BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said, “George showed us in his interview that he’s capable, as an insider, of standing back and seeing the changes that need to be made.”

The Trust has put creative excellence at the top of its list of priorities, while acknowledging the importance of technological changes and BBC Charter discussions. “The most important thing is to make even better programmes with less money around,” said Patten.

Posted 04 July 2012 by Pippa Considine
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