Manchester has long played a key role in the film industry…
From historical social realism films such as Room at the Top, A Taste of Honey and Hammer fugitive drama Hell is a City, through to the more contemporary East is East, 28 Days Later and 24 Hour Party People. Iconic British TV shows have been abundant too with shows such as Cracker, Queer as Folk, through to the likes of the Royle Family, Shameless, Life on Mars and Fresh Meat, not to mention the institution that is Coronation Street. Over the last 3 years since Screen Manchester has been in place, they have now added Netflix dramas and Hollywood movies to that history.
Screen Manchester is the film office whose role is to support all types of productions seeking permissions to film in and around the city including permits, location support and logistics. Screen and Film School Manchester’s College Principal, David Thompson, caught up with Screen Manchester’s Bobby Cochrane to chat about the abundance of productions shooting in Manchester of late, and what makes it so appealing to production companies.
BC: We’re blessed with a long-standing history in the industry going back decades, producing iconic Film and TV dramas. That history means we have a great and highly skilled crew base in and around the city, having all these shows for many many years. So for us as a film office, it makes it easier to attract productions here because we have the skill base along with cost benefits, so the productions can put more money on the screen.
The British Film commission’s office out in L.A. attract productions to the UK, and we then have the opportunity to attract them to Manchester. Along with productions who now contact us directly, the indigenous drama production that’s always been here, this means more high-end TV dramas and feature films in the city, which is very exciting.
DT: So what attracts productions in terms of locations?
BC: How the city looks; the architecture is so rich and diverse that it’s just a great canvas for productions to come in, whether you’re a drama, or a TV commercial, or a feature film. The city can be so many different things; it can be Manchester, New York or London, both modern-day and period. So for example, just before the lockdown we had series 4 of The Crown filming here, which will be going out later in the year.
The most popular place to do this kind of doubling is around the Northern Quarter. But then interiors are used as well, such as the Town Hall doubling for the House of Parliament in Oscar-winning The Darkest Hour. This creates a buzz, and attention in the city which leads to more enquiries. A lot of those dramas and features look at the east side of Manchester just because of the space- this is where the majority of TV dramas will base in terms of their production base and studio, with filming locations across the whole city. What comes with production is a lot of people and a lot of vehicles and they need somewhere they can base themselves that’s affordable.
DT: How many extra productions have you had to deal with recently?
BC: 2019 was our busiest year to date with 21 TV dramas and 1 feature film shot in 2019, up from 16 in 2018. This has included Morbius, Peaky Blinders, Brassic, Cold Feet, The Stranger, Das Boot, The A Word, Years & Years, World on Fire and Cobra. That’s a testament to why Screen Manchester was set up – to drive this production and investment into Manchester. The benefit to the local business’ and the local economy is great.
DT: What effect does that have for film school students in Manchester?
BC: Students coming out of the film school are within touching distance of this production. It’s not like they have to come out and then re-locate to London to find production. Many independent production companies are now based in the city e.g. RED who do so much content… this infrastructure is here for them to step out of the film school and hopefully in to a production company or on to a set to start their career journey.
We’re really excited about Screen and Film School Manchester being part of this growth in the Manchester film industry. It’s a great time to join a place where’s there’s space in the market for new graduates, as production expands and business’ grow.
Thanks to Screen Manchester’s Bobby Cochrane and Screen and Film School Manchester’s College Principal, David Thompson for this brilliant Q&A!