News / Film and TV

Prime time for Bristol’s TV and film sector

By ellie pipe, Friday Sep 20, 2019

The Poldark series may have now finished with a dramatic walk off into the Cornish sunset, but its impact on Bristol is here to stay.

Responsible for the creation of more than 150 jobs in the city, the popular BBC show – much of which was filmed at Hengrove’s Bottle Yard Studios – has helped put Bristol on the map as a hub for TV and film.

The industry now employs some 15,000 people here and filming activity in the city generated £16m for the local economy, according to Bristol Film Office, a figure that is expected to grow with further projects in the pipeline and the imminent arrival of Channel 4.

The Bottle Yard Studios has helped put Bristol on the map for TV

Of course, the legacy of filming here goes back decades, with plenty of spots recognisable from their appearance in Only Fools and Horses or Casualty and the BBC’s Whiteladies Road base has long been renowned for its globally-acclaimed wildlife documentaries.

But James Durie, chief executive of Business West, argues Bristol has long been too much in the shadow of London and Manchester when it comes to having a fully-fledged TV and film cluster – until now.

“In the last ten to 15 years or so Bristol has really begun to shine when it comes to TV and film production, finally stepping into the spotlight after years spent waiting in the wings for its big break,” he says.

David Attenborough’s hugely successful wildlife documentaries are made in the BBC’s Bristol HQ. Photo thanks to the BBC

Fiona Francombe says it’s important to attract more talent from diverse backgrounds

The ‘Poldark effect’ is just one example of a high profile hit show that has helped propel the city into the limelight – and this is just the beginning, according to Fiona Francombe, site director at The Bottle Yard Studios.

“Bristol proves time and again that it has all the resources for hosting major TV dramas; over the five years Poldark filmed here for example, local crew and companies were central to its production and by series five, almost 90 per cent of main and daily crew were local bookings,” she says.

“It’s an excellent time to be working in Bristol’s film & TV sector. The studios are busy until the end of 2020 and Channel 4 arrives with commissioners in October.”

Fiona says facilities such as the Bottle Yard – and the wealth of talent it attracts – enables other companies, such as Mammoth Screen, which produced Poldark, to realise their ambitions, and the cumulative impact is “hugely valuable” to the regional workforce and wider economy.

She adds: “UK-wide production continues to boom, broadcasters and online streaming services like Netflix and Amazon are commissioning more content than ever, so there doesn’t appear to be any sign of a dip in demand on the horizon.

“Right now, we’re well equipped to hold our own in competition with other parts of the UK seeking to attract this business, but our long term focus needs to be on raising the profile of careers within the industry and opening doors to newcomers from all backgrounds so that we can ensure a strong flow of talent for Bristol’s workforce in the future.”

Bristol was named a UNESCO Creative City of Film in November 2017, an accolade that city leaders have said offers a unique opportunity to combat inequality and secure a lasting reputation on the world stage.

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Read more: Bristol named a UNESCO Creative City of Film 

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Commenting on the impact, Natalie Moore of Bristol Film Office and Bristol UNESCO City of Film says: “Since becoming a UNESCO City of Film, Bristol’s film partners have been working together even more closely to ensure future success for the sector and to promote it globally.

“We’re particularly focused on addressing barriers to employment and career progression for people across all of Bristol’s communities by championing valuable projects that tackle the diversity gap, such as the Bristol Culture Standard, Stepping Up programme, Visualiser apprenticeship programme, Cables & Cameras and ScreenSkills Trainee Finder.

“We’re also excited to be working with Into Film and boomsatsuma to deliver a four-year Film for Learning programme with Bristol primary schools to embed film into students’ imaginations from an early age.”

To add to this rich melting pot of opportunities within a growing sector, there’s the much-anticipated arrival of Channel 4, which in October 2018 picked Bristol as the home of one of its two new creative hubs amid a drive to disperse its workforce out of the capital.

Channel 4 will open one of its new creative hubs in Finzels Reach this autumn

Channel 4 has revealed two high profile appointments ahead of its move to the city this autumn.

Sacha Mirzoeff, the founder of Bristol-based Marble Films and former BBC documentaries executive, who worked on Drugsland among others, will be factual commissioning editor and head of hub, while Gwawr Martha Lloyd, who has worked on Keeping Faith, Hinterland and Hidden, will become Channel 4’s commissioning editor.

Izzy Francke will join the broadcaster as a creative diversity executive in Bristol.

Channel 4 says the programmes it commissions here will reflect the genres that are strongly represented in the South West, Wales and Midlands, which include drama, factual, popular factual and creative diversity.

Speaking about the potential impact for the city, Channel 4’s managing director of nations and regions, Sinead Rocks, says: “Our new creative hub represents a fantastic opportunity for both Channel 4 and, we hope, the city of Bristol.

“Having senior commissioners of key genres like factual and drama living and working in the region will help us forge ever stronger relationships with independent production companies; enabling us to tap into new stories and ideas that better reflect the UK.

“It will also provide us with a vital base to work more closely with indies in Cardiff and beyond and we’re really looking forward to exploring the creative opportunities this will bring.”

The BBC’s Sherlock has been filmed on location in Bristol and at The Bottle Yard Studios. Photo thanks to the BBC

Main photo thanks to the BBC

Read more: ‘Are we witnessing Bristollywood in the making?’

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