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110 Years Of Ealing Studios

Ealing Studios is the leading independent British studio that produces and distributes feature films and provides over 100,000sq ft of stages, facilities and offices to the film, TV and media industry, writes Simon George, Director Of Finance and Operations, Ealing Studios. 

The oldest continuously working film studio in the world, in its 110 years Ealing Studios has produced films ranging from the lavish Henry VIII (1910), the first screen version of Hamlet (1912), through the 1940s’ and 1950s’ classics, such as The Ladykillers, The Dead of Night and The Blue Lamp, to today’s hit movies, for example the St Trinian’s franchise.
Will Barker, a pioneer of British cinema, originally acquired the site in 1902 and built Ealing’s first stage, which looked much like a greenhouse. Basil Dean, owner of Associated Talking Pictures, took over from Barker in 1929. In 1938, Michael Balcon joined and started to release films under the name Ealing Studios, and thus a golden era of British film-making began.

 

 

This fabulous period of creativity started with a series of real-life dramas, such as Went The Day Well (1943) and Nine Men (1943), which helped sustain Britain during the war. As Britain laboured under post- war rationing, Balcon and his team produced a series of classic comedies that captured the spirit of the age. The audience saw themselves in films such as The Ladykillers (1955), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), Passport to Pimlico (1949), The Man in the White Suit (1951) and Whisky Galore (1949), and they thronged to see them.

Balcon presented his idea of the British character: Britons as individualists who were not averse to joining up with each other to battle against a common cause; a tolerant, if eccentric nation, but determinedly opposed to anything anti-social. His films celebrated initiative, spirit and personal achievement and contained recurring themes which resonated with the social upheaval that followed the war: the little people up against the establishment; an anarchic whimsy that was born often out of real events; a cast of characters drawn from the confusion and moral ambiguity of the times: a soft spot for raffish charm. The Ealing Comedies of the 1940s and 50s remain a high point of British cinema celebrated worldwide to this day.

The BBC bought the studios in 1955 and spent the next few decades creating ground-breaking television productions such as Cathy Come Home, Colditz, The Singing Detective and Monty Python. At the end of the 20th century, the studios were briefly owned by the National Film and Television School. A new century has brought renewed vigour, when the studios were acquired by the current owners.

As well as the movie-making with which it is synonymous, Ealing Studios is today home to some of the most innovative and hi-tech companies in the world of film and television, as well as some of the leading educators of the next generation of film-makers. For example:

The Imaginarium is a world-class studio applying all aspects of performance-capture technology to the creation of new- generation storytelling in film, television and games. It provides consultancy and production services to film studios all over the world, as well as developing and producing its own work.

Timeline TV is a leading provider of broadcast technology and services with an enviable portfolio, including live and post- production facilities, flyaway production units, temporary tapeless productions systems and RF links. Timeline is the industry’s principle authority on shared-server systems and specialises in the delivery of IP Director networks.

Vizrt provides real-time 3D graphics and asset management tools for the broadcast industry — from award-winning animations and maps to online publishing tools. Vizrt’s products are used by the world’s leading broadcasters and publishing houses, including: BBC, BSkyB, ITN, Times Online, The Telegraph and many more.

The Met Film School is an innovative film school where students learn the practical skills of film-making by making films — and award- winning ones at that.

A £50m redevelopment and refurbishment programme was initiated, which both preserves the Grade II listed film stages, whilst adding world-class facilities for the digital age. Our recent production credits include the phenomenally successful St Trinian’s franchise, with two instalments out to date and another now in development; the recent black comedy Burke & Hare starring Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis and directed by John Landis; the film adaptation of the classic novel Dorian Gray with Colin Firth, Ben Barnes and Rebecca Hall; Easy Virtue starring Jessica Biel, Ben Barnes, Kristin Scott Thomas and Colin Firth; and Wilde’s much loved The Importance of Being Earnest, featuring an impressive ensemble cast including Rupert Everett and Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon and Dame Judi Dench.

Upcoming Ealing Studios productions include Nina, a moving and poignant love story based on the troubled high priestess of soul, Nina Simone, written and directed by Cynthia Mort (The Brave One); the third installment of the St Trinian’s franchise; The Long Shot, a funny yet touching and uplifting tale of a father and son in the wake of divorce; and action-packed thriller Vanished (directed by Pete Travis, Vantage Point).

The stages, built in the 1930s, are steeped in history having survived the onset of the talkies, the depression, wartime, post-war austerity and, more recently, advances in digital film and TV. The stages are constantly in demand ~ Dorian Gray, Gambit, and Downton Abbey have all recently been filmed on the lot as have productions by Sir Richard Eyre and Stephen Poliakoff.

Sometimes a great history can obscure a great present and today, with some 500 people based at Ealing Studios, we are busier than we have ever been. We are proud of our contribution to British culture over the course of the last century, but we want to still be contributing 110 years from now, so we are not stopping there. We will grow with the continuing modernisation and development of the studios, adding new state-of-the-art stages, production facilities and offices, ensuring Ealing Studios continues to be a world-class facility.

Read the article in the online edition of Regional Film & Video here.