The scene of a presidential assassination.The Savoy Theatre in Gilbert and Sullivan?s heyday.The setting for the video of James Bond theme ?The World is Not Enough? sung by rock group Garbage. Richmond Theatre in Surrey has played many lead roles in the last few years thanks to its popularity as a filming location, notes Maggie Webster. From big budget movies to promotional videos and television adverts, the 102 year-old building has accommodated everything from three-person news gathering teams for a couple of hours to a six-week long stint with a full film unit.
And this is in a Grade II listed building, which operates as a touring house 48 weeks of the year with an average of eight performances a week. Juggling the demands of filming with everyday operations can be challenging but it helps to raise the profile of the building and provides a welcome boost to the theatre?s revenue.
Technical Manager Mark Warren receives at least one filming request a week.These are generated through word of mouth - from crews who have shot at Richmond before, or via location databases such as the BBC database and Location Works. In addition, we advertise in The Knowledge, the location and filming bible.
Timing is usually the determining factor for Mark when he assesses each request.The theatre goes dark for about three to four weeks each August, which is when most filming can be accommodated, with individual slots running up to a couple of days. One notable exception was Mike Leigh?s Oscar-winning Gilbert and Sullivan biopic ?Topsy-Turvy?, where filming took nearly six weeks during a protracted dark period in 1998. For the rest of the year it is a question of fitting around the weekly changing shows, and filming might then amount to half a day or so at a time. Not just the auditorium and stage get used - often the building?s corridors, dressing rooms and bars are requested.
When it comes to charging a fee, Mark sets general benchmarks, but prefers to leave room for negotiation on each request according to the length of time, amount of crew and scale of filming. A basic daily rate would include a Richmond stage technician and electrician - for a feature film this is likely to start at around £3,000, increasing if more manhours are required. Liaison with the local council for any outdoor work involving the highways is usually up to the film company.
As a listed building the theatre is quite heavily protected. Nothing may be changed in any way that cannot be repainted or reinstated. Despite this, it can be incredibly versatile. For example, for ?Topsy-Turvy? Mike Leigh cast Richmond Theatre as the Savoy Theatre, which entailed refitting the auditorium with blue plush seating and hanging specially created wallpaper. For last year?s hit ?Bedazzled? starring Elizabeth Hurley, Twentieth Century Fox transformed part of Richmond?s interior into a replica of Ford?s Theatre in Washington DC to re-enact President Lincoln?s assassination, and over 250 extras played the theatre-going crowd on that fateful night.
Despite the hard work there is no doubt that filming creates a buzz, and helps to promote the profile of the theatre.There are occasionally some unexpected benefits - the dress circle bar benefited from some handsome chairs donated by the ?Bedazzled? company. And ultimately, of course, the effort translates into money.
Maggie Webster is Press and PR Officer at Richmond Theatre.
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