How to film on location in London
Filming in London can be a challenge so KFTV has put together a list of top tips to help ensure your production runs as smoothly as possible.
“Consider filming in outer boroughs, such as Croydon, Sutton or Merton,” says Andrew Pavord, director of location-based organisation FilmFixer, in comments to The Knowledge. “Fees can be less expensive, residents are often less cynical about filming and it’s less congested,”
Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams – made for Channel 4 partly in the UK – filmed many scenes in outer boroughs, as did movies such as Jason Bourne, War Machine and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.
“Look for areas where council-owned empty commercial space might be made available as production offices,” says Pavord.
These types of facilities might be found in Ipswich in Suffolk, Bexley, Southwark or Lewisham, and would provide excellent unit bases to park vehicles close to filming.
“You might even film outside London altogether,” says Pavord. “Suffolk is just an hour or so from the capital and the county offers a joined-up film office service, making inexpensive production offices available, along with all types of locations.”
Negotiating landmarks and busy areas
“Famous landmarks and locations can be filmed in two ways,” says James Waller, senior inward investment manager for Film London.
“Firstly, plate shots can be filmed with minimal impact on residents and commuters. More commonly, the production will wish to frame the scenes to be filmed at the location. For example, the Trafalgar Square scene in Wonder Woman (pictured below).
"Trafalgar Square is a significant location for pedestrians, vehicles, the National Gallery and nearby businesses. To film a scene like this, you need the support of Westminster Council Film Office, the Greater London Authority, Transport for London and of course the gallery, hotels and local businesses.
“To ensure the safety of residents, cast and crew, traffic orders are often issued, allowing the production to close the square itself, as well as adjacent roads and footways for the duration of the filming.”
“If you need to close the roads to traffic, work closely with local resident groups,” Pavord says. “Provide letters and emails to each affected household, attend residents’ meetings and make sure they know your plans.
“Ensure you have a plan for providing alternative parking and access to those who need it for deliveries, prams and wheelchairs.”
“In commercial districts, work closely with businesses, making sure that appropriate compensation is offered,” Pavord says.
Productions may find themselves in a position where they have to buy out local establishments for the length of the planned shoot time.
As Pavord notes, the officials behind action spy movie American Assassin did this when they bought out the whole of St George’s Walk in Croydon for a week and turned it into Istanbul.
Production teams should involve the police in any project that residents might mistakenly believe to be a real criminal action. Such a gesture is particularly crucial in scenes that have actors playing police officers or using guns or other deadly weapons.
“Meet residents who might be afraid of smoke or noise, particularly those with children, beforehand and spend a lot of time with them explaining the process,” says Pavord.
“You will always need a licensed armourer on location when guns are involved but nevertheless always conceal gunfire or any act of stunt violence, if possible, and consider silent action and editing in the sound of gunfire or explosions later.”
Filming on the Underground
Sam Mendes’ first Bond movie Skyfall saw Daniel Craig chasing the movie’s villain Silva through Charing Cross Underground Station (pictured below). Producers made it look as though Bond was passing through Temple and Embankment stations, but the platforms were in fact part of Charing Cross’s disused Jubilee Line section.
Similarly, Canary Wharf Underground Station appeared in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, standing in for part of the interior of an Imperial base.
Underground stations look great as locations, but are incredibly busy and have limited space. It can take up to two years to organise a shoot, according to Transport for London, and even when a shoot is authorised, closures are rare.
The Rogue One production team had to film in Canary Wharf through consecutive nights while the station was closed because the location is too busy to be shut down during normal business hours.
As with filming at landmarks, there are two general ways of shooting aerial footage.
“Firstly, [you could use] a reputable helicopter company that is experienced in filming in a major city, and who will obtain all the correct Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) permissions,” says Waller.
“Most filming will only be approved with the helicopter remaining above 400 feet, but permissions can sometimes be granted to film at a lower altitude. An example of this type of filming can be seen during the Thames speedboat chase scene in Spectre (Sam Mendes’ second Bond movie with Daniel Craig).
“Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – drones – may also be used. Productions can use commercial UAV operators that have been approved and licensed by the CAA. Most commercial operators are not approved to fly the UAV closer than 50 metres from any structure, vessel or person not under their control.”
“Filming on the Thames is actually quite straightforward,” Waller says. “The Thames is managed by the Port of London Authority (PLA), who have a team that liaises with film and TV productions and advises on the safest ways to film."
“Where filming is large-scale (such as in Bond movie Spectre, above), they can arrange for a Notice to Mariners to be issued, which closes the required section of the river," Waller adds. "The PLA is supported in this activity by its Harbour Masters and various companies who work on the Thames, such as Livett’s Launches.
“Both the PLA and Livett’s Launches are members of the London Filming Partnership, a network of more than 500 bodies that serves to join up the dots and ensure filming runs smoothly.”
Be courteous and low-key
To avoid attention and unnecessary disruption, use handheld cameras whenever possible and always be prepared by basing production offices near key locations. That way, you can move actors from makeup trailers and costume fittings to film locations more discreetly.
“Offer donations to local charities as a way of saying thanks, or offer set visits and local question-and-answer sessions with an actor or director residents might admire,” Pavord says. Even Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle took to knocking on the doors of every Lewisham resident to offer his thanks when he filmed the pilot for Channel 4 police drama series Babylon back in 2014.
Producers sometimes get creative. Crew on the movie adaptations of Paddington Bear gave a jar of marmalade to each resident affected by location filming and they also supported a local community centre and library.
Main page image: Free Images/M Hussain. Jason Bourne poster art: Univeral Pictures. Wonder Woman image: Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Skyfall image: Francois Duhamel/Danjaq, LLC/United Artists Corporation/Columbia Pictures. Spectre Thames image: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios/Danjaq, LLC/Columbia Pictures