Laura Aviles explains why Bristol’s TV and film community is poised to play a vital role in the post-Covid economic recovery.
As Bristol City Council’s new senior film manager, I have finally reached a position where I can support and promote my two main passions – Bristol and filming in the West Country.
My role is to oversee the work of the Bottle Yard Studios and Bristol Film Office, and make sure that Bristol can build on its past successes and deliver a single, complete and consistent offer encompassing studio and location filming. And, despite the pandemic, there has never been a better time.
Film and TV production is one of Bristol’s fastest growing businesses, and the studios, which are owned by Bristol City Council, play an integral role in that growth.
After 10 years of operations, the studios are now recognised globally as a thriving centre for production. Titles currently shooting include Stephen Merchant’s new BBC/Amazon Prime series The Offenders, starring Oscar-winner Christopher Walken, Netflix sci-fi series The Last Bus and Starz’s Becoming Elizabeth.
The city’s Film Office has consistently provided support for productions over the past 15 years. This has earnt Bristol the reputation of being one of the most film-friendly places to shoot in the UK. And it contributed to us winning Unesco City of Film status in 2017, and persuading Channel 4 to open its creative hub here in early 2020.
Producers return time and time again, for good reason. There are many benefits to being based here: it is less than two hours from London but, as a smaller city, Bristol is far quicker to navigate when shooting on location. Producers save precious time when units are in transit. Costs are lower, yet you will still find all the world-class production, post-production and facilities companies you could possibly need.
Bristol Film Office goes above and beyond to assist with recces, permits and logistics, plus there’s a vast bank of experienced local crew who are only too keen to work closer to home.
Within the city, you’ll find a mixture of architecture, including Regency and Georgian terraces, large green spaces and gritty urban settings.
Bristol is the gateway to the West of England – Cornwall, Devon and Dorset offer a wonderfully varied selection of landscapes, historic houses and coastlines.
Like everyone else, we had to adapt quickly to create a safe production environment during the pandemic. We have a dedicated Covid-19 safety supervisor in place and we published our Covid-19 site operating procedures in June to support productions and TV/film-related businesses based here.
Our recovery in Bristol has been relatively fast. The city was the location of choice for some of the first UK high-end TV titles to restart filming after the first lockdown.
These included the BBC and Amazon’s Nancy Mitford adaptation, The Pursuit of Love, starring Lily James and Andrew Scott, and series 2 of Fox TV and StudioCanal’s War of the Worlds. Both were up and running again by late July/early August.
As streaming platforms and broadcasters ramp up their content, the need for additional stage space and skills is growing steadily. New studios are being built throughout the UK, and Bristol is not missing out. Plans for a £12m development have recently been approved, with the Bottle Yard growing from eight to 11 stages. If everything goes to plan, the new studios should launch late next spring.
Bristol is developing a skills agenda to grow a sustainable talent base to meet increased demand, and the city is set to be a key contributor to local and national economic recovery.
Laura Aviles is Bristol City Council’s senior film manager.