Why filmmakers and TV production companies are heading to Cheshire
PUBLISHED: 09:35 07 June 2019
Cheshire's pretty villages and rolling fields can be seen on screens large and small across the globe - and it's all down to two dynamic women in Ashley
In 2016 the contribution to the UK GDP made by the film and TV industry was £6.1 billion. Yes, you read that right - over six billion of your British pounds, and that was a 20% increase on the year before - and it's continuing to rise. Why am I telling you this? Because it's not all happening in London, as you might expect. Right here in Cheshire there is a team that is helping contribute to that income and, crikey, they work hard at it.
Tatton Locations is based in Ashley, and is rapidly becoming a go-to for location researchers employed by film-makers and series producers from Hollywood to Salford. Recent productions filmed here include Hollyoaks, Coronation Street, The Worst Witch, No Offence, Bancroft, Curfew, Peaky Blinders, Tolkien… and recently three of the biggest film franchises in the world have reached out seeking visits to review potential filming locations. Discretion reigns however, and no names are confirmed, though I am allowed to guess for an exciting minute!
Abbie Morrow is the TV & Film Co-ordinator for Tatton Locations, a job title that in no way sums up her role, which could perhaps be described as 'does everything necessary to give film makers what they need'. She is one half of a dynamic duo of women, the other being Charlie Greenstein, who run the whole shebang.
'Tatton Locations was established years ago,' Abbie tells me, when I ask how come Ashley has found itself on the locations map for productions large and small. 'The estate has been owned by the Brooks family since the 1950's. Privately owned estates have always attracted filming because the decision making at this end is very simple - and we have so much to offer. For years Henry Brooks ran this side of the business with his PA, but it really took off four years ago when the BBC discovered us and proposed that we convert the Ashley Hall site into studios, for filming their series The Worst Witch. Grain stores and barns were converted into studios, a green screen and a construction workshop. Since then our offering has evolved and improved and has got better every year.'
Abbie grew up in Cheshire and was working in London, in theatre production and programming, but was desperately seeking a way to return home, while maintaining her career in the arts. She discovered Tatton Locations, pitched her skills to Charlie and landed a job.
Her role is to pitch locations to location scouts and then organise everything they need once the studio decides it wants to film here. Sounds simple, but when you learn that the sections of Tolkein filmed here required a cast of 150 WWI soldiers, 30 cavalry horses and a 300-strong crew (which included a dedicated SFX team to manage activity such as night shooting and construction experts, who spent three months building the battlefield in one of the plots next to the Tatton studios) you realise that it's an exercise in determination as well as the application of extraordinary organisational skills.
'It can be really varied,' she laughs. 'They will arrive to dress the location, I supervise that and then they set up, film and de-rig and I will be involved in the process throughout - anything and everything really, and across multiple jobs. We will often have crews filming in multiple locations on a single day. We have had three enquiries this week and all are talking about coming and filming at the same time. One of them is an advert, one a big budget feature and the last is Hollyoaks.
'On Friday I was showing an ad agency a woodland, a middle-class home and a greenhouse; I did a tech recce with another client for developing a to-do list, which includes moving some cows, and then I dealt with a request for a beach for a high-end drama - set in Morocco! There's a lot of driving around showing people stuff and convincing people what it could become.
'Locations is such a lovely area of the industry to work in; location managers and scouts are some of the loveliest people in the world as it's their job to be the interface between the landowner and production, so generally we just have a really lovely time. We've reached the point where we're the first point of call for many location managers on every job they get.'
I'm amazed at the variety of locations that can be offered, then less so when I am told that there are 660 properties on the Tatton Estate, including 40+ farms, stately homes, forests, lakes, cottages, polo grounds, pavilions, barn conversions, churches, quarries (which apparently translate to north African beaches) plus of course the many, many third party locations that sign up to Tatton Locations to be held on their books, secure in the knowledge that should their property be chosen, whether it's a thatched cottage in Rostherne or a castle in Shropshire, they are in the safest of hands.
So, what's next?
'We have plans to build a brand new studio here in Ashley, so we can provide space for larger productions, multiple productions… The shortage of studio space, and the demand for it, is unbelievable. We get requests for 25,000 square feet, for use in three weeks time, that's how desperate the shortage is. The bigger picture is that we have Universal Studios looking for a home in the UK, Netflix are looking for a second European home, likely to be in England, all the online streaming services are making their own original content and need somewhere to film it, BBC and ITV are launching Britbox… and the quality is going through the roof.
'The big hitters come to the UK seeking our skills (our broadcasting skills and TV and film production skills are the envy of the world) we speak the same language and we have the space they are seeking. Manchester is the fastest growing city in the UK; there was a time when everything went to London, but now everything from talent to tech comes here, or stays here.
'For us, while the big studios are looking for space in the south east, this means that the really good, high end dramas are looking elsewhere and at our stage in this journey we're very happy to be helping with that. What we really have going for us in terms of getting the really big productions in the future is that we've got space, so another four or five years of drama and to really work our way up those budgets, get a brilliant portfolio together, to build more studio space and one of these days a feature film company will come along and say you know what, it's so much easier to film up north, let's do it.'