Celebrating the Elstree Studios

From Borehamwood to Hollywood
[Ellie Pilcher | Contributing Writer]

On Thursday 13th of November, the Weston Auditorium was full of movie-lovers and Hertfordshire-residents eager to watch the fall and rise of the beloved Elstree Studios. In a documentary of interviews, spanning four years of work, Barbara Windsor narrated the tale of the studios from its changing-hands to its part in the creation of Star Wars and now as the home of BBC and ITV productions such as ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and ‘Dancing on Ice’. The Documentary itself shows the 100 years of filmmaking that has been done on the University’s backdoor step for a century.

A memorable evening for all those that attended, and all those that took part in the production of the documentary: including several Film and Television students as well as the University’s very own Howard Berry, Bob Redman and Paul Welsh MBE of the volunteer group Elstree Screen Heritage.

Following the two hour long film, in which Simon Pegg made us laugh, Stephen Spielberg inspired us, and Brian Blessed boomed with pride at the time he raced to Elstree Studios on his bike, came an interesting Q & A with some of Elstree’s most prestigious workers:

  •  Jan Harlan, executive producer of Kubrick feature films – Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jack, Eyes Wide Shut; and Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence A.I.
  •  Emmy Award winner Martin Baker, floor manager – The Muppet Show; producer – The Great Muppet Caper, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Yonderland
  •  BAFTA nominee Ray Merrin, post-production sound – one of the first people to use Dolby sound; sound re-recording mixer – Alien, Return to Oz, Chariots of Fire, Batman

The Q & A gave the audience the chance to ask their questions on what it was like to work at Elstree Studios in its hay-day, with directors such as Stephen Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick and even with the Muppets!

When asked about some of their favourite memories of Elstree Studios, and working with Stanley Kubrick, Jan Harlan described the time when Kubrick and he had taken some establishing shots of a small hotel in Oregon, for The Shining, but when it came to creating them in Elstree Kubrick added a rather large ballroom. Harlan said to Kubrick ‘These really wouldn’t fit in the hotel’ and Stanley’s answer was ‘It’s a ghost film’. As the film and the Q & A progressed it was clear that Stanley Kubrick, the incredibly talented and precise director of The Shining, was not to be messed with, but nonetheless a truly respected artist.

Baker was much more poetic unable to pinpoint a favourite memory with his experience in the film industry he declared: ‘it was an extraordinary career, one week I’d be walking down the hallway with John Wayne, the next its George Burns, and we saw Liberace, it was just amazing period of growing up and learning television and film.’

Ray Merrin had a great answer when asked who his favourite actors were, describing the time that he and Barbara Streisand had a duet together: ‘I just sang the first line, then she sang the next, which reminded me of the third line which I sang and she sang the fourth. I said now stop: ‘nobody’s gonna believe I’m singing a duet with Barbara Streisand’

Finally all three of the gentleman offered some advice to any students or people who wanted to start in the film industry:

Merrin stressed the point that if you want to do it, to do it. To climb the ladder, to learn to make the perfect cup of tea, to not get to the top too quickly or you’ll upset a lot of people. To work for it and earn what you get.

Baker advised to stay with it and to never not give up. Stressing that opportunities are hard to find as everything is fairly free-lance. ‘Sometimes people want to be there, not want to get there.’ Whatever job you get at the beginning is part of being in the industry, even if it is about fetching tea or getting mail. It can lead to bigger and better things, as it did for him.

Harlan finished by saying that ‘it is very easy to make a film, it is very difficult to make a film other people want to see. To make a great film, it is almost a miracle – it is like a great painting or a great symphony or a great novel – it is very difficult. [But] most importantly for young filmmakers you have to be in love, you have to be passionately in love with a story to see it through.’

A highly inspirational, fascinating and enjoyable evening. If you are interested in learning more about ‘Borehamwood to Hollywood’ visit the webiste: www.theelstreeproject.org and check out UHArts website for more details on the event.

 

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Celebrating the Elstree Studios