With a new film festival on the scene and more movie investment than ever before, Cardiff’s film industry certainly seems to be moving up in the world. But how much further can it go? As the fate of a new film studio complex near Bridgend hangs in the balance, some are wondering whether it really is a film industry with huge untapped potential or destined to be no more than a flicker on the silver screen.
Filming Torchwood in Cardiff Bay
Judging from the figures, the industry at least appears to be in rude health. In 2007, the film industry brought £32m to the Welsh economy, a massive jump from £8m five years ago. And now a new movie festival held for the first time last November, the Soundtrack International Film and Music Festival for Wales, intends to put Cardiff firmly on the international film festival circuit. Replacing the annual Cardiff Film Festival, which ended in 2006, Soundtrack aims to bring together film and music with a decidedly international flavour.
Danny Boyle, director of Slumdog Millionaire
The festival's director Pablo Janczur, from events company Push4 which developed Soundtrack's concept, said: “Although there is an element that celebrates the best that is coming out of Wales, and a lot of the Welsh film industry will participate in it, we want it to be international.
“I think if you just name it after a city then you’re regionalising it immediately and you’re saying it’s only for the people of that area and that’s exactly what we didn’t want to do.”
Video: Soundtrack International Film and Music Festival
Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce, who starred in Brazil, Tomorrow Never Dies and Pirates of the Caribbean, gives his thoughts on the Welsh film industry
Attracting interest outside of Wales is precisely what the film industry is hoping to encourage, said Penny Skuse, Film Officer for the Wales Screen Commission. Hollywood films such as Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and The Libertine starring Johnny Depp have filmed scenes in Wales, which Skuse says has plenty to offer filmmakers.
“The locations, the crews, the facilities, we’ve got it all here, which we’re finally now proving to the world because of things like Dr Who and Torchwood,” said Skuse. “They have definitely put us on the map as a location, and people take us more seriously now they know that productions can happen here.”
But more than just filming in Wales, Skuse is keen for movies to be wholly produced here, from shooting right through to editing and post-production. For her, that is the next step for the Welsh film industry and the key to boosting investment and interest.
John Barrowman and Eve Myles film Torchwood
“It’s exciting when big-budget projects come in but we just need to keep them here. Our dream is for big films to do their studio work here as well as their post-production, rather than have them disappear off to London to complete their films.”
But the collapse of the £330m film studio project looks set to crush those dreams. The plans for the studio complex in Llanilid, Llanharan, dubbed ‘Valleywood’, initially included 12 studios, and would have created nearly 2000 jobs and attracted filmmakers from all over the world. But seven years on, the unfinished studios lie vacant, the companies behind it have gone into administration and the finances are in tatters.
Movies filmed in Wales
View Larger Map
But does Wales really need a massive film studio complex? Considering the size of the industry, is there a genuine demand for it, and how much further is the Welsh film industry realistically likely to grow?
Like that famous film quote 'If you build it, they will come', Skuse believes Valleywood is the lynchpin to bolstering Wales’ film industry.
“The film studios are definitely not an extravagance," said Skuse. "We as a film commission are always getting enquiries for films studios. It’s essential that we get studio space, and then we can progress forward and hopefully help more productions come to Wales.”
There have also been concerns over the amount of resources and funding available to filmmakers, as well as the justification of the Welsh Assembly financing an industry which isn’t reaping any significant financial results. Even if a film succeeds in being made, the chances of finding a distributor are slim, and most will never even make it onto DVD. As one industry source said, this reality raises the question of whether it’s worth these films being made in the first place.
Matthew Redd, co-producer of Avoiding Christian Bale which is currently in post-production, is doubtful about how significant the Welsh film industry really is.
“I don’t know if there really is a Welsh industry as in an industry that people make a living from, because TV is what pays most people’s wages, like BBC or S4C,” Redd commented. "There is only a handful of independent film producers based in Wales, and I don’t really know if you can call it an industry, it depends on who you speak to.”
Despite having to overcome major financial hurdles, independent films continue to be made. Tom Betts, the Cardiff-based writer and director of Secrecy, also in post-production, said: “there's a healthy and growing amount of filmmaking here at the grassroots level.”
Adrian Walsh and Kristen Richards in Secrecy
Although Betts hasn’t had any trouble finding cast or crew in Wales, he felt there’s too little money in the industry: “I do think we have the ingredients for a healthy, sustainable industry in the region. There’s certainly enough talent – we just need the infrastructure to develop a bit more.”
And having a thriving film industry can only be a good thing for Cardiff, according to Keith Potter, Head of Talent at the Film Agency for Wales.
“I think that any kind of vibrant arts scene is positive to the viewpoint of the city,” said Potter, “and the more Cardiff gets recognised as a cultural place, where art can thrive and especially film and TV, industry talent will be attracted to being based here.”
Cardiff's film industry is arguably still in its infancy, and although finance is a problem, that goes for the rest of the UK as well as Wales. But as Cardiff has proved, it has the potential to grow and develop. Although only time will tell how much further this expansion can grow, Cardiff has decidedly made its mark on the film map, and it's ready for its close up.
Audio: Three views on Cardiff's screen scene
The Actress: Amy Morgan, Avoiding Christian Bale
The Financer: Keith Potter, Film Agency for Wales
The Location and Resources Scout: Penny Skuse
All photos taken by myself, apart from:
Torchwood set photos courtesy of Penny Skuse from the Wales Screen Commission
Photo still from Secrecy courtesy of Tom Betts
Danny Boyle at Soundtrack courtesy of the Soundtrack website
Audio backstory image courtesy of cardiffcats.com