Even with a new refurbishment and grand future plans, Ealing Studios is not ignoring its own storied history. Some of the shooting stages still feature straw packing dating back to 1932. And in the newly modernised, impressively posh dressing rooms, there are striking vintage posters of classic Ealing comedies adorning the walls.
The west London-based Ealing Studios has completed the first two of three phases in a state-of-the-art regeneration, including renovations of production offices and dressing rooms, plus the construction of five new buildings with tenants now settled including O2, Roadrunner Records, Met Film School, Met Film Production, Delamar Academy Of Make-Up, gaming company Digi Guys, agency Creative Media Management, and graphics company Vizrt.
Soon they will start work on the most ambitious part of the project, an 80,000-square-foot centre block with offices, screening rooms, meeting rooms, post-production facilities, underground car park and restaurants (including a public cafe with Ealing history exhibit).
The exact timing of the work will depend on market demand. 'We built the new buildings without having pre-booked tenants, but with an 80,000-square-foot development you have got to know you already have cornerstone tenants,' says Ealing Studios MD James Spring.
The cost of that project will be $30m-$50m, making the entire regeneration budget about $100m. 'It's like we're taking the model for financing feature films and applying that to property - it's debt, not equity, funding with some bank debt and financing structures we've put in place,' Spring adds.
A decade ago, this wasn't even a dream. The languishing studio site was acquired in mid-2000 by Uri Fruchtmann, Barnaby Thompson, Harry Handelsman and John Kao. Handelsman, of the Manhattan Loft Corporation, hired architects James Burland and Ian Sharratt to design the revamp while also keeping in mind the history of film production on the site, which started back in 1902. (The Grade II-listed White House still stands proud.)
Spring hopes the campus's combination of studio space, high-tech offices and a green, relatively central location near a tube stop will make Ealing Studios an even more attractive destination for creative companies, including film-makers and small production outfits. Directors Oliver Parker and Gurinder Chadha and producers including Steve Clark-Hall are already based at Ealing. 'We want to give more of an opportunity for writers and directors to have a home here, to build that Ealing community,' Spring says. 'People like the idea of a community that creates business opportunities and creative opportunities. And people just like being around other like-minded people.' West London is slowly becoming more attractive for the film world, with Disney in Hammersmith and Paramount Pictures International's recent move to Chiswick.
Still, Ealing doesn't aim to become as big as Pinewood - indeed its four-acre site wouldn't allow it - and its biggest stage is 10,000-square-feet. 'We're never going to be huge but we can provide a boutique environment,' Spring says.
New studio manager Gary Stone, who came to Ealing from Pinewood Shepperton in early 2008, notes that the space was at 80% occupancy this summer, and Ealing studio head Barnaby Thompson jokes about Ealing's production arm having to rent back its own space because there were so many productions coming through. This summer, those included The Descent 2, TV project Churchill At War, and Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time. Current production offices include Working Title's Lost For Words, Disney's Alice In Wonderland and HandMade's Eloise In Paris.
'Since Gary arrived, he has done a fantastic job of ramping up bookings,' notes James Spring. Stone agrees that Ealing's profile is starting to rise again: 'the inquiries we have have been enormous, it's people who wouldn't have necessarily thought of Ealing a few years ago.'
Of course, Ealing has its own production arm as well: Stephan Elliott's Easy Virtue and Richard Eyre's The Other Man are both world premiering in Toronto; it will build on the success of St Trinian's with a sequel; Thompson is producing Ealing/Fragile's Dorian Gray by Oliver Parker, starring Ben Barnes; and in development are new films from Amma Asante (Where Hands Touch) and Julian Fellowes (From Time To Time). The company also has a new international sales division, selling its productions and third-party films including Tom Hooper's hotly anticipated The Damned United.