If you think you know Ealing Studios from the glory days of The Lavender Hill Mob, it is time to fast forward. The new Ealing Studios, launched in 2000, has worked on films including The Importance of Being Earnest and Valiant and is quietly ramping up its future business.
Having a known brand can be useful, although the current incarnation does not have rights to the classic Ealing Studios librar- ies. "The new Ealing will define itself over time," says Ealing head Barnaby Thompson. "We're trying to re-energise a great, esteemed classic brand, which is always a challenge. The good news is that there's enormous fondness for the studio, and it is associated with high standards."
Over the past few years, Ealing Studios has quietly reshaped its business, focused on growth plans for the future, and recently launched Ealing Studios International, its own sales unit that will be in Cannes for the first time. The projects being sold include Ealing productions such as I Want Candy, the in-production star-studded remake of St Trinian's, and Julian Fellowes' From Time To Time. J&M and FilmFour veteran Natalie Brenner is running the sales division.
Thompson says: "As a production company, you have to be involved in sales and distribution because that gives you a relationship with distributors and puts you closer to the marketplace to make sure you're making the right films. It helps you control the films you do make."
Ealing's managing director James Spring notes that the company wants to be involved in every step of the film-making process. "Yes, this is a facility where you can produce films, but we are also a developer, producer and distributor of films internationally," he says. "We want to get involved in a wholesale way." Other plans include creating a stronger web presence, including retail.
Ealing's Fragile Films had worked on co-selling movies but is now purely a production banner. "Our ambition is that we'll do individual deals with other production companies to produce and distribute movies and also bring two or three other production labels under the Ealing umbrella," Spring explains.
Looking ahead, Ealing will look to do larger international films in the $25m range, along with continuing UK films in the $10m-$15m range. Two larger projects that could shoot in 2008 are a US project and a European thriller. Thompson says: "There seems to be gap in the $15m-$30m range films that studios aren't making as much now. To grow the company we'll need to work on bigger films."
St Trinian's - which Oliver Parker and Thompson are co-directing and co-producing with a cast including Rupert Everett and Colin Firth - will continue shooting through May 24. All eyes are on the film as a defining project for the reinvigorated Ealing. "If we can recreate the spirit of the old movies then we'll have something," Thompson says on the set. "It could help define and crystallise the new Ealing."
Ealing cannot compete with Pinewood in terms of studio space, but the company has been renovating its facilities and creating new offices. "The medium and long-term lets give us long-term stability," Spring says.