Taking a break from the “norm” and not moving to London

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Six months ago I crammed my belongings into a rental van, said farewell to family and friends and headed ‘North’ to Birmingham. Before that, when explaining my plan to move to Brum, a lot of my friends and family asked, “why”? I often found myself asking the same question. “Why am I doing this?”. As a film-maker, why am I not moving to the filmmaking behemoth that is London, one of the most exciting and widely admired cities on the planet.

 

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Although having never lived in London myself, I know many people who do and without naming anyone, they always look worn down and every time we meet up, the words “I can’t afford that” are uttered more than once. As a film-maker, I’ve also spent plenty of time in London, jousting with just over 8m Londoners day and night, at work, on the tube, at a gig and at the bar. Factoring in an extra two hours to get to London for a 9pm shoot due to the horrendous rush hour traffic is also not the best way to start your work day.

 

BRITAIN-TRANSPORT-STRIKE-RETAIL

Oh I don’t mind the hustle and bustle, London is the place to be, so what are my accommodation options? A one-bedroom flat in West Hampstead would cost around £1,505 pcm, according to Zoopla. It would be cheaper to live in Barcelona and commute to London. Okay, so let’s not throw money away, how about buying? The average price of a house in London is £400,000. Ah.

Oh well, better bite the bullet and get myself a flat I suppose. At least I’m in the right place for my career right? I’ll be on the road to becoming an award winning DoP in no time right? The problem with that is in the film and media world, the lure of London and the blind allegiance that creative types show the capital is strong, verging on the insane. So much so is that the whole place is over saturated, there are a thousand other people like me trying to do the same. In London, everyone and their Nan are filmmakers, working for pittance in order to win a job, in turn devaluing their own work and everyone else’s. Your craft that you have spent hours honing and thousands of pounds training is reduced to a miniscule day rate just to get work in. There is a lot of great film making talent out there and London sucks them all in, sends them through the meat grinder and spits them out, leaving nothing left for the rest of the UK.

 

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But all of the big film companies are in London, surely I’ll get noticed at some point right? Maybe you’ll get lucky, or you’ll be working as a runner on minimum wage in a post-production house making tea. You think your work will stand out from the crowd? In London, it’s a very very big crowd. It does ask the question, why? Why are all of the big film companies still in London in this day in age? Great rail and air links? Yes. Great road links? Yes, if you don’t mind adding an extra two hours and the congestion charge to your journey. Great production facilities? Yes. Well established? Yes. Anything else….?

Apart from the fact that they are already established, in my opinion, there is no other reason why major film companies are primarily based in London in modern Britain. The internet eliminates any need for close proximity. A post-production house can work and send footage over the internet, i.e The Cloud. A discussion about a film script can be done via email or Skype and a great film studio can be built anywhere. And why do companies put themselves through the ‘hassel’ of London, the congestion charge, the high rent and running costs?

 

london-birmingham

In Birmingham and Manchester for example, you already have great rail, air and road links, and without the extortionate operation costs. You could build great production facilities for a fraction of the cost than that in London. They filmed scenes from Star Wars Episode VII on location in my home town and even the world renowned Pinewood Studios isn’t based in London. It’s all about a change of attitudes and challenging traditions.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a dig at the capital, I love London, it’s a fantastic city. Cities like London have always been hubs for art, music, fashion, finance, media and other influential industries, but there inevitably comes a point of over saturation. The city becomes a victim of its own success and starts to become sterile. The same has been said about New York for a while now and it may now be London’s time as well. There will still be decades of people clinging on to what made these cities great in the first place, but instead of flogging a dead horse, I’m excited to be in a growing city, where people appreciate something different and where I can afford to live close enough to the city centre to walk everywhere.

When I was considering Birmingham, it felt like a step backwards and looking back at the expressions of bafflement on many faces when I told them I was heading to Birmingham were, sometimes, excruciating. But do you know what’s even more insane? Moving to a city based on its reputation instead of what it can actually offer you.

 

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