If you take the second left after Leicester Square station, amble down Shaftesbury Avenue roughly 500 feet, then plunge into Dean Street on your right, you’ll find yourself in the heart of the New Hollywood – known more commonly as Soho. Far removed from the glitz and glamour of LA and the desert sun, this small area of London has been making huge waves in the film industry of late, growing into one of the most renowned sectors of creativity in the business.
Dean Street, Wardour Street, Berwick Street; the main arteries of Soho all used to comprise one of the darker spots in London, known for its looked-down upon slew of Paul Raymond revue bars and myriad sex shops during the ‘80s, and as crime central in the ‘40s. While quaint reminders of its history remain in the form of Walker’s Court (a residual patch of nostalgic sleaze), those streets have been enjoying the patter of more upscale feet: you’ll now find any number of movie stars, directors, writers, producers… sashaying through Soho; pinballing between cutting edge post-production facilities and studio headquarters – all enjoying somewhat of a renaissance in the film world.
But what exactly is it that’s transformed Soho into a blazing hub of cinema magic, and more importantly, could it take over from Hollywood?
First of all, let’s look at the work itself: Soho has produced some of the most jaw-dropping work of the last few years, bringing cinema to a new level of expertise. Visual effects have enjoyed a huge surge in quality, thanks to some Soho-set teams; there have been a number of films in the past few years that have shown the world the power of British-based visual effects companies, but none more so than 2013’s Gravity.
When the BAFTA nominations were announced for that year, Gravity had many of the nods, including ‘Outstanding British Film’. But this was a movie that only starred American actors Sandra Bullock, George Clooney (and Ed Harris to an extent), and was directed by a Mexican filmmaker, Alfonso Cuarón – surely this was not a British film? But if you were watching the Oscars the same year, you slowly realised that, on a nuts-and-bolts level, Gravity could not have been a more British film. When it kept triumphing in the technical categories during the ceremony, winning seven Oscars overall, each subsequent acceptance speech for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Score, and Best Visual Effects was given in firmly British accents. Chief among those wins was Framestore, who provided the visual effects for Gravity, creating the state-of-the-art world of the film, which blended photorealism with giddy beauty and a huge scope. It really did set the bar, and it was all done in Soho.
Having looked at the history of Soho, we wanted to take a look at where things are going now, and what’s currently happening in the area?
Soho is very much set up for modern filmmaking processes, with so much more emphasis on digital post-production and visual effects these days. The area was already set up for that and has handled the transition well. 80% of Gravity was produced at Framestore for example. More production houses are also popping up in Soho and the area is now considered to be as far reaching as Pinewood and Shepperton on the outskirts of London where the new Star Wars films are being made.
Slightly more recently has been Double Negative’s success with Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. Like Gravity, Interstellar depicted outer space with stunning realism, and it won the BAFTA for Outstanding Visual Effects, and the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Double Negative have set the bar once again when it comes to visual effects, only affirming further why Soho is the place to go to get your film looking as good as it can be.
There’s also the matter of the serious box office contender Britain has found itself as. During the noughties, the Harry Potter franchise – while helmed by Warner Bros. – is a largely British affair, thanks to the involvement of the London-centric MPC, Framestore, Double Negative and Heyday Films, with the film series amassing $7,723,431,572 in box office receipts worldwide. The boy wizard was hugely important to the British film economy, and paved the way for Britain as a leading force in cinema once again.
Soho is fast becoming much more than the small square mile that it once was. But is it a legitimate contender to Hollywood?
In the hearts and minds of the people working here, the exceptionally high standard of the work that they are producing, and how that work is being consumed and received the world over, it’s clear that soho is a real force to be reckoned with. Things are only set to get even better too, especially when we consider that mega blockbuster Star Wars: The Force Awakens is currently being made here…