Keeping a focus on opportunity.
The arrival of around 250 highly skilled jobs into the locality would normally be a big deal. Yet,
you’ve probably not heard much about this.
That’s because the work is mostly going on under wraps at Bay Studios and surrounding locations. What’s more, commercial sensitivity means I can’t go naming names – although social media currently provides a few clues.
Pandemics aside, Britain remains a good place to make movies. The facilities, studios and skills are all here, along with locations that range from dystopian settings, iconic backdrops and some stunning natural landscapes.
Investment has evolved film-making in Wales into a modest success story. Sadly however, Welsh public sector backing to match private input has been sporadic and geographically selective, to say the least.
Over the years, official support has mostly gone to high-profile ventures like the flashy Pinewood facility, and which has never quite lived up to its potential.
That said, the focus on south east Wales does seem to be happening because places like Cardiff have got their act together.
You may have read how the UK Government is pumping £22.2 million into the “media.cymru” project which aims to turn the capital into a global hub for media production.
The ambitious scheme which is expected to attract a total of £50.2m funding is forecast to create 2,000 new jobs.
Led by Cardiff University, the initiative intends to draw upon existing momentum from successful production hits like His Dark Materials, Doctor Who, Sex Education and Dream Horse. It will bring together 24 media production, broadcast, university and technology partners and also deliver new infrastructure including a "world-class virtual studio".
The business case that backs this investment forecasts an additional £236million in gross value added (GVA) by 2026.
It seems strange that somewhere like Swansea, and which has such an impressive record of partnership working, has not applied itself with the same degree of collaborative purpose when it comes to the performing arts.
I put this to a media analyst who shared the opinion that south west Wales doesn’t really have the established links and commercial networks necessary to put together the kind of bid formulated by Cardiff.
Better, in his view, that an argument is made for spreading the wealth and making all of Wales a place where film-makers are spoiled for choice.
One proposal is to coordinate the way filming locations get publicised. Production outfits are constantly on the lookout for suitable settings; old empty buildings, industrial units and hospitals being the favourites.
Meanwhile, Bay Studios continues to punch above its weight. There are four new productions this year, despite Covid and a sizeable chunk of floorspace given over the much-appreciated field hospital. Plans are in the pipeline for a big-name period drama next year but more about that when it happens.
Even so, it has to be said that the site only remains viable because of the associated business park. This has seen up to a dozen media, science, technical and fin-tech firms flourish on site. It could easily expand further given the number of recent enquiries.
The studio owners accept that the current piecemeal approach isn’t sustainable in the real world of media production. Sooner or later, decisions will have to be made about a future direction.
In my humble opinion, movies are big business and we should be chasing those opportunities as single-mindedly as any other investment opportunity.
I don’t think there’s any lack of talent or ambition in the region to generate the critical mass. Equally, I believe there is enough organisational acumen to put together an outfit capable of pulling in the right resources.
What often makes a film a hit is skilful direction. We need some of that now.