Is The Hobbit heading to London?

BY MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 15:07 21/10/2010

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If hobbits flee New Zealand the smart money says their new home will be a $210 million former Rolls-Royce factory north west of London.

Leavesden Film Studios are owned by Warner Brothers, the same people bankrolling Sir Peter Jackson's Hobbit series.

The studio is home to all the Harry Potter films. Leavesden is fully 3D enabled - just as Warners have specified The Hobbit should be.

Sir Peter's wife Fran Walsh said today there were strong hints Warner wants to go to Leavesden.

"They've got a huge studio that Harry Potter have vacated that they own and they say would be perfect for us," she told Radio NZ.

The place started as a Rolls-Royce engine hangar at Leavesden Airport, near Watford.

A vast place, it comes with 50,000 square metres of stage space, production office space and support buildings as well as a 32 hectare back lot for open air filming.

Golden Eye, a 1995 James Bond offering, was among the first films shot at Leavesden. As well as the Potter series films made there include Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and The Dark Knight.

Earlier this year Warner Brothers announced they were buying Leavesden as a permanent European base.

The London Financial Times reported at the time that Warner Brothers wanted to make Leavesden a European hub for post-production, including visual effects, animatronics and film editing in the UK, and believes that it will attract film business to the country.

The proposal also includes a plan to allow members of the public to visit, by appointment, the sets of films made at Leavesden, including the great hall from the Harry Potter series.

The Great Hall is one of very few sets that have remained intact at Leavesden since Sorcerer's Stone filming. Other classic sets include Dumbledore's Office and the Gryffindor common room.

The Financial Times said Leavesden's investment in the UK has accounted for 25-50 percent of the UK's inward investment in film production. The proposal to make the studio a hub would safeguard the employment associated with Warner Bros' existing film production activities and provide a platform for employment growth and wider benefits within the local economy/local community.

"Warner Bros holds Leavesden Studios in the highest esteem as the home of our much-loved Harry Potter films," a Warner's spokesman said.

"This proposal is central to our long-term plans to invest in the local production community, to create local and industry employment opportunities, and to continue the legacy of exceptional British filmmaking at Leavesden and across the UK.

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"We look forward to continuing to cooperate with the Three Rivers and Watford Councils and with the local communities, as the project moves forward."

Recently Watford MP Richard Harrington, speaking in the House of Commons, urged the coalition government to support the local film industry.

"I am extremely proud of the contribution that Watford makes to the British film industry through the Leavesden Studios, where much of the Harry Potter series was filmed. Continued investment in this country's film industry will mean greater job opportunities, more money in the national purse and an unrivalled cultural contribution to world cinema."

Mr Harrington also stressed the need for increased lending to small businesses.

"Having built up my own businesses in the past, I know how difficult it can be to get finance; especially in this economic climate."

"A great number of people in Watford have experienced rejections when applying for a loan, and I am determined to highlight their issues in the Chamber and help them move forward with their business plans."

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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