Oral history films recorded with veterans from the studios of Elstree. Designed to preserve and share our rich filmmaking history.
The Elstree Project is a unique oral history project. Over the past two years we have recorded 32 interviews with film and television industry veterans from the studios of Elstree and Borehamwood. The interviews showcase the rich and fascinating history of the studios; telling the stories of how some of the world's most well-known and best-loved film and television shows were made, from the people who helped make them.
One of the great benefits we have been able to offer is regular work experience for film students and allow them to not only participate in the filming and recording of these interviews, but also have them meet the veterans from the very industry they are looking to work in and hear first-hand what it was like.
You may think "Why Elstree?"
Elstree is really important! It was where the first British "talkie" was filmed - Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail. Hundreds of films known across the world were made in the studios here - from the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies, to other iconic productions including 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Railway Children, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, Who Framed Roger Rabbit... and television productions including The Avengers, The Saint, The Persuaders!, UFO, and The Muppet Show.
What have we done so far?
We love all the stories told by the stars and the directors, but we also want to tell the stories that you don't normally get to hear. The stories of the props painters, the cameramen, the stills photographers, and the riggers.
In the course of making these interviews we have discovered tales about what it really was like to work with Roger Moore on The Saint, how the backdrops were matted in for Ivanhoe, and what Elizabeth Taylor's response was when one of the crew suggested her diamond engagement ring was from Woolworths! We have found out about how Darth Vader's costume was painted for Star Wars, the craft of cinematography from the cameraman on Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and just quite how much attention you need to pay to continuity from the script supervisor on The Shining.
To see an example of what we have already achieved, our oral history of The Shining which combines five of our interviews is available free online. Staircases to Nowhere: Making Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" is a 17 minute documentary and, in under 4 months of being online, we have reached 89,000 hits and have been included in film festivals. http://vimeo.com/52033659
We also held a season of films Made At Elstree which attracted large audiences, and have pledged to repeat this season with a new set of programming.
We also have discovered some amazing stories that no one has ever heard, including a heartbreaking story about the temporary closure of Elstree Studios in the 1990s. Half of the original site of Elstree Studios is now a supermarket, the MGM Elstree site has been demolished, along with Gate Studios and Danziger Studios. Only two studio sites now exist out of six. If we don't record and preserve these memories of one of the most important centres for film and television in the world, they will be lost forever.
We want to share these stories with you.
Those already interviewed include:
- June Randall, Continuity The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, The Devil Rides Out
- Kelvin Pike, Camera Operator 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, The Empire Strikes Back
- Ron Punter, Scenic Artist Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Shining
- Ray Merrin, Post-Production Sound Return to Oz, The Shining
- Terry Rawlings, Post-Production Sound
- Alf Newvel, Rigger The Great Muppet Caper
- Johnny Goodman, Production Supervisor The Saint, The Persuaders!
- Ken Baker, Assistant Director Labyrinth, The Saint, The Baron, Gideon's Way, Department S
- Alan Tomkins, Art Director Hanover Street
- Mick Mason, Camera Technician The Shining
- John Hough, Director The Avengers, The Saint, The Champions, The Baron, The Zoo Gang
- Neville Reed, Head of Studios Elstree Film and Television Studios 1996 - 2006
- Mick Brady, Props and Special Effects
- Julian Senior, Publicist MGM and Warner Bros.
- Brian Clemens, Writer The Avengers
- Annie Elvin, Animator Who Framed Roger Rabbit
- Barry Wilkinson, Props Master Labyrinth, Who Framed Roger Rabbit
However... this has all been done in our free time and on borrowed equipment. We don't have any equipment at all to call our own except for the hard drive we have to store the recordings (and of course a separate back-up!). If we raise our funds we will be able to buy dedicated camera and sound recording equipment for the project. The cameras we have been borrowing are not always available and often the process of taking them on loan is not easy. We sometimes need to shoot at very short notice and this is currently impossible. We have a list of interviewees to arrange to meet and haven't been able to do so without knowing we can actually film them!
We want to have 50 interviews completed by 2014.
This year is important as it is the 100th anniversary of filmmaking in Elstree, and a new museum space is opening in the town where we hope to be able to showcase our videos. We also want to put this content into an interactive iPad app documenting the 100 years.
If we raise our funds we will buy two Blackmagic Cinema Cameras, microphones, storage, tripods and lenses. We will be able to be a truly active and mobile production unit and this will enable us to film more frequently and when we need to.
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
We have already made 32 interviews, the production quality has been widely acclaimed by the likes of the BECTU History Project team and staff from the BBC and BFI. But this has all been on borrowed equipment, and we don't always have access.
One of our biggest challenges is getting these interviews captured before it's too late. Many of the people who have been so kind enough to share their memories are retired and elderly. Two potential contributors have already passed away, and time is running out. We desperately need to make sure we have the chance to interview as many Elstree veterans as possible, which means having the equipment at our fingertips.
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.