Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

London: The [Pound]500m Hollywood Extra; If Watching Movies Gives Londoners a Sense of Deja Vu, There's a Good Reason: More and More Film-Makers Are Using Our City for Location Shoots. as Tim Cooper Discovers, London Can Be Used as a Setting for New York, Moscow - or Even Buenos Aires

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

London: The [Pound]500m Hollywood Extra; If Watching Movies Gives Londoners a Sense of Deja Vu, There's a Good Reason: More and More Film-Makers Are Using Our City for Location Shoots. as Tim Cooper Discovers, London Can Be Used as a Setting for New York, Moscow - or Even Buenos Aires

Article excerpt

Byline: TIM COOPER

RED double-decker buses, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, the neon advertising slogans at Piccadilly Circus - these are the images of London that Hollywood has been presenting for decades.

But such cliched images of the capital are rapidly being replaced by gritty new locations as filmmakers explore London for sites that go beyond the picture postcard.

The streets of the East End, little changed for a century, make a convincing backdrop for gangland dramas like Snatch. Picturesque Portobello Market provided the setting for Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts's romance in Notting Hill.

The Dome made its spectacular cinema debut in the Bond film The World Is Not Enough, with Pierce Brosnan falling from a helicopter on to its roof.

But look closely at the next blockbuster and you might spot something strangely familiar about the streets of Moscow or New York or Washington DC - or even Buenos Aires. For London is increasingly "doubling up" its locations to offer directors the sort of access they could never hope to find in the real buildings they portray.

Disregard the title and look closely at Eyes Wide Shut as Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman walk the streets of New York. Every scene was shot in London.

Study the last-but-one Bond film, GoldenEye, and look again at those imposing buildings in Moscow - they include Somerset House and the Langham Hilton. Somerset House also made an appearance in the Johnny Depp film Sleepy Hollow. Another familiar-looking Russian building crops up in The Saint.

On close inspection it turns out to be the Woolwich Arsenal, while the CIA headquarters in Virginia is "played" by Senate House in the forthcoming Spygame.

Look again at the White House in Patriot Games: if you've been to Greenwich recently you'll recognise it as the Royal Naval College.

And William Randolph Hearst's mansion in RKO is the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Argentine parliament building is not such a familiar landmark unless you come from Buenos Aires, but when it makes its appearance in Evita, Madonna and co are really on location at RAF Halton.

All this trickery is the work of the London Film Commission, which has built up a vast database of locations around the capital which can double up for ones on the other side of the globe. Let's face it, the chances of getting the US President out of the White House to let Harrison Ford and his chums film a few scenes are slender enough when there's a country to run. And the CIA is hardly likely to put its spy games on hold for a film based on its operatives.

London film commissioner Sue Hayes said film crews using London as a location brought [pound]500mil-lion into the capital in 2000 - the greatest amount yet, up by a third on 1999.

"London used to be perceived as a bit bureaucratic, rather piecemeal, but now we can give filmmakers what they want - as the figures demonstrate," she said. "We have some wonderful locations and there have been some tax breaks on bigger locations."

The capital, in fact, was "choc-a-bloc" with prime sites like Borough Market, Spitalfields and Ealing proving popular. At the same time, however, some of London's most popular locations are disappearing under the developers' wrecking ball.

The latest threat is to Borough Market, which has been the backdrop to - among others - Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, Wings Of A Dove, Entrapment, Keep The Aspidistra Flying and, most recently, Bridget Jones's Diary.

The market, including shops and a listed pub, is under threat from Railtrack's plans for a new track.

Harvey Edgington from the London Film Commission was one of those making representations to the planning inquiry.

"This is an important area for film crews and when it comes to an area having economic stability, film can make a significant contribution," he said. …

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