Plans for ‘Hullywood’ film complex revealed

Ambitious plans have been announced aimed at creating the first purpose-built film production complex in Hull.

Image: Northern Films

The development features proposals for a 19,700sq ft soundstage at a currently vacant site on the Priory Park industrial estate.

Once operational the soundstage would be used to create indoor film sets. It aims to complement Hull’s growing appeal as an outdoor film location, particularly for period dramas using the Old Town’s historic streets and buildings.

With a planning application already submitted, the development will also include dressing rooms, office space and temporary accommodation for visiting film crews as part of the main building as well as a standalone joinery and fabrication workshop.

The project is being spearheaded by city-based independent film production company Northern Films.

Subject to securing planning approval, the proposed soundstage would sit next to the company’s existing premises in Saltmarsh Court.

Once built, visiting film companies will only be able to hire the facility on condition they agree to take on local people looking at starting a career in the industry. Ultimately, the idea is to involve local university and sixth-form students as well as young people on low incomes.

Today’s announcement coincides with the 90th anniversary of Hull-born J. Arthur Rank’s first foray into the film industry. As head of the Rank Organisation, he went on to become  Britain’s leading film producer and founded Pinewood Studios.

Northern Films director Andrew Fenton said: “Television and film production is a major growth industry in the UK and, for a variety of reasons but mainly cost, companies are increasingly looking for production bases outside of London.

“We believe we can offer top-quality facilities right here in Hull. We have the perfect location to meet the very specific requirements of the industry and a strong long-standing network of existing businesses in Hull with the sort of skills that are essential in set design and construction.

“The soundstage will add to what we already have here and the two buildings will be physically linked by a footbridge between the upper floors.”

In recent years Mr Fenton’s business has evolved from a commercial design studio mainly creating showrooms for clients in the automotive industry to a fully-fledged film studio. The company’s first feature film, a comedy drama set in Hull called The Last Trip, is due to be released in cinemas later in 2024.

He added: “We already have post-production and grading facilities, sound mastering, visual effects and CGI here along with sets, rehearsal space and a hospitality area so adding a soundstage is the next logical step for us.

“A big emphasis for us is providing opportunities for young people locally to get into the industry and learn new in-demand skills without having to leave home and go to London. “Everything we have done so far, including making The Last Trip, has followed that ethos. It was fully produced using local skills and people with no experience in film production.

“One of the building’s main functions will be addressing what we believe is a learning shortfall within schools and universities who seem to follow a theory-based approach with students being given very little or no real hands-on experience.

“We feel the skills being taught are not the current expectations of the industry so this building and the concept behind it will provide those skills locally.

“Most soundstage facilities are usually landlord-operated and are just spaces to hire out with  very limited opportunities for local people. However, this building will not be allowed to be hired in full by an out-of-town production unless it agrees to include a certain percentage of local skills.

“In addition, we will employ local freelancers to oversee the upkeep and management of the building while the ultimate aim is to establish a long-term programme of productions rather than living hand-to-mouth off one-off projects. In that way, it will create regular work for local freelancers.”

Mr Fenton said he had already received positive interest from a number of UK film production companies. 

“It ticks a lot of boxes in terms of what the industry needs right now,” he added.