As the credits rolled on the Oscars for another year (and Gravity pulls us all back down to earth eventually), it was a joy for everyone at 20 The Barons to see so many golden statuettes migrating to the trophy cabinets of the West London region’s famous film studios. Gravity, which won 7 Oscars including Best Director for Alfonso Cuáron, was filmed nine miles down the road at Shepperton Studios. Operating as a film lot since 1932, Shepperton’s credits include The Third Man (1949), Dr Strangelove (1964) and previous space odyssey and Academy award winner Alien (1979), and it is now part of the thriving Pinewood group. Pinewood Studios, in Iver Heath, are themselves home to Glenn Freemantle of Sound 24, who won the Academy Award for Gravity’s Sound Editing. Developed as a film studio in 1935, by J Arthur Rank and Charles Boot, Pinewood’s credits include the James Bond movies and its studios feature the world famous 007 Stage. Closer to home, on our doorstep in fact, Twickenham Film Studios’ Foley Mixer Adam Fil Méndez was part of the Gravity Sound team that has also just won the Cinema Audio Society award for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing. One need only see the bustle brought to St Margarets by recent productions at Twickenham Studios, such as Frankenstein (starring Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy) and Cuban Fury (starring Nick Frost) to realise the impact of a thriving film industry. Of course, it is not just London’s grand old studios that are in such rude health. The capital’s diverse young talent is breaking new ground in movie-making, with the work of Soho’s Framestore at the forefront. Tim Webber’s team won the Academy Award for Visual Effects for creating Gravity’s stunningly believable and panoramic spacescapes. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney were rigged up and filmed within Framestore’s innovative Lightbox, named one of the best inventions of 2013 by Time Magazine, while the 3D vastness of space, the Earth, 30 million stars, space shuttles, the International Space Station, and the devastating explosions and debris were generated through a combination of innovative filming techniques and cutting-edge CGI. Gravity also won Best Original Score for Steven Price, who recorded at London’s Abbey Road studios and attempted to replicate the sound of the strings on The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby. The other notable Oscar success was, of course, 12 Years A Slave, winner of three Oscars including Best Picture. Its director Steve McQueen grew up in West London, attending Drayton Manor High School, while leading man, Chiwetel Ejiofor, was born in Forest Gate. Over £1 billion was spent on film production in the UK last year, and London has regained its rightful place at the centre of the movie world. A successful film industry, whether in the Sixties or today, is a key player in a vibrant London, and a vibrant London in turn attracts the best film-makers. As Amanda Nevill, chief executive of BFI, noted in the Financial Times: “If you ask the top actors and their families whether they’d like to shoot in London for three months, versus a desert somewhere, it’s not a difficult question to answer.” London has developed its own movie-making ‘gravity’, attracting the biggest stars into its glittering orbit.
On 20 December, 20 The Barons celebrated its first birthday. So, how did The Baron and St Margaret mark the occasion? Well, they find nothing more festive than curling up with a glass of Champagne in front of the classic Christmas movie It’s A Wonderful Life, which shares our birthday, having premiered in New York on 20 December 1946. It is also showing at the Richmond Curzon on Water Lane on the 22nd, 24th and 26th December, a mere 20-minute walk across the Richmond Bridge. It’s A Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), who contemplates jumping from a snowy bridge on Christmas Eve but is redeemed by his Guardian Angel, Second Class, Clarence Odbody, who shows him what life would have been like had he never existed. The screenplay was based on a 1943 short story ‘The Greatest Gift’ by Philip Van Doren Stern. Reminiscent of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, It's A Wonderful Life first appeared as a Christmas card sent to 200 friends by the author after he had failed to find a publisher. Directed by Frank Capra, the film’s satirical take on the greed of bankers (which attracted the interest of the FBI in 1947) makes it very topical viewing for today’s London. It also features Capra’s trademark raven (the bird appears in all his movies after You Can’t Take It With You (1938)), a reminder of one of the local stories of 2013: the killing by foxes of two ravens at the Tower of London, where a 350-year-old myth prophecies the fall of the monarchy should the famous birds disappear. If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, you might note that It’s A Wonderful Life’s only Oscar was for Technical Achievement. This was won for the invention of a new form of artificial snow made from soap flakes, sugar and water. Previous films had used cornflakes painted white, which were so crunchy underfoot that the dialogue had to be dubbed! We’d like to thank all those guests and contributors who made our first year such a wonderful one, and recall the inscription written to George by his guardian angel: “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.”