Ever in search of fascinating small creative businesses to interest readers, Creative Business Coach ventured to Sands Film Studios this weekend to join a ‘behind the scenes’ tour as part of the London Open House weekend.
This hidden gem housed in the Grade II listed ‘Grices Granaries’ in Rotherhithe, S.E. London, is a film production company with it’s own full-service film studio encompassing workshops, costume department, set and prop-making, cinema and cutting room, and sound stage. The studios also supply facilities and services for outside production companies.
Sands Films has an enormous list of credits to its name, and has made costumes for BBC’s ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘The Lost Prince’ as well as feature films ‘Harry Potter’, SweeneyTodd, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, and ‘Young Victoria’, amongst many others.
The cast of recently released ‘Anna Karenina’ (starring Keira Knightly) rehearsed dance scenes on the Studio stage, and we were shown a crinoline from one of the costumes hanging in the laundry room, where fabric dying and printing is also carried out using modern techniques to produce top-quality, completely authentic period designs from original samples.
In the carpentry and prop workshops we saw examples of the amazing effort the studio staff go to in researching every detail. Props such as moulded picture frames for ‘The Fool’ were created from ‘composition’ using a secret authentic recipe, and ‘scagliola’ was devised to craft stunning classical pillars resembling marble.
In an example of a business giving enormous value to customers, SandsFilms knows the requirements of Production companies so well that they often create appropriate costumes ’on spec’ in the hope of being awarded the job. Numerous Oscars have been won by designers supported by the work of Sands Films.
Masks from 'The Tales of Beatrix Potter' were in progress in the prop department, needing to be remade annually for the Royal Ballet’s acclaimed production.
‘Ben’ a machinist who joined the tour, showed us the type of period men’s shirt for a typical Jane Austen drama which would take him 8 hours to make – a very fast turnaround for such a high standard of workmanship.
The sewing workshop was crammed with every conceivable thread, trim and accessory, all arranged in efficiently labelled drawers and containers, infinitely professional yet very obviously a warm and creative environment. The staff live and breathe their work, and whatever their speciality each person turns their hand to many roles to cover the day to day running of the studios, and even act as stage hands for the visiting production companies. This keeps a tight rein on budget, so that customers can be offered value.
Films can be edited in the on-site cutting room, and the tiny 32 seat fully equipped cinema houses a weekly ‘World cinema’ film club, free to join and relying on donations.
The sound-proof stage is used for TV interviews, corporate videos and recording programmes for schools.
All in all this was a fascinating tour and an amazingly warm and welcoming building.
At the Exit - through the cosy, comfortable Café - DVDs of many of their films were for sale together with sets of postcards from costume designs – all of these are further streams of income for the company.
All the varied aspects of the business employ the ‘core competencies’ of Sands Films (a winning business formula!) and ensure their enviable reputation and success. Sands are also issuing a share offer to raise funding to complete the purchase of their building and reduce rental outlay.
An example of a highly creative and savvy business model all round.
Sands Films also believes in ‘Giving back to the community’. Our guide, Annabel, explained that their in-house production of the Childrens’ Midsummer Night’s Dream involved the children in every aspect of the production. They learned how to use film equipment, make costumes and help with prop production. Several children went on to work in professional film and theatre careers.
The on-site Picture Research Library is completely accessible to schools, companies and individuals for research purposes at no charge, and receives no funding.