See inside the studio set to put Norfolk at the forefront of film and television
PUBLISHED: 06:40 09 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:25 14 January 2020
(C) Above All Images/Ian Hay 2016
Hundreds of film extras race across the centre of the production village, eager to get through costume and make-up, while the words “lights, camera, action” billow from a former airbase-turned-studio.
Top television stars and Hollywood a-listers are a frequent sight here now, all eager to be part of the next blockbuster created in a quiet corner of north Norfolk.
And hundreds of industry professionals, both from within and outside of the county, rally together for the ultimate goal of creating a high-spec production for the silver screen and audiences to enjoy.
While this may sound like a things of dreams, in reality this image is not that far out of reach thanks to the brainchild behind Raynham Hangar Studios, studio director Crispin Buxton.
Most days, Mr Buxton will enter his office - based in a former RAF admin block at West Raynham Business Park, just outside of Fakenham - with his trusted four-legged friend, Bolt the black Labrador.
Here is where he unveiled his vision for the future of the film studio and the endless possibilities which could potentially arise from what he described as a "booming industry".
The studio is set for a major refurbishment and expansion programme to target the high-end TV and film market.
It comes following a £5m investment which would see improvements made at the site over the next three years. This would include the introduction of production offices, costume and make-up facilities, an art department, construction workshops and a green screen.
The existing 50,000 sq ft studio space previously served as the base for director Joanna Hogg's film The Souvenir in 2017. Part two was also completed there last summer.
Mr Buxton, who has worked in the industry for more than 33 years, explained how spending in this sector in the UK has gone on to surpass pharmaceutical industries, and declared it the most profitable in the country right now. Although ambitious, he said the timing could not be better.
"Working on The Souvenir around two years ago, we had been tripping over each other before I found West Raynham and from that point on I saw the potential, I saw the vision," he said.
"I carried with me this understanding about the region. I carried with me this experience as a creative in the region who was not working here, and spending half his time away, but would like to work here. I knew all around me there were other people living here in the business but spending half their time away from home. So I saw then there was something here.
"All that's happened in the past three years is the market has developed in such a way that it actually make my ambitious vision and plan less ambitious.
"Everything about the market, the sector - we are in boom town."
Mr Buxton moved to Norfolk from Scotland five years ago, after spending most of his life visiting family in Nelson's county.
He has previously turned his hand to a number of different job roles within the industry from working as a location manager, to assistant director, production manager, line producer and even as a minibus driver on the 1980s film The Comic Strip.
Now he is right at the centre of what is being described as a studio to rival Pinewood - although he would be the first to disagree.
"Rivalry is the wrong word," he explained.
"What we find ourselves in, quite uniquely, is a period of spend on content production. This is due in large partly to extraordinarily favourable tax credits from the government but it is also accelerated and exacerbated by the changing of the landscape in which we consume content.
"Enter the big streaming players and you have what would appear to be an almost insatiable demand for content - and quality content too. Standards have risen very high."
He went on to say that although there had been a number of initiatives from the government to invigorate film production, none had lead to a sustainable production centre in Norfolk.
He added: "It's quite easy to forget that 30 years ago, Anglia TV was churning out programming, very high quality programming, genre defining programming.
"It is ambitious here because the starting point is a deserted airfield and it's quite bleak and spooky.
"But in the summer when The Souvenir was here, you walk around and see the vibrancy, the energy of a whole load of creative people running around doing stuff and being busy, and actors and actresses."
The future vision of the studio also incorporates creating jobs for people living in Norfolk and East Anglia, who work in the industry.
Mr Buxton hopes in time that it could draw industry professionals to the county, as well as entice future generations already living here to take up professions in films and TV by forging strong links with the University of East Anglia and Norwich University of the Arts.
"As a film person and living in and around the region, I've really experienced that void of production community.
"We really aim to not employ from outside but ourselves in the region in Norfolk. Do it for ourselves because we know what's unique about Norfolk. We know why we are here, we know why we love it, and we know what a special community we live in."
He hoped that the studio would be "fully-fledged" within three years, by which time it is expected to have around 10 employees.
He added: "That's only the tip of the iceberg because the consequences of the studio with the film production coming in means temporary contracts for whole loads of film technicians, hundreds of people."
· Raynham Hangar Studios is also home to The Norfolk Film Company, established by Mr Buxton.
What exactly could Raynham Hangar Studio development bring to the area?
Development plans would see hangar one, which is 45,000 sq ft in size, rival that of the one used by James Bond producers in terms of space. Potentially there could also be the opportunity to move into hangar two if successful.
A former gym, 4,400 sq ft in size, will be transformed into smaller studio space to include offices, a costume and make-up room, toilets, and a green screen.
Mr Buxton said: "It is quite special in terms of involvement and that's partly because of the perceived glamour but it's actually, if you get away from all of that, what we're identifying as beautiful - basically it's community. It's community in action and that's my original idea.
"My original vision was very grounded in business and opportunity but actually, as time has gone on, my vision for this whole place has moved away. Of course it's nuts and bolts but what really drives me and excites me is that stuff, the community stuff.
"What's really important is about giving people something to be really proud of. Let's get away from the inbred, webbed feet, subject of Alan Partridge jokes. Let's get away from that as we've got something unbelievable special here."
A brief history of West Raynham Business Park
It was a hive of activity more than 75 years ago as a major operations base for RAF missions during the Second World War.
Now the old airbase at West Raynham, five miles south-west of Fakenham, is home to a number of businesses since being transformed into West Raynham Business Park.
FW Properties, which recently managed the site, auctioned off many of the units which had been owned by Thalia Investments Ltd, a company in administration since 2011.
The airbase's four hangars and other property at the park were already in the hands of private owners.
One private individual bought two of the hangars with the idea to use one of them for storage, and further units. These will be included in the Raynham Hangar Studios development.
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