Jon Fairburn: A film studio could put Stoke-on-Trent firmly in the picture
FILM studios in the UK are at full capacity and there is a need to expand if the country wants to produce more award-winning films.
And, there is a good argument to be made that Stoke-on-Trent could be just the place for the next Pinewood studios.
Off the back of home-grown successes such as The King's Speech and Skyfall the industry has shown what a vital part it can play in both promoting a positive image of the UK and providing an economic boost.
Locally the city has already provided a backdrop to the Northern Soul movie 'Soul Boy' and Pulp, produced by Longton-based Reels in Motion, which will be the first film to premiere on Xbox 360.
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With the Stoke Your Fires festival currently taking place, now is a good time to market the city as a great location for a studio.
Boasting a wealth of authentic architecture and street scenes and with the space to expand, it could be the perfect opportunity.
Could you imagine Daniel Craig as James Bond running across the roof of the Blue Planet warehouse in Chatterley Valley, Tunstall? Or Robert Downey Jr exploring the Victorian back streets of Fenton as Sherlock Holmes? How about Gwyneth Paltrow starring in a costume drama set in Burslem?
Film-making has always been about dreams and escapism and although the idea of a film studio in Stoke-on-Trent may sound far-fetched, there are some very good reasons why the city would be an excellent place to set up one up.
The area has four very strong advantages – land, buildings, human capital and a growing creative industry – and a host of other minor advantages.
Firstly, there is plenty of cheap, vacant land with buildings standing empty and unused.
Many of these sites are also very large, making them ideal for film stages.
The Royal Doulton site, on Nile Street, Burslem, is one obvious contender for a studio complex.
With a number of large empty buildings in Burslem there would also be the potential for a local cluster that could tie in more broadly with the creative industry which is developing in the Mother Town.
Another possibility would be the Blue Planet building – an empty distribution centre of 383,036 square feet. It would be ideal for a studio due to its uninterrupted internal construction.
The Spode site, in Stoke, is another possibility. Currently a vacant 10-hectare site it is in easy walking distance of the university and railway station and the council has indicated it is keen to see creative industries there.
Access to the right skills and resources is even more important for a studio.
Film-making is a very technical industry with a high and diverse skill level required.
Staffordshire University has one of the largest offerings of film, TV broadcasting, special effects, script writing, drama, music broadcasting, animation and creative industries degree courses in the country.
The university also has its own technical facilities such as TV and recording studios. There are approximately 1,000 students studying these subjects at any time.
The university has also expanded into postgraduate provision with external partners Filmbase, in Dublin and Raindance, in London.
The course in Dublin is used to boost production in Ireland, and a feature film is produced as part of the award.
The business school also offers an established course in event management, members of which organise the Staffordshire Performing Arts Festival.
This includes a film strand and it is looking to strengthen its ties with the Stoke Your Fires festival.
The city also needs to develop more festivals and screening events.
Another advantage is the growing creative industries.
There is also a developing private sector. A cohort of smaller businesses exist which could be awarded regional contracts from terrestrial broadcasters when a Potteries TV channel is launched.
Several of these businesses, including Reels in Motion, Inspired, ST16, Humanoid, and Grand Independent have formed thanks to university policies that support entrepreneurship and business development.
The city's central location also means the scenic beauty of the Peak District National Park and Snowdonia, in North Wales, are not too far away.
In terms of public policy and support, Stoke-on-Trent and parts of Staffordshire are likely to be among the few places in the UK that will be eligible for higher levels of EU funds and grants. This, added to the proposed changes to EU funding from 2014 to 2020, aims to streamline administration, increase involvement of businesses and promote projects closer to market.
Last year Pinewood Studios lost a five-year planning battle to extend its site, largely because it wanted to develop green belt land.
Despite this it hasn't stopped it re-starting the process in what is likely to be another futile attempt.
As film studios are reported to be at full capacity in the UK there is a strong case for creating a new one, preferably in Stoke-on-Trent.
Jon Fairburn is an Enterprise Reader at Staffordshire University's Business School.