Shooting for the stars

Spotlight / Filmscape Media

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Shooting for the stars

Spotlight / Filmscape Media

Back in 2005 Kevin Harvey was the perfect rental firm customer. A theatre graduate of the BRIT School, holding a film degree from the University of Bedfordshire, he was just the sort of filmmaker who would need to hire a camera. Instead he was the one who bought a Canon XL1 and hired it out.

“I thought I’d buy a HD camera and rent it out to film students and indie filmmakers at the grassroots level,” says Harvey, now group managing director of Filmscape. “My first sale was £50 for a one-day camera hire. I remember thinking this is amazing, this is going to work! Our largest sale to date is for a major Hollywood feature film in the US. It’s quite an interesting journey from there to here. The limited company was set up in 2007. We were based in a 200sq/ft office in Shepherds Bush, and specialised in 35mm lens adapters for the smaller HD cameras favoured by indie-filmmakers.”

After that, Harvey says things just snowballed.

“I think we just hit a great technology curve,” he explains. “I went across to the USA and bought one of the first models of the RED One. I paid double the face value for it – I thought it would change everything. All these digital people wanted the 35mm film look and the RED bypassed the need for an adaptor. We ended up buying three of them in the early days. And we cleaned up on them.”

Nowadays the stock list offers a more diverse mix. “We’ve got a huge stock of RED and ARRI cameras – such as Alexa Mini and Alexa XT,” Harvey says, “and we do a lot of broadcast cameras, the Sony FS5 and FS7. We also have a huge range of Anamorphic lenses and high-end spherical primes, and lots of Cooke lenses. We stock specialist lenses like Bausch & Lomb Super Baltars, Cooke Panchros, Zeiss Uncoated Super Speeds and lots of other good optics and strange lenses that aren’t made any more. They’re our crown jewels.”

After supplying Derren Brown: Trick Of The Mind, Harvey says Filmscape started winning a lot of TV gigs. “When asked if we could do it we just said, ‘Yes’, and we learned on the way. We made some mistakes in those times, and we learned some valuable lessons.”

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“We did Sky Atlantic shows like Young Doctors and Mr Sloan (2014, DP Ben Wheeler) and we’ve really just been ramping up from there. We’ve recently done Wasted (2016, DP Sarah Bartles-Smith) for BBC Three, and the last series of Cuckoo (2016, DP Oli Russell) another BBC Three show."

The company next started working with feature films, and began to build a business around Pinewood Studios. “One of the earliest films we did was Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012, DP Daniel Bronks) which was quite a decent little horror film,” recalls Harvey, but the projects have become slightly larger in recent times.

“We supplied lenses to Spectre (2015, DP Hoyte van Hoytema FNF NSC) the last Bond film,” he reveals. “We’re currently doing a big movie called Starbright (2017, DP Francesco Di Giacomo) in the US [starring John Rhys-Davies]. We’ve just done Brotherhood (2016, DP Aaron Reid), the Noel Clarke film, and The Infiltrator (2016, DP Joshua Reis) with Bryan Cranston. We also recently did a film called Final Score (2017, DP Emil Topuzov), that has the premise of ‘Die Hard in a football stadium’, starring Pierce Brosnan.”

Another iron in the Filmscape fire is financing film production, working in conjunction with Soho’s LipSync Post. “We take a small equity stake in certain films,” says Harvey. “We put a bit of closing funding in, to get the deals over the line. We’ve done six films like that. It’s just a way of being different, having a USP, and enticing clients to use us.”

"We built a studio for product filming and plate work, SFX and lots of fashion work. If clients need to have a space for testing or rehearsal, or somewhere to shoot a small promo or products, they can do it all in-house with us."

- Kevin Harvey, Managing Director at Filmscape

In 2010 Filmscape moved to the Perfume Factory in London W3, and started to branch out.

“We built a studio for product filming and plate work, SFX and lots of fashion work,” he says. “If clients need to have a space for testing or rehearsal, or somewhere to shoot a small promo or products, they can do it all in-house with us.”

The facility also offers a full service department, where Filmscape repairs and rebuilds all its own lenses - and a machine shop. Says Harvey, “If clients want custom brackets made to mount cameras in weird places, well, if we can manufacture them, we will.”

In 2014, Harvey sold a stake in the company to serial entrepreneur and talent pool investor John Gordon, in order to grow Filmscape further. January 2015 saw the group open a new extension to the Perfume Factory premises, including a new 180sq/ft test room, projection facilities, open plan camera floor and mezzanine space. “All these little value-adds help people choose us over a competitor,” Harvey explains.

The other value-add is obviously the staff and their experience. “We put a lot of investment in the early days into assets, now we put the investment into people,” says Harvey. “As well as our facilities coordinator, Liam Gyde, who’s home-grown, we’ve brought in older people who have been there and done it, in terms of general business experience and managing people.

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“For example our technical director Renos Louka brings a world of experience at a senior level from ARRI. He is a fantastic engineer as well, so he ensures everything’s right. Our camera department manager, Mike Rosario, joined us from Take Two, and was previously at Sammy’s, ARRI and Panavision. He is a camera technician by trade and he QCs every job that goes out and makes sure the standards are as high as anywhere. Also with us, joining from Spring Studios, is Reza Ghaniloo, who is our commercials/studio manager.

“Sandro Leone was brought in during July of this year from ARRI Rental as head of drama. That’s proven to work out really well, with his overall experience in the business and his network. Sandro is here to really put us on the map for doing more UK TV drama work.”

As Harvey describes it, the company has enjoyed a “hockey stick of growth, if looked at it on a graph”. However it’s clear that the rental market in the UK in general hasn’t seen such consistency.

“The first half of 2016 was really flat,” he explains. “Then in June, literally post-Brexit, we noticed a surge in all the dramas, and all the movies started to kick-off. We had a lot more activity. We had a fantastic last quarter, the best one we’ve ever had.”

And this success seems likely to continue. “We’ve got some good dramas in the pipeline to see us over Christmas,” Harvey adds. “I think 2017 will be a great year.”