Expert Comment: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - Liverpool as a film locationMonday 19 October 2015
Dr Jacqui Miller, Head of Department for Media and Communication, talks about the positive impact filming of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will have for the city and our students:
It is only a month since I last wrote for Hope’s ‘expert comment’, the topic being the exciting news the Liverpool Echo had recently reported of plans having been submitted to transform the former Littlewoods building and adjacent Liverpool Innovation Park on Edge Lane into a major film studio. In that article I reflected on the number of films set in Liverpool, often preserving for the historian bygone scenes such as post-World War II bombsites. At that time of writing, there were major current film and TV productions ongoing in Liverpool. The iconic Liver and Cunard buildings had been utilised as a backdrop for the 1940s New York-set Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, while the Town Hall evoked the necessary Victorian atmosphere for filming the forthcoming ITV series Houdini and Doyle, about the friendship between Arthur Conan Doyle and the master illusionist. The interest generated by those productions has been surpassed by the exclusive revelation in the Liverpool Echo on October 12th that the latest in the Harry Potter franchise, the prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will have scenes filmed in Liverpool.
This is not the first time Harry Potter has come to Liverpool. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010), the seventh in the sequence saw Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) dive headlong into the southern entrance of the Dartford Tunnel which runs under the River Thames. However, the tunnel interior was the Queensway Birkenhead Tunnel under the River Mersey used partly because, practically speaking, it had the advantage of being less disruptive to close down for filming than the Thames crossing. A significant difference between the films’ production though is that while Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had numerous location shot-scenes across England and Wales, from Hermione’s (Emma Watson) home in Hampstead Garden Suburb, to Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire masquerading as ‘Malfoy Manor’, Liverpool will be the only non-studio shot location in the new film. According to the Liverpool Echo (October 16th), rumour has it that J.K. Rowling herself identified Liverpool as the perfect setting judged on a range of city photographs. Indeed, the featured sites, the Cunard Building and St George’s Hall could not be bettered to evoke the film’s required atmosphere of Jazz Age New York.
Although Liverpool has a long tradition as a cinematic city (see Connolly and Whelan (eds.), World Film Locations: Liverpool (2013)), it is since Liverpool‘s year as European Capital of Culture that major box-office films including Sherlock Holmes (2009), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I, Captain America the First Avenger (2011), Fast & Furious 6 (2013), and now Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them have come here. The key question is, what impact does major international filmmaking, not forgetting the numbers of television programmes and advertisements that also use Liverpool locations, have on the cultural and economic life of the city. Certainly it raises Liverpool’s status within the creative industries; the city is now one of the most filmed areas outside London. It also generates considerable income. The filming process is such that major stars are not always involved in location shooting, but certainly the vast crews of technicians and assistants need to be fed and accommodated, on generous expense accounts.
Fantastic Beasts is set to be the first in a trilogy, which could guarantee return filming. Harry Potter is the most lucrative franchise in film history, and has spawned dedicated fans, who will pay for numerous merchandising tie-ins. One of these that will benefit Liverpool is location tourism, as the fans flock to see for themselves the authentic sites. From a media academic’s perspective, the opportunity for my students to gain work in the industry can only be heightened as Liverpool’s location shooting grows, and given Hope’s reputation as having ‘Hogwarts Halls’ it is only fitting that Harry Potter should lead the way!