From Doctor Who to His Dark Materials, the biggest Welsh productions rely on spectacular sets to immerse viewers in their imaginative world. Many of them are built by 4Wood TV and Film, as director Scott Fisher explains.
We started as an exhibitions company, but when production of Doctor Who came to Wales, we started to move the business more towards building sets for TV and film. At that time, the infrastructure in Wales for the creative industries was limited, but the sector has really grown over the past 14 years, with an increasing number of high-profile productions shooting here.
We worked on eight productions in 2018 – twice the number of the previous year – including A Discovery of Witches for Sky and Keeping Faith for BBC Cymru Wales. There are 12 productions on the board for 2019, notably the TV adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials novels, for which we’re working closely with Wolf Studios Wales.
We used to have to go to Bristol or London to find work, but there’s now a real hub of opportunities in Wales. This gave us the confidence to establish a permanent base here, first in Barry and now in Cardiff. The Wales brand has become far better known overseas. We’re established as a place to produce international-scale productions such as Sherlock for the BBC and the new Netflix production Sex Education.
We have around 100 subcontractors on our books, including a core team of around 30 skilled, creative craftspeople. They range from the scenic carpenters who make the sets to creative welders who look after the finish, and most work on a self-employed basis. Together, it’s our job to take the vision of the production designer and turn it into reality. It has to look believable on screen.
We work closely with local colleges, such as the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. We bring new talent into the industry, first through work experience and then paid work placements. I think it’s important for Wales to train up a new skill base and then have the continuity to keep work in the region. For us as a company, it means 95 per cent of our work and suppliers are now based within Wales.
Working collaboratively with the Welsh Government has been essential. Without its support, there would be no work. It plays a crucial role in enticing production companies to Wales, and makes them aware that the infrastructure needed for a major production is all available here. It successfully conveys the message that we offer a good-value proposition with easy transport links, plus a variety of locations that make optimum use of the beautiful landscape.
I think His Dark Materials will really put Wales on the map when it’s screened this year. It’s a truly Welsh production, with sets built in Cardiff and locations around South Wales. Aside from that, one of the most challenging sets we’ve recently worked on was for A Discovery of Witches. We had to recreate a period-building library with a huge stained-glass window and moulds to create the idea of thousands of stacked books. We also constructed a challenging set for the Channel Four series Traitors. We used a car park in Cardiff Bay to sculpt two part-ruined 1940s houses, recreating the aftermath of a bomb strike.
We are now looking to expand the company. We’re investing in new technology and machinery, and training new contractors – all to keep the momentum growing within the creative industries. We’re always talking about the next project. That reflects the growing confidence in the creative industries in Wales.