The past year has been the busiest yet for Wales’ buoyant film and TV industry, with the completion of a string of high-profile productions — including His Dark Materials, the latest flagship drama for Cardiff-based independent producers Bad Wolf.
It may share its name with an evil corporation in Doctor Who, but Bad Wolf has only been good for Wales’ burgeoning TV and film industry. It’s the biggest independent player in a sector that has seen exceptional growth, increasing by 334% between 2006 and 2016 in terms of Gross Value Added (GVA).
For an idea of the breadth of home-grown talent, it’s worth looking to Screen Alliance Wales. The industry body’s key partners and supporters include studio complexes (Dragon International Studios), set constructors (4wood Film and TV), camera and lighting providers (Movietech and Panalux) and even specialist caterers (Scene Cuisine) – not to mention the University of South Wales and Bad Wolf itself.
In real life, as on screen, the Bad Wolf story begins with Doctor Who. After working on the 2005 revival of the science-fiction series, BBC executive Jane Tranter and producer Julie Gardner opted to make the BBC Worldwide co-production Da Vinci’s Demons in Swansea.
In 2015, the two decided to start a new production company headquartered in Cardiff. Their belief that Wales had the locations, crew and supply chain to cope with the biggest and most prestigious productions has been proven right – not least by their flagship production of 2018, an adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials novels for BBC One and the American HBO network.
“It has contained every challenge a production could face,” says executive producer Dan McCulloch, “from child filming hours, huge set construction and complicated stunts to cutting-edge FX and remote filming locations. But Jane and Julie had met these challenges before in Wales, and it felt right to bring the show to Cardiff.”
Much of the filming took place at Wolf Studios Wales, their newly opened studio complex in Cardiff Bay. “It’s a one stop shop for pre-production, production and post production,” says McCulloch. “Wales has its own ecosystem in terms of talent, crew and locations. Urban streets and dramatic countryside, coupled with excellent infrastructure and construction teams, means you have all the right resources.”
Chief operating officer Natasha Hale says: “Bad Wolf is the only high-end television drama production company based out in the regions.
Having filmed all over the world for BBC Worldwide, including South Africa, Canada, London and Los Angeles, the founders felt their best experiences in being able to find the right people was in Wales. You can never ask too much – supply companies here are always willing to go the extra mile.”
Financial incentives helped to cement the deal. “We received a repayable commercial loan from the Welsh Government,” says Hale. “Jane and Julie had an amazing track record and could have set the company up almost anywhere, but they wanted something that anchored them here.”
While being in Wales meant everything to Bad Wolf’s founders, it also means a great deal for Wales to have them here – 30 full-time jobs is just the beginning. Hale says: “This year we’ll make three productions, all worth many millions of pounds. By headquartering here, Bad Wolf is developing a long-standing, significant industry that will be based in Wales for many years to come. When most companies go into the regions to make a production, they finish up and leave nothing behind. Bad Wolf is here 365 days a year.
“Our turnover on productions will be over £80million this year, and on average more than 60% of that will go into local supply chains. We use local construction companies to build our sets, and we use local scaffolding companies, electricians, drivers and security firms.”
Bad Wolf was instrumental in setting up Screen Alliance Wales to train production crew for these new jobs and build up Wales’ infrastructure. “We like to think we begin training at nine years old where we invite local children in for tours of the studio,” says Hale. “On His Dark Materials season one, more than 2,500 children came through the doors. They can see what’s being made here, have a go at filming, and meet inspirational people. Then we have workshops, work experience, and paid training programmes.”
There’s a strong emphasis, too, on equality. “We have a very strict policy in terms of equal opportunities and diversity,” she says. “The foremost thing is to advertise widely every single opportunity that we have, to get away from industry nepotism.”
And while creating a sustainable television industry, the company is determined to preserve the country’s natural resources. “The environment is at the heart of what we do,” says Hale. “We run on 100% renewable electricity. Our sets get recycled, we have environment runners to make sure we’re not using too much fuel, and sustainability is monitored on every production.”