With a geographically varied landscape, as well as a native workforce with decades of experience, Wales is the perfect place to produce drama on an epic scale. All you have to do to create a credible post-war Paris is visit a film lot on the outskirts of Swansea.
Cahal Bannon cracked a smile as he admired the elegant Renaissance architecture of the Florentine building that loomed over him.
The head of production at Lookout Point, the independent TV production company, was scouting for locations to film The Collection, set in a post-war Paris fashion house.
However, Bannon wasn’t in the Italian city of Florence, he was standing on the backlot of Bay Studios in Swansea. This was where Da Vinci’s Demons had just been filmed for US cable channel, Starz Entertainment.
Bannon had looked at several locations around the world, including Prague, Budapest and Yorkshire. All had offered tempting financial incentives and decent studio facilities to shoot the Amazon Prime drama.
But, none could match Bay Studios’ large interior studio space and huge backlot to replicate Paris. The Welsh Government put together a strong financial package, along with the Pinewood Wales Investment Budget, to seal the deal.
“The money offered was important,” Bannon admits. “But it was when I walked around Bay Studios that I realised this was the place. The Demons set was still up and it looked brilliant. I knew then that we could build Paris here and do our interiors.”
London-based Lookout Point, was founded in 2009, and quickly established itself as one of the market leaders in global drama financing.
The firm has since moved into drama production, including the likes of War and Peace, Parade’s End and Ripper Street.
The firm, which is 49 per cent owned by BBC Worldwide, has beefed up its senior team with experienced players from the world of TV drama, such as Bannon and Faith Penhale who joined Simon Vaughan as joint CEO earlier this year. Penhale is the former head of drama at BBC Wales. “You have more control when you do your own shows, and you have more rights,” Bannon explains.
The Collection marks the first joint venture between Lookout Point and the Welsh Government, but Bannon hopes the relationship will bear more fruit. “Absolutely! It will depend on the script that hits my desk,” he says.
Bannon has been impressed by the access to skilled labour and experienced crew offered by the Welsh TV and film industry.
“The key for me was to make it look authentic, and the craftsmanship is here in Wales,” he says. “There is a lot of experience here in creating and constructing high-end sets for TV drama.” He also praises the support that Lookout has had from the Welsh Government.
“Dealing with the people at Welsh Government was absolutely fantastic… it was very straightforward,” Bannon says. “They were bending over backwards to help us. They really let us get on with it.”
As well as the space offered by Bay Studios, Bannon was impressed by some of the external locations that Swansea and the wider South Wales area had to offer.
“We shot in a farm near Swansea that doubled as a French cottage, and we also filmed at Atlantic College [in Llantwit Major],” he says.
In the future, the TV executive reckons Wales will continue to face tough competition from around the world to land the best TV and film productions.
But, he adds: “What Wales has above everyone else is the track record.”
Outside work, have you explored much of Wales and do you have a favourite place to escape to?
“My wife is from Cardiff, so I’ve been around a lot of Wales,” Bannon says.
“I love going to a small place called Solva, near St Davids, in Pembrokeshire. It’s delightful.”