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December 15, 2006

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Lights, camera, action!

Anne Smart reports on the SpeakUp competition winners’ day out at Pinewood studios, and finds that there really is no business like showbusiness.

We’re standing in what looks like a huge industrial estate, at least to the untrained eye. There are no outward signs of anything extraordinary going on here. But then we go into the coffee bar and see a man dressed as a Roman centurion sitting at a table sipping a cappuccino!

Pinewood is a 97-acre site and is the home of the 007 sound stage, as well as 18 film stages and two TV studios. There are approximately 150 independently managed production services, such as camera hire and lighting companies, based on the lot, along with plasterers, carpenters, timber yards and production supplies.

SpeakUp first-prize winners Charlie Garnish, Heidi Baker, Emma Batey and Lorrin Phillips, along with Charlie’s dad Ralph and Heidi’s mum Julie, all visited Pinewood at the invitation of IOSH member David Dite, Pinewood’s group health and safety manager. Every production at Pinewood has a health and safety advisor, and it’s David’s job to make sure they all maintain the highest health and safety standards.

Productions come here because of the facilities and expertise on offer, and they can range from studio-based TV shows like My Family and Weakest Link to big-budget blockbusters like The Da Vinci Code or Casino Royale. After watching the Pinewood show reel, Anne Robinson walks by on her way off the Weakest Link set (she’s far smaller in real life than she appears in that scary studio!)

If you want to shoot on or under water, Pinewood has exactly what you need. Dave Shaw, of Diving Services UK, runs the Pinewood Under Water Stage, which has had just about everything you can imagine thrown into it. Except for fish. He tells us: “The only way we can be happy and safe is if the artist is happy and safe.” This means that safety takes precedence over everything else — including getting the shot.

I’ve always imagined film sets to be glamorous places. In reality they’re just hot and cramped. Mike Conran, health and safety advisor for construction on the movie Fred Claus, leads us on to one of his sets so that we can watch a scene being shot at the other end. There are technicians and toys everywhere, and the heat from the lights is incredible. There is an ‘elf and safety’ notice pinned to the wall of the set, reminding the elves that a toy workshop can be a dangerous place.

Andy Slater, health and safety advisor on The Bourne Ultimatum, has a different set of challenges for his sets. “Matt Damon was fighting here a few weeks ago,” he casually tells us, pointing out bullet-holes in the walls. The space is so small, it’s a wonder you can fit a camera crew, actors and technicians in there to shoot.

Parts of the day seem quite surreal. There are lots of elves walking around the lot, there’s a street called Goldfinger Avenue, we have lunch in the restaurant used in Extras, and see where the Carry On team pitched their tents in the Pinewood garden for Carry on Camping. We walk into one workshop and see body parts all over the place, and a collection of slightly pointed ears lined up on a table. But thankfully it’s not some sort of Christmas Texas Chainsaw Massacre — it’s the moulding workshop for Fred Claus.

For such an exciting place, Pinewood feels incredibly relaxed. David has a no-nonsense approach to his job, which all of the people we meet seem to share. It’s all about getting things done, and being flexible enough to change how you do it if you need to. Health and safety is just part of the showbiz process. “After all,” David said, “we invite people to come in here and blow things up!” To find out

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