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Want to know what it was like working with Kubrick or painting the sets of Labyrinth? Paul Welsh tells Rosy Moorhead a yarn or two
Stanley Kubrick is most often discussed in terms of his creativity and genius. What you don’t often hear is stories of him with an electricity bill in hand, counting the pennies.
“Elstree Studios would mark the rates up and make a bit of a profit,” says the studios’ historian and chairman of Elstree Screen Heritage, Paul Welsh. “The Shining was a multi-million-pound Warner Bros film and you’d think the last thing Stanley would be worrying about was the cost of the electricity on the sound stage, but he was.
“He went next door to what was then the Grosvenor Hotel, now a Wetherspoon pub, and asked the landlord what the local rate was, then went back and challenged the managing director of the studio about what they were charging him. This was the mindset of the man.”
Paul is full of anecdotes like this – he was entertainment officer for Borehamwood and Elstree Council for 32 years, has been Elstree Studios’ historian since the early 1970s and is now chairman of Elstree Screen Heritage, and in his time has met some of the biggest names in the movie industry. And it was this expertise that prompted the University of Hertfordshire to call on Paul and Elstree Screen Heritage to put together a film season for its arts programme.
Over three nights in October and November, Paul will introduce three of the biggest films made at Elstree – The Shining, Labyrinth and Who Framed Roger Rabbit – with extracts of filmed interviews with some of the local people who worked on the sets – camera operators, scene painters, publicists, carpenters, stagehands – which were shot and edited by University of Hertfordshire film studies students. These will be supplemented by a few of Paul’s own memories and an overview of what was going on at the studio at that point in its history.
So what else will Paul be talking about iin relation to The Shining? “We have clips from interviews with the people who built the maze,” he says, “on what was formerly the MGM back lot, nine years after MGM had closed it. The artificial snow they used for the film clogged up the studio’s drainage system.”
The second film in the season is the 1986 cult Labyrinth, directed by Jim Henson. “I’ll be talking about how that decade was the turnaround period when Elstree started to house really big productions like that, and George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.”
The final attraction is Who Framed Roger Rabbit, from 1988. “At that time Elstree was sold to a leisure and property company,” says Paul, “and that was when the Save Our Studios campaign kicked off. It was a fairly dramatic time. Ironically, the studio itself was very profitable then because its post-production unit was world-famous and they had a lot of work coming in. But the profit couldn’t compare with the value of the land it stood on. But it all ended up OK because it was bought by the council.
“That’s what makes this film season so unique,” concludes Paul. “You won’t find these stories elsewhere – it’s the insight, what it was like, these people were making the films, living them.”
- The Elstree Film Season is at the University of Hertfordshire, College Lane Campus, Hatfield from Tuesday, October 9 to Thursday, November 22. Details: 01707 281127, www.herts.ac.uk/events, www.elstreescreenheritage.org