Film studio which brought John Travolta to Norfolk shuts for good
- Credit: Kate Wolstenholme
A film studio which attracted an abundance of talent to Norfolk has closed.
Raynham Hangar Studios, near Fakenham, was shut after its owner decided the venture no longer made business sense.
And, earlier this year, legendary actor John Travolta was spotted in various locations across Norfolk - including at a Wetherspoon pub in Dereham - in between filming for The Shepherd at Raynham Hangar.
But now the studio is being repurposed after the private owner decided the time was right to cease filming activities.
While disappointed, studio director Crispin Buxton, of the Norfolk Film Company, admitted the decision was understandable.
"From the owner/investor's point of view, it has just run its course," he said. "We did great things over the five-year run and it was fantastic, but he is a businessman.
"In spite of all efforts and our being to the community here a great a focus of production activity, we have not - confounded by the pandemic - achieved the consistency of work to make the sums add up.
"There are all these perceptions of glamour and saying it helps the community, but the sums have got to add up. It is a disappointment and it is very sad, but it is absolutely from a business perspective."
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He also looked back with pride on all the projects to have graced Raynham Studios, with the biggest being The Souvenir I and II.
"I don't have any regrets or a sense of failure," added Mr Buxton.
"I think it is tremendously important to emphasise the positives of what we have achieved here."
Mr Buxton, who has strong family connections to Norfolk, was working on The Souvenir in 2018 when he first discovered Raynham Hangar Studios.
He immediately saw its potential and hatched a plan to bring Nelson's County to the forefront of film and television production.
A £5m investment back in 2019 came as a huge boost, but the studio continued to struggle to attract the very biggest names and projects to this rural corner of the country.
From an industry perspective, Mr Buxton explained that Norfolk would always be at a disadvantage compared to London and other cities across the UK.
He said: "One of the things that is clear is that the many significant productions we have had were all projects that had keen regional interest and respect for the area.
"The creators themselves were all, to some degree, from the region and pushed very hard to do stuff here because they got the bigger picture, and saw the huge value and potential.
"The John Travolta thing, for example, was very much an exception in respect that Ian Softley (director of The Shepherd) is from here and the film is set in an air base, so it was a no-brainer."
Mr Buxton, who now plans to take a sabbatical, added that dozens of difficult conversations regarding the suitability of Raynham Hangar had been had with over the years.
They would often result in production companies rejecting the studio in favour of city-based facilities.
"The reality is that this is still a hangar in north Norfolk," he said. "There were countless recces, site visits and lengthy discussions with significant and sizeable productions that just didn't have the Norfolk interest. We couldn't get them here.
"The perception that still prevails - and not only in my business - is that here in Norfolk you are in the middle of nowhere, and it is a really difficult conversation to have.
"There will always be some key, exciting locations and, for some who need those locations, it ticks boxes. But the challenge of enticing significant productions to come and base themselves here . . . no matter how many conversations I had . . . I could argue until I am blue in the face as I have done with some of the big streamers and broadcasters. They still don't want to come here.
"On so many occasions I had people come up here and the Americans would all say 'I want to be in London; I want to stay at Claridge's'.
"It is so much more than 'you've got lovely beaches, lovely houses, lovely quaint little villages', because the requirements of these production companies are many and varied."