Should you take a brisk walk along Magdalen Street, on the upper side of town, you may notice something seems peculiarly out of place.
For a moment Venue stops and admires the juxtaposition on display, for sandwiched between all the mandatory, aging pubs and secondhand stores stands Norwich’s leading and most innovative production studio: Epic (or the East of England Production Innovation Centre).
If Epic’s contemporary glass paneled exterior doesn’t mark it as the antithesis of its surroundings, then what you find inside certainly does: a technological and up-to-date wonderland, complete with three studios (one of which, Studio E, covers a colossal 6,000 square feet), five edit suites, dressing rooms, the most advanced of HD cameras, and a modern café (currently serving a mean bacon bap) for those who need a coffee after a long, tiresome day.
Coffee in hand (perhaps in preparation for a long, tiresome day), the man set to represent Epic is James Foster, the studio’s business development manager. During a detailed tour of the building he delves into a bit of history (how Epic was once the second studio of ITV Anglia), and explains how this is a place that prides itself on variety. Indeed, it’s on the topic of this unique location that Venue is itching to start the interview …
Venue: It’s quite a strange location that this production studio is in. Of course, a lot of people might rightly suspect that facilities are more important than location, but is there an importance to the location too?
Epic: [Our] location is historical. It is where it is based on its history of being part of ITV Anglia, and all the great TV programmes that were made here. We’d rather be on Gentleman’s Walk of course, but we think we’re in a pretty good location. There’s good links, there are some buses, handy parking nearby, and the building is completely accessible.
And the facilities themselves are really impressive. You must be proud of what you have here?
The range of facilities here is unprecedented. What we do find is that when people come round they invariably always say, “Crikey, I didn’t realise all this was here.” And it is true – all this is here. We have a fantastic main studio, which is a really flexible space. It can host hundreds of people for a live performance in a TV show setting, or take people in tiered seats for more formal sit down shows.
Our two other studios allow for magazine style format programmes and a smaller seated audience, as well as the flexibility to use dynamic background screens, with a huge array of graphic capabilities. So, all in all, pretty much anything that needs to be made can be made here. We’ve shot some music videos recently; we’ve done voiceovers, hosted radio. Anything that’s digital, audio, video, that’s what we like to be able to deliver.
I guess every company is different, but can you elaborate on EPIC’s role in getting projects made? Do you step back and let the filmmakers have all the control? Do you have an advisory role?
It depends. We can source producers; we can advise on content, we can do formats, we can provide technical support, or we can just do an “open the doors … away you go” kind of service. The expertise and knowledge within the building is able to offer a huge variety of support for clients and people that come in. It depends on the size of the project. We’re always keen to assess the requirements and offer appropriate advice.
When one thinks of production in this digital age, you can think of people that can buy cheap camcorders or editing equipment, and then of course you’ve got rival production companies, like Top Box Media, in Norwich. So, how does Epic keep ahead of the industry in this sense? You’ve got all the equipment here to suggest its about keeping up to date, while your live events suggest it’s about more than just simple production …
For us it’s always about the audience and the content that we make for them. We have a variety of different audiences; we have a live audience that comes along and experiences what we’ve got to offer on the night; a fantastic, friendly and welcoming atmosphere.
We also have people who watch us on the internet, so we try to engage with them as much as possible. And then we try and look after individual clients as carefully and properly as we possibly can.
What I would say, in regards to competition, is that if we can all make Norwich famous for excellence in media production then that brings benefits to everybody. Between us, we can put Norwich on the map. If we can make it a success, if we can start to harness the undoubted talents that are coming out of our training courses and try and create a media, TV and film production hub that’s here, then people will stay, the talent will stay, we’ll become famous for that and that will start to create its own momentum.
That would be a virtuous circle of success. It’s not about undercutting each other; it’s about making sure that we’re working together to create a fantastic atmosphere.
If they are at all comparable, what are the fundamental differences between studios of that ilk in America and the ones at “grass roots level”, the local studios like this?
What we have here, and I’m not saying that Hollywood studios don’t have it, is passion, determination and pride – and that is the heartbeat of what we do. We don’t have the big Hollywood money, budgets, all that kind of stuff, but we have a determination to succeed, and that counts for quite a lot.
How would you advise any young people wanting to get involved in production – or even start their own production companies? We’ve got a lot of first year students coming to the university in September, how would you advise them?
You have to have a core belief in yourself, you have to have a passion and you have to want to get things done. So, actually make something. Start it, middle it, but finish it. That’s the key thing. It’s about accumulating finished work that you can show people that this is what you’ve done, and then you start to build up a CV and a portfolio. Focus, deliver, and show that you’re able to complete work. That’s the biggest tip.
Your website says you like to work with local talent, so do you feel that film production, and technology as a whole, has an important role to play in the community?
The world is becoming visual. It is becoming video, and the consumption of video is increasing all the time, so there will always be the need to create good quality video. It goes back to the earlier point I made about trying to create a hub and a reputation and a centre of excellence.
And how do you see Norwich as a place for creativity and filmmaking? Is it a good place to work?
It’s bridging the gap between the fantastic quality of students that come here and giving them the chance to stay. But on top of that, what we need to do is make the talent feel like they have to stay, rather than having to head down to London.
Finally, what’s the future got in store for Epic?
We’re planning to get busier. We don’t need to expand the buildings, though we’d like to invest in improving them. What we do need to do is to spread the word about Norwich, about Norfolk and about Epic.