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This Town creator Steven Knight on his love for the Black Country and Birmingham – and its bright future in filmmaking

Steven Knight is good for the West Midlands and the region is good for him.

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Steven Knight at Digbeth Loc. Studios in Birmingham

There is a synergy between the film-maker and his home region, which is quickly establishing itself as a major centre for creative film and television.

This Town was filmed in locations across the Black Country and Birmingham. It celebrates the rise of Two Tone music sand culture and its importance to our region, particularly Coventry, Birmingham and the Black Country.

It comes on the back of the phenomenon that is Peaky Blinders, a worldwide success that is now spawning a feature film, which was filmed across the region including at the Black Country Living Museum.

The wider region has also benefited from Walsall-born Knight's knowledge of his home patch.

His BBC adaptation of Great Expectations was extensively filmed in Shrewsbury, which he described as a fantastic place to film in and represent Dickensian London, not just for the architecture but because of the warmth of the welcome from locals who were delighted to see film crews descend on their town.

Launch of the Digbeth Lock film studios, with creator and acclaimed producer and screenwriter Steven Knight

A proud advocate of the West Midlands, the filmmaker is unashamedly looking to build the future of TV and film in our region.

He has helped set up Digbeth Loc. Studios, the brand new film and TV production hub in the centre of Birmingham which will host the filming of the Peaky Blinders movie and Masterchef, among a host of other projects.

At the launch of the studios last year he spoke passionately of his ambition to promote filmmaking in the region, also announcing the opening of the Birmingham Film Academy, which is set to be a centre for teaching people the crafts and skills for making TV and films, following on from the success of the London Film Academy in Fulham in West London.

Peaky Blinders has been a global success

Digbeth Loc. will be the setting for the academy, which is being run as an accredited degree course by Birmingham University, and will offer the chance for on-the-job training on productions similar to Peaky Blinders and This Town.

Knight said the idea was to build the film and TV industry in the region and have a place where local people can work on productions, while also studying between September and June each term.

He said: "It's going to be teaching people the crafts and skills needed to making TV and film and it will do a lot of the craft stuff, so you'll learn about the actual nuts and bolts of making things.

"We'll be working alongside Kudos, who are the production company I do a lot of work with, and the academy is going to educate 20 per cent of their intake for free for people from specific postcodes in Birmingham and the Black Country.

"Those will be from postcodes where there is a challenging environment and Kudos will pay their fees, so the idea from this is that we want to encourage people from the West Midlands to choose film and television as a career and help them with that."

Steve Knight

Knight said that there were a lot of people from the region who worked in TV and films, but who had moved to Manchester and London to work, and said he wanted to encourage people to stay in the region to work.

He said: "The one reason they'll do that is if there is a pipeline of productions coming through, which there is, and it benefits us because we've got local people working on our productions.

"The thing about the film industry is that it requires a lot of different disciplines across the board, including technical, practical, artistic and creative, and all these things are going to be required for the productions we are currently running and have coming up.

"What's going to happen is that whatever is happening at Digbeth, we want people at the academy and at Birmingham University to be part of it and actually take part in the making. We want it to be for the Black Country and Birmingham and we want the students to be a big part of it."

Levi Brown as Dante Williams in This Town, filmed in Wolverhampton

Knight’s highly anticipated drama This Town, which begins airing on BBC 1 on Easter Sunday, was filmed in the Black Country and Birmingham. Part of Wolverhampton city centre was turned into a 1980s riot zone for one memorable scene.

His determination to use the West Midlands as a backdrop to major drama productions shows there is life in the region’s television industry following recent setbacks, according to one leading media expert from Birmingham City University.

Dr Vanessa Jackson says the welcome resurgence may have come a little too late for some of the region’s actors and production staff but believes the future is looking still looking rosy for the West Midlands.

“With the downturn in television production across the whole of the UK – and the closure of BBC show Doctors specifically – the danger is that that some of those skilled crew won’t be able to wait for new productions to start staffing up in Birmingham,” she said.

The aftermath of a riot scene for BBC's This Town. Skinner Street, Wolverhampton, is transformed for the series.

“But This Town, which embraces the culture, history and talent of the city, marks the long-anticipated revitalisation of film and television production in the West Midlands.”

Currently the interim deputy head of English and media at BCU, Dr Jackson was among a number of guests to attend a recent red-carpet screening of This Town.

Written and created by Knight, it is the story of an extended family and a group of young people who are drawn into an explosive and thrilling music scene in the Midlands in the 1980s. The cast includes Michelle Dockery from Downton Abbey and large parts of it were filmed at Digbeth Loc. Film and TV Studios.

“Knight describes the six-part series as a love letter to the area he grew up in – and I would have to agree with him in that respect,” said Dr Jackson.

“It’s a good watch, especially for those of us who spent some of our youth in 1980s Birmingham and Coventry. The contemporary but nostalgic 80s soundtrack is spot on.

“There is an appetite for authentic, gritty dramas that reflect life outside London. This is not new. The BBC and others have been creating authentic, gritty dramas in Birmingham since the 1950s.”

Despite a number of blows, including the loss of Doctors, which comes to an end in December after generating thousands of hours of drama since its launch in March 2000, Dr Jackson believes This Town can continue the revival of television production in the region.

Masterchef is moving to the West Midlands

“The much-awaited move of MasterChef to Birmingham is happening later this year, which will bring a couple of hundred production jobs to the region when it is fully up and running,” she said.

“Silent Witness is also moving in due course. The West Midlands is also privileged to have been selected as one of the British Film Institute’s six Skills Cluster areas, which comes with a commitment to fund training programmes to address skills shortages in the sector.”

Silent Witness

BCU, in partnership with University of Wolverhampton, is also playing its part, delivering the ‘Rock Up Ready’ training programme for graduate trainees.

Mission Accomplished, a creative media company, has also teamed with Birmingham Ormiston Academy, a stage school, to deliver two programmes - ‘TV and Film Fusion’ and ‘Step Up to HoD’ - to fast-track local talent into the film, television and digital media industries.

“The signs look positive that there will be screen industry jobs for these trainees, as well as more established production workers,” added Dr Jackson.

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