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Last Updated: Friday, 27 July 2007, 05:25 GMT 06:25 UK
The revival of Ealing Studios
By Ian Rose
BBC Money Programme

St Trinian's actresses Talulah Riley, Caterina Murino and Gemma Arterton
Talulah Riley, Caterina Murino and Gemma Arterton star in the new film

Ealing Studios was one of the most loved names in the history of cinema. Now a new generation of film makers are running the studio and making comedies they hope will attract a global audience and win major box office receipts.

Film Producer and Head of Ealing Studios, Barnaby Thompson's latest film is a new chapter in the tale of the naughtiest girls' school in fiction: St Trinian's.

It's a 7m production, starring Rupert Everett and Colin Firth which he hopes will resurrect interest in the St. Trinian's brand, his studio and put Ealing back on the global film map.

There's a lot to live up to, as in the 1940s and 1950s legendary producer Sir Michael Balcon made a string of comedy film hits at Ealing.

Classics including "Kind Hearts and Coronets", "Whisky Galore", "Passport to Pimlico" and the Oscar-winning "Lavender Hill Mob" ensured that Ealing studios represented a high water mark in British film making.

Sold to the BBC

Despite international success, the growing popularity of television made the film business increasingly more difficult and in 1959 the Studios were sold to the BBC.

Girl filming St Trinian's in Trafalgar Square, London
St Trinian's has been filming in Trafalgar Square, London

In 2000 Barnaby Thompson led a consortium that brought the studios back and invested millions in modernising the soundstages and production facilities.

They wanted to create a modern studio business model that could withstand the boom-and-bust nature of the industry.

To do this they have opened up other revenue sources by renting Ealing's facilities to other film makers, including Woody Allen and Gurinder Chadha - who is based on the site.

Office space is rented out and there's also a comedy club and a film school based on site.

St Trinians

But ultimately it's the films that the company is known for, and the success of St.Trinians is critical for its future. Barnaby made a strong start at Ealing with a remake of "The Importance of Being Earnest" (2002) and the UK's first computer generated animation film, "Valiant" (2003).

But more recent productions, including Ant and Dec in "Alien Autopsy" (2005) and its most recent release "I Want Candy" (2007), performed poorly with both critics and at the box office.

Barnaby Thompson says: "It's always disappointing when your films don't work because we're an industry that feeds off hits.

"If "I want Candy" had done as well as I thought it was going to do we stood to make a lot of money out of it." The Ealing crew are hoping to bounce back with St. Trinian's.

Despite its British subject, cast and sense of humour, the team believe its universal theme of "Girl Power" will help deliver a global hit.

Cannes pitch

JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Lily Cole and Mischa Barton at Cannes St Trinian's party

Putting on a good sales drive to international distributors at the 2007 Cannes Film festival is crucial to its commercial success.

Natalie Brenner, Ealing's Head of Sales and James Spring, Managing Director of Ealing Studios put themselves through an exhausting fortnight of meetings.

They attempted to get St Trinian's noticed alongside the big studios who were in town promoting blockbusters Oceans Thirteen and The Simpsons Movie.

The sales team had some success at Cannes.

It sold rights to the film to be shown in 41 countries around the world and made back a quarter of the film's 7 million budget.

But it won't be until December 2007, when St. Trinian's goes on release in the UK, that Barnaby and the rest of his team will know if the dream of re-creating Ealing's golden days has become a reality.

The Money Programme: Once More With Ealing will be broadcast on BBC Two at 1900 BST on July 27th.

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