This International Women's Day, Laura Aviles who oversees The Bottle Yard Studios and Bristol Film Office details how she's keeping Bristol ahead of the game and pushing past her comfort zone.
How did you start out in film and TV?
I started out at ITV (then HTV West) working in film and TV production and operations management, before moving to Tigress Productions as Production Manager and then on to BBC Bristol, delivering TV content for a range of major national and international commissioners. In 2011 I joined BBC Earth Productions, a subsidiary of BBC Worldwide, as Senior Production Manager before becoming Head of Production in 2015. This involved overseeing all operational, financial, talent, production and post production management aspects of the business, including traditional platforms of TV, feature film, giant screen and digital as well as emerging technologies such as VR, AR and live events. During that time I delivered the first film produced under the new UK/China co-production treaty, the 90’ feature film Earth: One Amazing Day for global theatrical release, working with Shanghai Media Group.
In 2018 I moved to Mustang Films as Head of Production, delivering the China’s Greatest Treasures series presented by art critic Alistair Sooke, a ground-breaking co-production commission with China’s primary state broadcaster, CCTV.
From there I moved into production consultancy, working with new independent production companies, helping them establish robust systems and practices and convert new creative content ideas into achievable budgets for commissioners such as Netflix, Disney, National Geographic, BBC and Channel 4.
What has / does your role entail at the studios? / what was your role in getting it established?
I’m Senior Film Manager for Bristol Council, which means that I oversee both The Bottle Yard Studios, the largest studio in the West of England, and Bristol Film Office, which provides logistical support for location filming in the city. We work to make sure Bristol is known as a competitive filming destination where almost anything is possible, thanks to the film-friendly structure so firmly embedded in the city. The Studios have been operating for just over ten years and the Film Office has been in place for 15 years, but when I came on board my brief was to bring these two services even closer together, to deliver a single, consistent offer to film and TV productions. Whether we’re supplying locations, permitting filming, accommodating studio shoots or coordinating city centre unit bases, it’s our job to keep Bristol ahead of the game as a leading regional hub for filming. We attract a sizeable portion of business, particularly in high-end TV drama, worth more than £17 million per year to Bristol’s economy, and that figure is growing.
I took on the role in August 2020, at a time when the industry was still finding its feet after the first lockdown, with productions gearing up again and figuring out new ways of working through the pandemic. The Studios and Film Office teams are pretty unique, we’re all problem solvers, many of us have worked in production earlier in our careers, so we share an understanding of this fast-moving industry. I’ve been massively impressed with how they have handled the past two years and how resilient Bristol’s production sector has been in the face of such unprecedented challenges. We’ve gone on to experience some of the busiest periods of filming recorded in Bristol, which is fantastic to see.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?
I think the pandemic has to be the biggest challenge. Making sure that the productions we have hosted at the Studios and on location were supported to work safely and stay on schedule, at a time when so many were starting up again, particularly in early 2021. Any surge in demand will put pressure on a service industry; our team has grown quickly in response and in the meantime we’ve continued to keep our Studio expansion plan on track. I think we’ve managed incredibly well and more producers are sitting up and taking notice of Bristol as a filming hub. It has definitely been busier than ever!
What have you been most proud of during your time at the studios? / getting it to where it is?
I’m most proud that we’re expanding The Bottle Yard, thanks to investment from the West of England Combined Authority. Our new facility at a neighbouring industrial site is undergoing a £12m redevelopment to create three new premium soundstages. Works are in full swing and planned for completion this Summer (2022).
As well as three filming stages, there will be plenty of ancillary spaces including production offices, prop stores, costume/makeup and break out areas; in total around 82,000 sq ft is being converted. Not only will this increase our capacity and help us to bring in more business, it will create knock-on benefits for other sectors that thrive when film shoots come to Bristol, such as hospitality, transport and tourism.
Our main Studio site is also being improved by Bristol Council's £1.6m investment in renewal works to ensure our buildings are fit for purpose for our 10-year business plan. I’m particularly proud that we are realising all this after the disruption and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. We have not just bounced back, we have continued on our trajectory of growth, and our Studios and Film Office teams have worked harder than ever to get us here.
Are we doing enough to help maintain talent? How can studios help with that?
This demand is like nothing the UK has experienced before and it’s clear that the whole industry needs to think about how it can do more. Our expansion is expected to create 1,000 jobs over the next 10 years; we’re in the process of drafting a Workforce Development strategy which will focus on High-End TV skills and developing new homegrown talent in Bristol, particularly those in South Bristol near the Studios. There will be an important Outreach element to encourage more young Bristolians into careers behind the camera, and we’ll also be ensuring they are equipped with soft skills to navigate a career in this industry, which can be tough and high pressured. I believe that Studios can play an important role, by linking resident productions to local talent, widening access and encouraging the use of regional crew living nearby.
Ultimately, Bristol has long been seen as a centre of excellence for animation, factual and natural history. It’s now enjoying a golden age as a destination for film and high end TV shoots. I want to see more production companies that use Bristol as a filming location, physically relocating here. I want to see more investment in film and high-end TV drama in the city that will encourage more drama production companies to be founded in Bristol by local talent. Linked to all of this, I want to see more Bristolians behind the camera. There really has never been a better time.
What piece of advice would you give someone wanting follow in your footsteps?
Face each challenge head-on and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. I had to work very hard to get where I am but have few regrets as even mistakes can be learnings that help mould you as a person. Being treated unfairly myself only made me more determined to be empathetic to others. Having the trust and confidence of my teams is of paramount importance too and I know this is earned through strong, collaborative leadership and leading by example. Nurturing talent and allowing teams the autonomy and freedom to shape their roles and perform at their best is critical in my view.
Discover more about the work of PGGB affiliates The Bottle Yard Studios here.