This International Women's Day,Lynn Saunders - Head of Liverpool Film Office and Managing Director of The Depot, highlights how Liverpool is stepping into the production spotlight.
How did you start out in film and TV?
I never set out to work in film and TV, it was by fluke rather than design. I’ve worked in the arts and creative industries all through my career developing and promoting creative talent in the North West of England, but mainly in my home city of Liverpool. It’s been a genuine privilege to do so as the city is rich with talent particularly its producers and writers who make content and tell original stories like nowhere else. C4’s commissioning of Phil Redmond’s ‘Brookside’ written by Jimmy McGovern literally changed my life by opening up opportunities for people like me to learn new skills and to develop and sustain a successful career in the film & TV industry, out of London, in a city such as Liverpool.
What was your career path and how did it lead your current position?
After school I didn’t have the opportunity to go to university as I had to earn my keep. However employment in the 1980’s in Liverpool was impossible. Therefore my first job was with the Arts Council on a government funded initiative to get unemployed school leavers, particularly those from ‘inner city areas’, with an on-the-job training opportunity. It worked! I was kept on when my training ended and was employed with Merseyside Arts for a number of years before moving to Liverpool City Council’s Arts Unit. This ultimately led to working with the council’s Liverpool Film Office who I’ve been affiliated to in one guise or another over many years. I was recruited into my current role as Manager then Head of the Liverpool Film Office in 2009.
What has / does your role entail at the studios? / what was your role in getting it established?
In addition to Heading the Liverpool Film Office I am also the Managing Director of The Depot. The Depot is a brand new purpose built facility which comprises of 2 x 20,000 sq. ft. of build/studio space in the centre of Liverpool owned by Liverpool City Council and operated on its behalf by the Liverpool Film Office. As Managing Director I oversee the operational day to day activity including front end premises/facilities management, HR, management of its finances, delivery to clients and reporting on its performance to Liverpool City Council and stakeholders. The Depot is a short term solution to meet current industry demand for studio space and is the first phase of a much larger scheme at the adjacent Littlewoods site which will comprise of 85,000 sq. ft. studio and ancillary space by 2025. I have led on the Liverpool’s ‘studio strategy’ lobbying and developing both The Depot and Littlewoods project. I’ve been an integral part of the Council’s team raising finance, planning, construction and now the marketing and management of The Depot all achieved in an 18 month period during lockdown. I am also a partner of the council’s Littlewoods Partnership Working Group.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced an how have you overcome them?
I have no experience of construction so the past 18 months developing The Depot from concept to launch has been a huge learning curve. I don’t know much about construction, but I do know what our film & TV clients need and want. However as a new concept, which tested the council and its partners every step of the way and, working within the constraints of a tight budget to a deadline, has been challenging to say the least! There was a delay in construction due to bad weather which impacted on the opening date which was originally scheduled as April 2021, but practical completion wasn’t until October 2021. This meant we missed key production windows in the spring and autumn schedules but the industry interest has been strong with very positive feedback. Oh I also didn’t realise how noisy and what a nuisance seagulls can be ……
What have you been most proud of during your time at the studios? / getting it to where it is?
From a spade in the ground to a fully functioning studio in 7 months has been a fantastic achievement and within budget too! However my proudest moment was the first client hiring one of the units who also employed 5 local trainees on the shoot, all brand new entrants into the industry.
Are we doing enough to help maintain talent? How can studios help with that?
The Depot is an interesting concept to develop and maintain talent particularly in the regions. Its Council owned so whilst the project needs to ensure compliance with ‘Best Value’ the council also recognises social value and the importance of developing a diverse and inclusive workforce. The Depot can achieve this on both counts as it has been designed as a strategic initiative to drive the growth of the film and TV sector in Liverpool and develop talent pipelines in advance of the opening of Littlewoods. It also strategically links infrastructure across the North of England with neighbouring established hubs in Manchester and Yorkshire fuelling opportunities to further support the growth of talent and skills along the M62 corridor.
What piece of advice would you give someone wanting follow in your footsteps?
Go for it! You’ve got nothing to lose and you don’t need to relocate to London! Hang on tight though as the ride will be bumpy at times but immensely rewarding.
Discover more about the work of PGGB affiliates Liverpool Film Office here.