Movie mogul’s spending £3.7million to produce his own eco-friendly electricity
THE UK’s film and television industry is a major contributor to the British economy and last year saw a record spend of £6.27billion – the highest ever reported figure – on movies and high-end TV production.
With a globally recognised reputation in cinematography, production, animation and special effects, the sector, which has produced some of the most influential and loved big and small screen entertainment in the world, is expected to continue to grow year on year.
MOVIE mogul Frank Khalid is spending £3.7million to make his latest studio project one of the greenest film production centres in the world.
Khalid, who owns West London Film Studios in Hayes near Heathrow Airport, is building this second studio on waste ground just across the road.
The new studio, covering 85,000 square feet with four stages, will cost a total of more than £23 million and is set to open in June.
Surrey-born Khalid is hoping it will be as successful as his current studios, where countless big screen and TV hits, including Bridget Jones’ Baby, The Imitation Game, The Duke, Killing Eve, New Tricks and Ted Lasso have been filmed.
The new facility will have built alongside it a three-megawatt gas substation – believed to be the first to be used in a studio – which will generate its own electricity.
According to Khalid, the substation reduces the resources otherwise needed to bring electricity to the studio.
He explains: “In most cases when using electricity, you need to dig up the road as the power station is almost always miles away. A lot of things happen by the time the electricity gets to your building – and a studio needs lots of power.”
Khalid says the generator will become another source of income, with production companies using the studio paying West London Film Studios for their energy use.
Although the current plan is for the substation to only power the new studio set-up, in time the substation could double its load to six megawatts and also provide electricity for the existing studio space. “That’s something to look at for the future,” says Khalid.
Khalid adds: “The one thing we wanted, above all, for the new studio was to make it as green as possible and that’s why we are spending more than 15 per cent of the total budget on the substation.”
Big screen stars who have filmed on the existing 3.2-acre site include Sir Anthony Hopkins in The Father, Matthew McConaughey in Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen, Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller in Burnt, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game and Dame Helen Mirren in The Duke.
Television hits include the award-winning Killing Eve, the long-running detective series New Tricks, children’s favourite Horrible Histories and every episode of Apple TV’s smash comedy Ted Lasso starring Hollywood actor Jason Sudeikis, including series three which is currently airing.
But Khalid, a 54-year-old father of four, is by no means your average studio head. And an incident with superstar Renee Zellweger, who had just finished a day’s filming of Bridget Jones’ Baby, underlines that. Zellweger was winding down on the set of the giant studio complex when the quiet, dark-haired man passing by politely enquired: “Hello, how are you?” The actress replied that she was fine and then asked him “and what do you do here?” She was surprised by his response. “I own the place,” he said.
No wonder she was taken aback. Khalid hardly fits the bill of a movie mogul – there is no hand-rolled Havana cigar to chomp on, no glass of vintage brandy in hand. Instead, he cuts a relaxed, casually dressed figure, who would pass unnoticed in a crowd.
“Once she realised that I wasn’t joking, we had a nice chat and then, as everyone was clearing up at the end of the day, she helped sweep the canteen floor. She couldn’t have been more down-to-earth,” he adds.
Zellweger clearly has an affinity with Khalid’s studio – she later made her Oscar-winning biopic Judy Garland there.
In addition to A-listers from the silver screen, television and the music industry, Frank recently met with a political A-lister, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who invited him to a dinner for fellow entrepreneurs at the Savoy Hotel in London’s West End.
Once he got to chat with the Sunak, Frank was quick to appraise the PM about the new £23 million studio project that he hopes will keep Britain at the forefront of the movie industry.
Already, the list of stars who have been through the existing studio’s doors is enough to fill a bumper autograph book.
Zellweger filmed her pregnancy scenes for her latest outing as Bridget Jones, with Emma Thompson as her doctor, on the fully equipped set that comes complete with an operating theatre, intensive care ward with real life heart monitors and resuscitation machines, and even a morgue with a headless body on a mortuary slab!
It was here on the ‘hospital set’ that Match of the Day host Gary Lineker was once ‘trapped’ in a collapsing hospital bed for a Walkers crisps’ advert.
It was also the perfect location for Ted Lasso because the actors and crew only had to cross the road and walk for a couple of minutes, and they could film the outdoor scenes at Hayes and Yeading FC’s ground in Middlesex.
All the walls of the reception area are covered in messages of thanks from some major showbiz names, such as Emilia Clarke – Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones. She made 2019 film Last Christmas there, and her note to Frank reads: “What comfort you kept us in on our shoot – best studio ever!”
Madonna, The Rolling Stones and Noel Gallagher are just some of the music giants who have shot videos at the studios.
“At any given time, there could be between 800 and a thousand people working here,” says Frank. “They are not directly employed by me but by the companies who use the facilities here like the one which runs the hospital set-up.”
Yet Frank only moved into movies by accident.
He explains: “I left school at 15 and started out helping in a food shop run by a relative and then moved into the cash and carry trade which expanded over the years.
“From there I branched out into the catering, restaurant and banqueting business. I heard that the disused film studios here were up for sale and thought they would make a great place to hold large-scale banquets and weddings.
“But then I had a problem getting the right planning approval. I had always loved films – as a kid I watched Star Wars and Clash of the Titans and movies like that – so I thought why not turn it back into film studios?”
Frank expects his second studio to be even more successful than his current one.
“It has been described as the Rolls Royce of film studios in this country,” he says proudly. “There will be four stages and the smallest of them will be larger than the biggest one at our current facility.”
Alongside the new structure there will be a green, open space named after Frank’s late father, Mohammed Ashiq Khalid.
“Perhaps one day I might become an actual film producer,” he muses.” If the right project with the right people comes along!”
Khalid, who lives in a village in Essex, was involved at one stage in a mineral water business with Hollywood star Mark Wahlberg and rapper P Diddy. “I stayed friends with Mark and when my daughter got married, he sent a filmed message wishing her and her husband all the best on the big day. He didn’t have to do it, it’s just the sort of guy he is.”
Away from work he is a big Chelsea fan and among the many Stamford Bridge players he knows personally, he became friends with French midfielder N’Golo Kante.
“We have been close for quite a long time and in 2018 when I suffered a heart attack and had to have a triple bypass as soon as N’Golo heard about it, he came to visit me at my home. What a good soul.
“Later once I had recovered my daughter was getting married and I invited him to the wedding, but it looked as though he couldn’t make it as it was during an international break, so he would have been away with the French team.
“But he got injured and shortly before the big day he said he could come. I thought he will probably arrive and be there for ten minutes or so, but he stayed throughout. He’s a class act.”
One of Khalid’s children suffers from autism, and he is deeply involved in charity work. So much so that he was awarded the OBE in the New Year’s Honours List for services to Business, Charity and to the community in North London, and recently received the Freedom on the City of London, a ceremony he attended with his wife, Sajida Parveen Khalid.
But Khalid does not forget his roots. He says: “When the studio stages are dismantled a lot of props and stuff are thrown away. It would end up in a skip or some landfill somewhere. So, I make sure it is rescued and goes to the school across the road for their woodwork lessons.”
It saves the school money and Khalid’s industrious and hard-working late father would be proud his son is a chip off the old block.