Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Hornblower Effect?: Film and tourism

An old friend of mine used to return after months away on location and relate stories of derring-do and actors behaving badly. He was the producer of the "Hornblower" series of films, a highly successful franchise, to use an Americanism, and one that used a series of locations around Europe. The fifth film in the series, which aired in 2001, was mostly filmed in Menorca.

You can still find references to "where Hornblower was shot" on websites to do with Menorca. But what was the enduring benefit to the island of the film's location? Was there a "Hornblower" effect?

Perhaps there was, but if there was in tourism terms, it was shortlived. Menorca has spent the years since then confirming its position as the Balearics basket case. The island may still derive some kudos from "Mutiny" having been filmed there, but it has been worn away along with the memory of the film itself.

The relationship between film location and tourism is one I've considered before ("Lights, Camera, Inaction", 21 March). And the issue is cropping up again thanks to a burst of excitement surrounding the possibility that Mallorca might be a location for the filming of David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry).

Note that I say "a location" and not the "the location". The distinction is important not just in terms of the use of the indefinite as opposed to the definite article. It is also important because, though the filming might indeed bring benefits, these would be as nothing compared with those which would be derived were it to be filmed almost entirely in Mallorca.

The most obvious example of a location benefiting in tourism terms from a film, as I mentioned in the previous article, was that of New Zealand and the publicity it attracted because of "Lord Of The Rings". The setting of Tolkien's trilogy was so well known that no one could have been mistaken into thinking they were really looking at Middle Earth and not at a land of sheep and rugby players.

The point is that, with a single location, the connection can be made and made very forcibly. With multiple locations, the connection is far less strong, to an extent that it may carry little or no force. Yes, a location could be promoted as having featured in a particular film, but it would rather depend on the prominence given to the location and to the extent to which it would be evident.

One site in Mallorca that is being mentioned is Sa Calobra. The problem is that unless you know what you're looking for, you wouldn't necessarily know what you were looking at. A dirty great arrow doesn't suddenly appear over Tom Hanks' head pointing to Sa Calobra with an accompanying legend announcing "Sa Calobra, part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Tramuntana mountains".

The fact that Sa Calobra, on the coastal periphery of the mountain range, is in the running does raise the spectre of what happened when there was talk of the island of Cabrera being used for filming ("Betsy And The Emperor"). The environment ministry vetoed it because of the island's sensitive ecology. The Tramuntana are more robust but they are also ecologically protected. One can already hear the sounds of the enviro lobby preparing their complaints were there to be film crews trampling over the countryside.

This is premature though. No agreement has been reached as to the location. Croatia is another place that is up for the gig apparently.

But assuming Mallorca were to be chosen, what benefits other than to tourism might follow? One might be that to the island's film industry. Yet would producers from Hollywood and elsewhere suddenly descend on Mallorca with all manner of blockbusters to be filmed? Only if the locations are what they want. "Cloud Atlas" might help in putting Mallorca more on the location map, but you might be surprised to learn that film companies, producers, location managers and whoever are already well aware of the island's locations. As indeed they are of those in pretty much any part of the world you care to mention.

Location databases, full of thousands of images, exist for all sorts of places. They exist to promote the locations but also to aid the decision-making of producers from foreign lands. Palma Pictures, for example, has a database of some 30,000 images.

"Cloud Atlas" would be a feather in Mallorca's cap, but the benefits can be overestimated. A single-location blockbuster is what would really bring about the benefits, but, and notwithstanding the fact that the Hornblower films were made for TV and were not Hollywood, never forget the lack of the Hornblower effect in Menorca.

Any comments to please.

A comment about this article has been sent by an anonymous correspondent. The reason I ask for comments to be sent by email is that very often they are anonymous. Some anonymous comments I will post, some I will not. Into this second category falls the comment about this article which suggests that there is something "malitious" (sic) about it, though quite what escapes me. It is an article about what benefits might be derived from film locations; nothing more.

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