FILM LOCATIONS: Hospitals have long been favourite locations for film-makers. But what are the pressures, and benefits, for managers and staff? Harriet Gaze finds out

'P eople say to me, 'Wow, what was it like having Tom Cruise at your hospital?' To be honest, at the time you do not even think about it. It is only afterwards, when you sit down and watch the film, that you can appreciate the whole experience, ' says Marian Covington, chief press officer at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where Stanley Kubrick made part of Eyes Wide Shut (Cruise was filmed coming through the main entrance).

At the time, she says, she was so intent on making sure that filming did not interrupt the running of the hospital that everything had to be planned like a military operation.

With its airy modern architecture, the Chelsea and Westminster is a popular film location. In the past four years, productions have included Sliding Doors, the Spice Girls' Spiceworld: the Movie, Fanny and Elvis and Eyes Wide Shut. And then there are the television drama and pop promos.

For feature films, Ms Covington charges fees ranging from£2,000 to£5,000 a day, and occasionally more. 'It depends on the size of the production, what kinds of vehicles are involved, how many crew they have and where they want to film.

'I ask how much disruption is going to be caused, and the charge will be based on that, because with the larger feature films like Sliding Doors and Eyes Wide Shut you are talking about months of preparation and several recces.'

Hospitals have long formed a popular backdrop for feature films. There is nothing to beat a modern intensive care unit or casualty department for the hatch or dispatch of an actor - not to mention a doctor's consulting room for news of a tragic illness, or a long, echoing corridor for torrid romance.

But not all is quite what it seems. Some fictional hospitals remain just that - fiction. The Carry On movies used Maidenhead Town Hall as the exterior of 'Long Hampton Hospital'. And the suspiciously elderly medical students in 1954 film Doctor in the House traipsed up the steps of University College London, otherwise known as 'St Swithin's Hospital'.

And as for real hospitals, trusts are approached on a daily basis for filming permission. It is cheaper for a production company to film on location in hospitals than to set up a whole fake building in a studio.

But what are the production companies looking for when it comes to feature films? And just what are the benefits - and disadvantages - attached to the work?

Feature film location work for hospitals can range from the use of one atmospheric corridor for a chase, to several scenes shot in a contemporary style operating theatre.

The London Film Commission currently has up to 40 hospitals in the area on its location register, according to Harvey Edgington, head of borough liaison for the commission.

'It sounds horrible, but there is always a market for morgues and there is always a market for hospital waiting rooms and long corridors, ' he says.

'Quite often the filming is in a hospital because they have such long corridors: nothing to do with the fact that it is a hospital.'

Disused hospitals are even more valuable locations. 'With a closed hospital, the film crew might want to come in and use it as a production base for six or 12 months, and stay there on a short contract, ' he says.

Meanwhile, locations agency Sarah Eastel Locations, which puts film and television companies in contact with potential locations, says there is a particular market for hospitals in the style of the 1930s and 1940s.

Television drama is also an option, according to BBC associate drama producer Simon Bird, a former BBC locations manager. 'At the moment there are a lot of disused psychiatric hospitals around, which have the architecture we want.'

But closed hospitals, Simon Bird adds, often lack the hospital equipment that TV drama can use as props. 'That is why we tend to go for working hospitals - or if it is a whole wing that is not being used but still has beds, that works well.'

So what about the benefits from a trust perspective? Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton, charges about£1,500 per filming day, and has recently played host to Ben Elton's film Maybe Baby. The hospital has also been widely used for TV drama and much smaller, low-budget projects.

Shirley Webster, the postgraduate medical centre manager who is in charge of liaising with production companies at Queen Mary's, comments: 'It can be worthwhile financially. The extra income that filming brings can go into luxury items we need that the budget will not run to - for instance, a new video for the old people's ward or some new chairs.'

Charges for location work vary, according to how badly the production company wants the site, how much disruption is involved and the size of the production.

Location fees for a US feature film shot in London or the South East tend to be between£2,000 and£5,000 per day, according to Harvey Edgington. 'You would be looking for£1,000 to£1,500 for a television drama - a London's Burning or The Bill, but that often has to include parking.And a pop video could be anything between£350 and£800 per day.'

It is far harder to get high rates outside South East England. And money per shooting day does not take into account the preparation required.

Ms Eastel says: 'You have to say, 'No, you can't have that but what you are going to have is this bit.'

You have to have meetings until you are damn sure you know where they are going to be at any given moment.'

There are other benefits, ranging from prestige and visibility to staff and patients' enjoyment.

Claire Hornick, director of operations at north London's Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, says:

'It is fun for the staff and fun for the patients.When the BBC did Real Women here, the staff actually enjoyed having them around.' Stars Michelle Collins and Pauline Quirke became involved with the hospital's hospice.

But regardless of benefits, any trust has to decide whether it is appropriate to be involved with a particular production, says Chelsea and Westminster Hospital's Marian Covington. 'You also need to establish whether your hospital will be identifiable from the scenes, and do you want it to be, ' she adds.

And while the benefits of location work can be great, you have to take into account the disruption caused by a major feature film.

As well as the vehicles, the generators and equipment, there is also the sheer number of people on location. Lynn Saunders of the Liverpool Film Office explains: 'A feature film can mean 80 people, miles of track and lots of equipment.'

The size of the crew is a good indication of the likely disruption, says Ms Covington.

Harvey Edgington adds: 'It is about how much disruption you are prepared to put up with. If you have an empty building that is not doing anything, it is worth it. But in a big working hospital you have to talk to staff and factor in the security needed.'

Shirley Webster at Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton, adds: 'They can sometimes say, 'We would just like to put a light at the end of this corridor, ' and you go along and there are streams of cable and a light burning happily and it is quite hot.'

It is important, she says, always to have a hospital staff member in charge of health and safety.Ms Covington hires extra staff when necessary and has an electrician on site.

Once you have assessed the likely disruption, it is time to talk money and contracts.While most film company contracts are standard, any hospital thinking of getting involved in feature film location work needs to add in clauses to suit local needs.

Additional clauses might cover major incidents and confidentiality of patient information.

Inclusion of patients, visitors, staff or public in the film would not be allowed without their permission.

So, if your hospital has never done any feature film location work, how best to go about it? A good place to start is by contacting the regional film commissions and talking to others who have been down this route.

News of good locations is often passed from one location manager to another. An ability to respond quickly in principle will help.

Carry on filming. . .

Brief Encounter (1945) The hospital where Trevor Howard works was a set built for another 1945 film, Perfect Strangers with Deborah Kerr.

The Elephant Man (1980) John Hurt visits Anthony Hopkins at the old Eastern Hospital in Clapton, London, which doubles as the original London Hospital. The hospital corridor scenes were shot at the National Liberal Club off Whitehall.

An American Werewolf in London (1981) David Naughton recovers from a nasty wolf bite at an unnamed hospital, filmed at the former Princess Beatrice Maternity Hospital, London - now a hostel for homeless people.

Shallow Grave (1994) Kerry Fox's hospital is the Royal Alexandra Hospital, Glasgow. Christopher Eccleston's character ends up in the hospital morgue.

Source: The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations. Tony Reeves. Titan Books. 2001 John Lennon: a day in the life When a Liverpool production company wanted locations for NBC film In his life - the John Lennon Story, the location manager got in touch with John French, estates manager for Aintree Hospitals trust.

'I asked the location manager what he was trying to replicate and he told me and I promised to show him something that would fit the bill, ' Mr French recalls.

The result was that Walton Hospital became the mythical birthplace of John Lennon's son, Julian.

The film was shown in the US last December to mark what would have been John Lennon's 60th birthday.

The work on the film took around six weeks and the trust charged a total of£2,000 for location fees. As much of the building is due to be sold off and demolished, Mr French says there was no need for the production to 'make good'.

And although the hospital still had a day surgery and outpatient department in operation, the production did not interfere with the normal running of the place.

Now, says Mr French, word has got round about the location and the hospital is receiving other inquiries.

A naked figure running across a garden? Not at our hospital The difference between television drama and feature film location work is one of scale, according to Claire Hornick, director of operations at the private Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in St John's Wood, London.

When Miramax used the hospital one weekend for its film Elephant Juice , it built a complete new outpatients consulting room in the main entrance lobby. 'It was a complete transformation - and yet by Monday the film-makers had gone and everything was back to normal.

They had repainted everything and put the lights back up, ' Claire Hornick recalls.

The hospital uses the money it raises through production work to fund its 19-bed hospice. Location fees can reach£5,000 for a feature film weekend.

'The best thing we get out of it, ' says Ms Hornick, 'is that it is a great profileraiser; we have had a couple of productions actually put an acknowledgement on the credits.'

But planning productions is a major job, she warns. 'I think people grossly underestimate the sheer numbers of people involved.'

Even a television drama like Silent Witness may involve 25 production staff and crew for a one-day shoot, 'so you have to find space not only for the filming but for all the people'. Filming the BBC drama R eal Women meant finding parking space for three articulated pantechnicon lorries - not to mention all the other vehicles.

The hospital combines modern and old buildings and lends itself to a wide range of filming. But it turns down some productions. Ms Hornick says: 'We would not have anything pornographic or anything like that. We were asked if we would have something which required a person to run naked across the garden and we said no.'