Birmingham & Black Country

Steven Spielberg in Birmingham: Why film directors come to the city

Steven Spielberg (left) and executive producer Adam Somner (right) on the set of Ready Player One in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, on Tuesday 6 September Image copyright Joe Giddens/PA
Image caption People have been posting their pictures of Steven Spielberg on Twitter with the hashtag #spielberginbrum

The legendary Hollywood director Steven Spielberg is filming his latest blockbuster in a somewhat unlikely location - Birmingham. Just what is it about the city that is attractive to filmmakers?

Like a teenager when their school crush walks over to chat, Birmingham has singularly failed to stay cool about the arrival of Steven Spielberg.

He has been sighted around the city, which has been chosen as the location for new film Ready Player One, a dystopian thriller.

Brummies have flocked to Twitter with the hashtag #spielberginbrum to share their pictures of the film set.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Spotting the Hollywood legend has become a new hobby in the city

In recent weeks, the streets of Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter and Digbeth have been turned into an American city for the sci-fi film expected to be released in 2018.

Based on Ernest Cline's novel of the same name, the movie will star Oscar winner Mark Rylance opposite Simon Pegg and Bloodline star Ben Mendelsohn.

It centres on a young outcast called Wade Watts, played by Mud star Tye Sheridan, who escapes from his daily life by logging on to a multi-player online game called The Oasis.

Filming in Birmingham

Benefits of being used for locations


Estimated economic benefit 2015-16

  • £9,622,000 2014-15

  • £12,437,000 2013-14

  • £9,556,000 2012-13

Filming Ready Player One. Credit: Nick Holzherr

Photographs of the set posted on Twitter show heavily graffiti-covered walls, streets lined with litter and damaged cars, as well as carefully concealed British phone boxes.

It is far from the first movie to be filmed in the city.

Warner Brothers' zombie film The Girl with All the Gifts, due for release later this month and starring Glenn Close and Gemma Arterton, was also filmed there.

Image caption Ready Player One is expected to be released in UK cinemas in March 2018

And writer, producer and director Steven Knight chose Birmingham as the setting for his 2013 film Locke starring Tom Hardy - although very little of his best known creation, Peaky Blinders, was actually filmed in Birmingham despite being set there.

"The sort of brutal aesthetic" of the city was one of the reasons he chose Birmingham, as well as his love of how the city's Spaghetti Junction looks by night - the film mostly follows Hardy's character sitting in his car.

"Birmingham has a range of landscapes which people would called 'backlot' and people are starting to realise that just an hour and 20 minutes away from London is this big, muscular, urban environment right next to lovely countryside," said Knight.

Film Birmingham estimates the economic benefit to the city from being chosen as a set location will reach nearly £8,500,000 in 2015-16.

Image copyright Shoebox Films
Image caption Birmingham was chosen as the setting for the 2013 film Locke starring Tom Hardy
Image copyright Film Birmingham
Image caption Parts of Hustle, a BBC drama series about a team of con artists, were filmed in Birmingham
Image copyright Film Birmingham
Image caption Based on the story of food writer Nigel Slater's childhood, Toast, was also filmed in Birmingham and starred Helena Bonham Carter
Image copyright @brumpolarbears
Image caption The St John Ambulance building in the Jewellery Quarter was transformed into the United States Postal Service on the Spielberg film set

Yugesh Walia, who works at Endboard Productions in Bearwood with his brother Sunandan, is currently looking for funding for their film The Bounty Hunter, which they want to set in Birmingham.

He said the city had "lots of different textures".

"You can find old factories, new factories, posh and low-end residential within 20 minutes - you've got that range - and the canals are only one level off street level.

"You can get to any kind of location quickly so it brings down your budget for the film as your moving costs are down and you can shoot more in a day," he said.

Gavin Binder, editor at Media Dog Productions based in Birmingham, said: "A lot of people film here purely for cost reasons - to close down roads in London costs tens of thousands, and when you're dealing with big lighting trucks and need to control the background crowds, then you need road closures.

"The other reason people film in Birmingham is for its urban 'run-down' look in some areas, this is why Digbeth in particular is popular, with the arches and the graffiti.

"The majority of blockbusters want landmarks though - which is why it's always London.

"The fact that Ready Player One is filmed here as an image for a post-apocalyptic dystopian future, probably says a fair bit."

Image copyright @amandathurlow
Image caption Twitter users wrote of a chase scene being filmed in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter