January 25, 2024
Creative England’s Filming in England team showcase the regional locations that brought George Clooney’s sporting drama to life.
The Boys in the Boat is an inspiring true story behind the University of Washington’s rowing team and their quest to compete at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The production is centred around a group of underdogs from humble beginnings, and through their journey of grit and determination, they compete against elite athletes to eventually winning gold.
Rowing on Location in the Regions
The feature production was based at Winnersh Film Studios in Berkshire and filmed across several locations in the regions, including areas doubling for 1930s America. Dorney Lake, a purpose-built lake at Eton College, accommodated rowing scenes and the historic Molesey Boat Club in Surrey, with further scenes on the River Thames in Wokingham & Henley, and the Cotswold Water Park in the South West.
The Cotswold Water Park is an area of 42 square miles and a 180-lake reserve across the counties of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and West Oxfordshire. The Boys in the Boat shot on location at the Cleveland Lakes area, near Ashton Keynes with Wiltshire Council granting permission for a set build to recreate the landmark ASUW Shell House the team used for training. Davina Stirland, Marketing & Communications Manager at the Cotswold Lakes Trust explains in more detail about the filming:
“Cleveland Lakes in the Cotswold Water Park was one of the main locations for the filming of The Boys in the Boat; a 1930s story centred on the University of Washington’s rowing team, and based on the best-selling biographical sports book by Daniel James Brown.
A replica of the famous ASUW (Associated Students of the University of Washington) Shell House was built on location, alongside Seattle-based street scene and shanty town sets. The adjacent 1.6 kilometre long Waterhay Lake was used as a perfect stand in for Lake Washington and then later turned into the Berlin Olympic rowing course with associated grandstand and race infrastructure.
As owners of the Cleveland Lakes site, local charity Cotswold Lakes Trust worked closely with the unit production team to help facilitate the set build and shoot. Local residents welcomed the production, with local businesses undoubtedly benefitting from the temporary increase in commercial activity in the area.
Cleveland Lakes covers an area of 330 acres and contains two of the largest lakes in the Cotswold Water Park. Wickwater Lake is a stunning nature reserve and Waterhay Lake is the ideal location to become a major regional training and competition venue for rowing and canoeing.”
The county of Wiltshire has a wealth of locations available to productions and Wiltshire Council welcomes filming to the area:
“We were delighted to welcome The Boys in the Boat production to Wiltshire at the Cotswold Water Park. Wiltshire is home to some unique and beautiful landscapes; from Bridgerton at Wilton House and 1917 on Salisbury Plain. Wiltshire has served as an iconic location for films including Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice. We are proud of everything our county has to offer, and we are always pleased to support with new productions. We supported The Boys in the Boat, advising them on locations and guiding them through set building applications. We are always pleased to offer advice and support to new productions.”
Molesey Boat Club, a private club on the River Thames in Surrey also facilitated scenes for the high-profile feature film. Surrey has played host to a number of major feature films and TV dramas. The Surrey Film Office is a Surrey County Council initiative, working in conjunction with Surrey’s District and Borough Councils and key organisations, to promote Surrey as a first-class filming location. Vicki Brown, Film Officer at Surrey Film Office adds:
“We’re always delighted to welcome filming to Surrey and to see some of our lesser known locations being featured on screen, showing the wide variety that Surrey has to offer. The film industry plays such an important role in the local economy and our team works to ensure Surrey continues to be an attractive choice for the industry, while also helping to encourage economic growth for the region.”
The Berkshire Film Office were in talks for several months facilitating filming in collaboration with Wokingham Borough Council on the River Thames near Wokingham & Henley. Daisy Golledge, Film Officer from Berkshire Film Office sheds more light:
“The Boys in the Boat was an exciting project for the Berkshire Film Office to work on in the Spring of 2022, with conversations regarding the rowing scene taking place over several months. The Film Office worked in collaboration with Wokingham Borough Council and the Location Crew to organise a day of filming on the Thames Tow Path which doubled for Washington, USA, where the film is set. A temporary platform was built on the tow path where the ‘spectators’ viewed the ‘race’ which began at the Upper Thames Rowing Club and ended just before Temple Island. This won’t be news to some residents of Wokingham & Henley who may have spotted the filming.
As well as maintaining Berkshire as a film-friendly county, filming on-location such as this has other benefits. When a film production comes to an area, they need hotels for their crew, food, and parking, all of which aids towards local economic growth. Although they didn’t speak to George Clooney himself, it’s no wonder that he chose this location and Berkshire as an area to shoot his film. Berkshire is full of versatile and diverse locations that can cater to any production as well as multiple studios, great transport links, local crew and production facilities.”
Setting the Scene: Doubles for the 1930s
Further locations at Didcot Railway Centre in Oxford and Ashlyns School in Hertfordshire supported with recreating the 1930s backdrop. Dhrooti Mills, Lettings & Events Coordinator at Ashlyns School shares the excitement of hosting a Hollywood production as they transformed the location for on-screen:
“It’s always exciting to get the call for a filming enquiry wishing to use our beautiful school. The locations team, production and film crew for ‘The Boys in the Boat’ were friendly, approachable and professional. As a working school prepping for the first formal summer exams to be sat in person after Covid, they understood our requirements, respected our school, and worked closely with us to ensure our students had access to their revision sessions during filming.
The bonus of being on Filming in England’s Location Directory is more than a financial benefit to our school (and local economy); it creates a sense of pride to showcase Ashlyns on the big screen to the wider community and our students that we’re more than ‘just a school’. Filming on site also supports our ethos for work experience opportunities for our students, developing skills on a local level to contribute to this booming industry. In this case, our drama students had the chance for an informal and insightful chat with some of the supporting cast.
Being so close to the major studios and road network, and on a large and secure site, Ashlyns works well as a location with plenty of hardstanding car parking to facilitate large-scale productions and has an experienced site team. We can’t wait to see how ‘The Boys in the Boat’ crew have transformed our school on the big screen and look forward to hosting more productions in the future.”
Newly Launched Filming in England Directory
The Filming in England team have recently launched our new online directories to further facilitate filming in the regions. We manage four unique, National Directories that connects industry to locations, crew, supply chain businesses and studios to ensure a network of everything required to successfully shoot on location in England.
The Location Directory offers a free database of over 8000 locations spread across England, encompassing a vast array of landscapes, historic sites, and unique settings, ensuring you find the ideal location for your production. We work closely with our network of National and Regional filming partners, including the British Film Commission (BFC) who introduced the initial The Boys in the Boat location brief.
Abee McCallum, Production Support Executive at the BFC explains about the support provided to international productions and working in liaison with the Filming in England team:
“One of the most frequent production enquiries the British Film Commission (BFC) receives, is in sourcing locations for major international productions. Often where a project is based hinges on finding a particular location and so we, along with our screen agency partners, strive to source these, ensuring the production comes to the UK. This task is helped by the fact that the UK has such a wide-range of varied, versatile and film-friendly locations – from castles and coastlines, to urban cities and sprawling forest, or sites that can double for elsewhere in the world, which, in this instance, was the case.
Back in 2021, producer Barbara Hall contacted the BFC, as the production team were interested in potentially filming ‘The Boys in the Boat’ in the UK. As is our practise with such requests, our team read through the initial script, providing a breakdown of key locations which was then circulated to our UK screen agency partners, including our colleagues at Filming in England. Due to our brilliant working relationship with Filming in England, this process is seamless and always extremely positive, with the team providing us with a fantastic array of suitable locations from across the region – in this case, UK doubles for the University of Washington and the surrounding areas.
The BFC then sourced, and funded, a highly reputable UK location scout for the project who, in liaison with the BFC, Filming in England and the US production team, recced viable locations across the region. The project then opted to film at several UK locations, and also on stages at Winnersh Studios, an introduction provided by the BFC. That ‘The Boys in the Boat’ filmed in the UK, is a true testament to the effectiveness of the UK infrastructure, our exceptional crew, world-class studios and the versatility of the UK’s locations – that you can film everywhere, here.”
The Boys in the Boat had its world premiere in Los Angeles on December 11, 2023 and is currently out on theatrical release.
To find out more about Filming in England National Directories please visit our website: https://www.filminginengland.co.uk/