Whether you’ve heard of it or not, you have definitely seen the Farmiloe Building. Christopher Nolan used it as a key location for both Inception and his Batman trilogy, while it’s also popped up in countless other big movies including Eastern Promises, Sherlock Holmes and most recently Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.
It’s a curious Victorian block, on St John Street in Clerkenwell, quite noble from the outside but hardly that notable. Inside, however, it’s almost uniquely atmospheric with rooms in a variety of architectural styles, as well as large versatile spaces that can be convincingly transformed into a Gotham City police precinct or a safe house for Tom Cruise and his chums.
Sadly, the Farmiloe’s career in the limelight is almost over with a redevelopment scheme about to get underway that will turn the Grade II listed building, originally built to manufacture steel, glass and bathroom fixtures back in 1868, into a commercial office space with a slightly dull-looking extension on the side.
If any building was deserving of a proper send-off it’s this one. Enter The Listeners Project, an original initiative to record the last moments of architectural treasures like this one when they have been earmarked for regeneration. The idea is to send groups of filmmakers inside, with rooms or floors allocated at random, to see what kind of artistic responses they come up with.
“We wanted to do something that celebrated these changing spaces,” says Ben Lambert, one of the founders of the Listeners Project. “London, like any metropolis, changes fast and our idea is to take a pause and tell a story. The directors use the walls as a canvas to tell that story; though it’s not blank, these walls have a lot of character that inform their ideas.”
That means the resulting films could be conventional narratives or might be more experimental with movement and dance thrown into the mix. “Spontaneity is the key,” adds Lambert. “You have to not um and ah, but respond instinctively.”