Suffolk needs to live up to its film making potential to attract more Detectorists and Game of Thrones-style productions
PUBLISHED: 19:00 05 January 2016 | UPDATED: 09:32 06 January 2016
It has a picturesque coastline, rolling fields, a rich heritage and close contact with London – so why aren’t more production companies choosing to film in Suffolk?
Edmund Crosthwaite speaks to some of the people who want to see the county’s on-screen presence boosted.
The film industry is a very competitive market, but if you can tap into it in the right way the rewards can be significant.
Cases in point are Yorkshire and Northern Ireland which have both seen a glut of films and TV shows (for example the new Dad’s Army film and Game of Thrones respectively) shot within their borders.
Suffolk, too, does see production companies turning up to take advantage of all it can offer, but not on the same scale.
However, there is a desire to boost the county’s profile within the industry and attract more business to the area. But what can be, and is being, done to further this cause?
Julien Mery of FILM Suffolk, an organisation promoting the use of the county for productions large and small, said Suffolk could be an attractive alternative to other locations – but admitted it is “absolutely under-used”.
“As backgrounds, Suffolk is not visible enough and that’s what we are trying to do with FILM Suffolk,” he said.
“There’s a very lucrative mid-market that will look at minimising all of their costs, but we are still talking £10million movies.
What has been filmed in Suffolk?
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One: The village of Lavenham became Godric’s Hollow, where Harry’s parents lived and where he returned to with Hermione in his quest to defeat Voldemort. However actors Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson did not actually visit Lavenham for filming – they were added digitally in post-production.
The Detectorists: The BBC comedy starring Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones about two friends searching for a big find with their metal detectors is set in north Essex but was actually filmed in and around Framlingham.
Tomorrow Never Dies: Pierce Brosnan’s second outing as James Bond has connections to a pair of Suffolk airbases. RAF Lakenheath stood in for a US airbase in the South China Sea, while he was prepared for his HALO (high altitude, low open) parachute jump in an aircraft from RAF Mildenhall.
Lovejoy: Perhaps one of the best known productions to be filmed in Suffolk was the TV series about Ian McShane’s lovably rougeish antique dealer. Much of the six series used Lavenham as a backdrop with scenes also shot in Bury St Edmunds, Clare, Hadleigh and Long Melford.
Grandpa in my Pocket: The CBeebies show about a grandparent with a magical shrinking cap filmed exterior scenes on location in Southwold, Aldeburgh and Walberswick.
“The really continuous employers are productions such as TV or documentaries. That’s bread and butter work for the film industry.”
Part of FILM Suffolk’s work recently has been trying to offer a one stop shop to production companies in Suffolk – offering everything up on a plate, readily available, to save them having to do the leg work themselves.
That has included unearthing the best places to shoot in Ipswich and thinking outside the box while doing so.
Mr Mery said: “We have recently scouted more than 50 locations for Ipswich Borough Council and we have got a location manager looking for more locations within Suffolk.
“Let’s say they were trying to film a gangster film in London. The more locations we can find that look like London the more we’ll be able to say we can provide all the London-esque locations you need.”
But for all that Suffolk can offer, it is still wanting in other areas, according to Mr Mery.
He said investment would be needed to attract some of the biggest productions, offering things like incentives for choosing the county or possibly in the creation of more locations like Bentwaters Parks (which attracts around half of all enquiries to FILM Suffolk) to be used as sound stages.
Suffolk County Council is prepared to go some way to boosting Suffolk’s profile within the industry and has been looking at ways it, too, can bring more productions to the county.
Following in the footsteps of other regions, the authority is exploring the possibility of creating a film office, allowing it to have a dedicated team working with companies to do what it can to meet their needs.
“We started with Suffolk Coastal District Council and the other districts at the beginning of the year  to look at how are we doing and at that point we were talking about the film industry,” said Jayne Knight, the council’s arts development manager. “We were looking at the number of days filming in Suffolk and the value of these things.
“We had a collective meeting and out of that meeting there was definitely a view that Suffolk was a good place to film, not least because of the weather.”
Its proximity to London, its offering of both rural and urban landscapes and its sometimes quirky offerings were all cited as reasons why the county could be attractive to filmmakers by Ms Knight. But she added: “There was an overall feeling we had not yet fully exploited the potential for that.”
Although in its very early planning stages, a SCC film office would be looking at making everything as smooth as possible for companies wanting to film in Suffolk, Ms Knight said. “When a production comes to town it’s a bit like a circus. They need a whole suite of offices, places to work and then they pack up and go again.
“One of the big challenges as we understand it for people is they work in a swift industry so they need to go back to places they have been before.
“Other challenges are where people get to sleep and stay and what we have got is a lot of good testimony from people who have filmed here who have found it fantastic.”
Someone else who feels the county is an under-used location is Dan Shepherd, of Suffolk-based production company Pilot Media.
Other popular locations
Suffolk’s First World War trenches: Created by Khaki Devil, run by Taff Gillingham and Kev Smith, this network of accurately recreated British and German battlefield trenches has been used on a number of occasions as a location for period productions and documentaries including the BBC’s Last of the Tommies, Walter’s War and Days That Shook the World: 1914 Truce. The 2014 Sainsbury’s Christmas advert was also filmed at the same location.
Bentwaters Parks: The former RAF base has huge hangers, expansive runways and even private roads which help make it an ideal filming location for a range of productions. It has previously been used as the base for the Dave television channel’s Driving Wars show, a location for filming Top Gear stunts and has appeared in films The Numbers Station and Fast & Furious 6.
For him it is the incentives that could be offered to companies coming to the county which would make the difference in choosing to visit Suffolk or pass it by.
He said: “A good example is Yorkshire, which has a lot of incentives. They are managing to make a lot of high-end television and great films.
“There is also the case of Northern Ireland and Game of Thrones, so a lot of people go to these places for the incentives.
“If people are going up to Yorkshire to make things it’s a lot easier to come here. If you build it they will come – and work brings work.”
In Mr Shepherd’s view it is the places which can offer financial discounts or even provide funding to productions which will attract more work.
“Let’s say I had a £5m six-part TV series and I looked where I could shoot it. I would probably go to Yorkshire because they can offer X on top.
“What Yorkshire has done is they have gone to businesses and to Europe and created a big pot of money and they have attracted some big investment.”