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Norfolk Tourism Awards

Film director Jason Figgis on why he loves Suffolk’s coastline

PUBLISHED: 15:05 16 August 2018 | UPDATED: 15:05 16 August 2018

The provisional poster for Winifred Meeks which is due to be shot this autumn. Photo: Jason Figgis

The provisional poster for Winifred Meeks which is due to be shot this autumn. Photo: Jason Figgis

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Film director Jason Figgis has fallen in love with a new muse; the Suffolk landscape. Arts editor Andrew Clarke caught up with him during a break in filming and discovers he plans to return to the county later this year

Writer-director Jason Figgis. Photo:Jason FiggisWriter-director Jason Figgis. Photo:Jason Figgis

For Irish film-maker Jason Figgis the Suffolk holds such an allure that having completed one film which captures the beauty and atmosphere of the county, he is now seeking out other opportunities to return to the coast and create new work which utilisies our evocative landscape.

He has just finished work on a film celebrating the life of Suffolk author MR James and has also recently completed a documentary on East Anglian photographer Simon Marsden which was narrated by fellow Marsden enthusiast John Hurt.

Simon loved the East Anglian landscape and frequently photographed places such as Castle Rising, Binham Priory, Dunwich and Burgh Castle.

The atmospheric Aldeburgh beach provided the backdrop for Jason Figgis' documentary on the life of Suffolk author MR James. Photo: CitizensideThe atmospheric Aldeburgh beach provided the backdrop for Jason Figgis' documentary on the life of Suffolk author MR James. Photo: Citizenside

Jason was introduced to the region by Suffolk producer John West who is now working with him on a raft of new movies which, they hope, will all be shot in the region.

Jason is also looking for a local actor to appear in his forthcoming vampire movie Night Photography. He said: “The film will be shot in Suffolk at the end of this year. It’s a vampire/horror film. We are looking to find a Suffolk based lady to play one of the leads. The film will be shown in selected cinemas and will be released on DVD and we want to give a Suffolk actress the opportunity to star in her first feature length film.”

Speaking to Jason, it is easy to share in his enthusiasm for the wonders of the Suffolk landscape and appreciate the wonders of our surroundings as experienced by a fresh pair of eyes.

Joanna Lumley with writer-director Jason Figgis. The pair worked together on Figgis' documentary A Maverick in London about The King's Head pub theatre. Photo: Jason FiggisJoanna Lumley with writer-director Jason Figgis. The pair worked together on Figgis' documentary A Maverick in London about The King's Head pub theatre. Photo: Jason Figgis

So what brought you to Suffolk?

JF: “The MR James documentary was shot on location in Suffolk, they wanted a specific look and that’s where I discovered my love of the Suffolk landscape. The coastline is like another character in the MR James story and when we arrived in Aldeburgh we were greeted by probably the greatest mist of the 21st century.

John Hurt with Jason Figgis at the recording studio working on the narration for the Simon Marsden film Photo: Jason FiggisJohn Hurt with Jason Figgis at the recording studio working on the narration for the Simon Marsden film Photo: Jason Figgis

“We had planned to bring in smoke machines to get the effects we wanted and nature stepped in and gave us our effects for free. Everyday we filmed we got the sea mist we needed. We were re-enacting stuff as well and we got all this atmospheric footage. It was just a case of point and shoot.

“My producer, John West, then got me hooked up with Screen Suffolk and they started looking for locations for me and the next two films I do will be shot here in Suffolk.”

Suffolk author M R James who used the Suffolk landscape to conjure up his supernatural tales of suspense.Suffolk author M R James who used the Suffolk landscape to conjure up his supernatural tales of suspense.

Having shot the Simon Marsden and MR James films back-to-back and with two more films in the pipeline, you are clearly who loves to be busy and loves entertaining an audience.

“We shot the MR James documentary in mid-April and I am currently editing it together. I am a great believer in what Stanley Kubrick said: “You’re not a real director or film-maker unless you edit your film as well because that determines what the audience will see. You need to put together that audience experience. The order in which the audience see things effects their response, it completely changes how they see your film.

“I love the work of John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock because they maintained control of their films even though they were subject to huge studio interference. Cary Grant once complained that he could never get into the rhythm of his dialogue because half way through a line Hitchcock would say cut and shoot a reaction shot or another line before switching back to Grant. When you look at the finished film you see no hint of the fractured nature of this method of shooting. Hitchcock shot like this so no-one at the studio could edit the film in any other way other than in the form that Hitchcock wanted.

And when studio bosses used to visit the set he used to pretend that there was something wrong with the cameras. He used to get the crew to complain about a fault and he would apologise that the visitors couldn’t see anything on their visit. He was a crafty one all right.”

When did you first discover the joys of the Suffolk landscape?

“The Simon Marsden film was the first time I worked in Suffolk but I knew the area from my love of MR James and in the early noughties my girlfriend and I drove all over East Anglia and on one visit we sneaked up the driveway of his boyhood home in Great Livermere.

“I was really familiar with the area and I love Suffolk’s natural beauty and I love the fact that the villages are kept so clean and there’s clearly so much pride in where people live. So when they asked me to go and make a film about MR James, one of my great heroes, I knew I had to just clear the schedules and just go and do it.”

So you are planning at least two more films in Suffolk. Can you tell me a little about them?

“One is called Night Photography which is a vampire love story but it is also a very gruesome violent film and I want that set in a night-time, underworld cityscape but the other film we are doing, with Lara Belmont, who won the BAFTA for Best Newcomer in 1999, and went onto work with Tim Roth, Tilda Swinton and Ray Winstone in The War Zone, is a film called Winifred Meeks.

“I just sent her the script and she said she would do it immediately. It’s a haunted house film and she so loved the character and the story that she said that she would drop everything and come and do it. She hasn’t really been working because she has just had three kids so it’s a huge bonus for us that she is willing to turn her world upside down to come to Suffolk and do the film.

“It’s set in this isolated house called Seaview. Lara plays a writer who She’s the writer of a series of highly successful teen crime detection novels and she goes to the house because she wants peace and quiet to write her latest book in the Emma Hart Mystery series.

“Lara phoned me back two days after I sent it to her and she confessed she was shaking when she read it and she told me: ‘I have to do this’ which is a lovely thing for a film-maker to hear. I have always wanted to do a haunted house film but I wanted to do it in the tradition of Monty Rhodes James.

I don’t want any of the stupid jump scares that the Americans keep doing. I want the film to have a slow build of creeping dread and I think that is what appealed to Lara. She told me she’s not a fan of horror movies but she liked the fact that it was a drama infused with supernatural elements.”

Have you got a sense of how you are going to tackle the film yet?

“I want it to be a date film where couples cuddle up in terror and yet walk away happy because it’s not a bleak film, there is a good resolution. It’s a case of the experience being terrifying you can still walk away from it. There’s a real sense of escapism which hopefully people will want to revisit. We’ll hopefully be shooting that in the autumn. I am sick and tired of torture porn movies and feelbad movies. Here’s a horror film with a story with a great lead character and an upbeat ending.”

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