Screen Suffolk hails successful 2017 and looks ahead to big plans for 2018
PUBLISHED: 07:00 11 January 2018
From enticing Hollywood blockbusters and top TV dramas to securing locations, adverts and talent, 2017 was a busy year for Screen Suffolk. This year is set to be even stronger, Jason Noble reports.
For two days each December, the TV and film industries descend on London for the Focus international networking event.
Among the throng of global production firms was Screen Suffolk – the firm established in July 2016 tasked with bringing film, TV, advert and photoshoots to the county.
And while Suffolk’s sleepy villages, breezy coastline and underrated urban centres may not be associated with the bustling activity of the creative screen industries, the interest in the county is clearly on the up.
“People really wanted to hear about it,” says Lise Colyer, from Screen Suffolk.
“You can talk about Ipswich and Suffolk in London for two whole days and people are really paying attention – that’s saying something.”
Suffolk County Council confirmed the contract in the summer of 2016, with the aim of bringing productions to the county that would boost all aspects of the county’s economy – tourism, catering, accommodation and the arts.
After Screen Suffolk’s first year at the start of December, the numbers have already proved to be something of a success.
The county only brought in between 20 and 50 filming days a year prior to the launch, and Screen Suffolk’s first year target of 100 days was hit within seven months, eventually finishing the year on 218 days – more than four times that starting figure.
With an estimated income from a single day of filming anywhere between £17,000 and £32,000, the wider benefit to Suffolk soon runs well into seven figures.
Karen Everett, Screen Suffolk director, says: “With the one-stop shop we’re trying to offer, we want people to come along and ask us for any crew they need, any casting that they need to do, and any facilities that they are going to need while they are up here filming.
“We’re just trying to think about all the elements people are looking at to make it an attractive space.”
Far from just offering locations, Screen Suffolk also gets local crew on productions, sets up work experience opportunities for emerging talent, issues filming permits and helps casting – every avenue covered for whatever a production needs.
Among the highlights of 2017 were bringing in Ridley Scott’s recently released blockbuster All the Money in the World, supporting a DIY SOS big build, and attracting top dramas such as ITV’s Fearless and The Child in Time broadcast on the BBC, as well as catalogue shoots for Boden and TV adverts for Stoptober.
But while the Screen Suffolk team is thrilled with its early success, work on an even bigger and better 2018 is well underway.
Talks are currently ongoing with a sizeable production to film later in the year, while plans are also afoot to bring an entire production to Suffolk, rather than just a number of days or weeks.
The rise in streaming based series such as Netflix also offers more opportunities for productions to base themselves in Suffolk – particularly when empty office space at competitive rates is being offered as production offices.
Mrs Everett adds: “As we go into 2018 as well the talk is about Channel 4 and where they’re going to move their set up to.
“Everyone is after it and we would love to put our case forward for having it in East Anglia, and that’s something we are talking to our county council about.”
Even if the broadcaster opts not to move out of London or chooses another location, it has already voiced a commitment to spend more on programmes outside of London.
Ofcom regulations state that a percentage of production spend must be in the regions in order to qualify for funding.
“That’s something that is only going to help us,” Mrs Everett confirms.
“We can encourage them and really help them get value for money and really good quality – I think that’s what we’ve proven.”
Alongside its increasing number of film days, Screen Suffolk is always keen to expand its location library and registered list of facilities and crews, with people interested urged to get in touch.
The county’s communities have also embraced incoming productions.
Rachel Aldridge, on the ground manager, says: “Everyone is really excited about it. Everyone you talk to [in the communities] when you mention Screen Suffolk say they are so excited and it’s great for the county.”
Coupled with the soaring number of filming days, Mrs Everett is excited for a packed 2018.
“It’s absolutely fantastic, we’re all thrilled,” she adds. “We knew Suffolk was special and we knew that people would want to come back once they’d been. It’s great validation and we’re all just super excited about 2018 – this is just the beginning.”
How a TV production overcame a badger sett
One of Screen Suffolk’s most challenging moments came in April when a breeding sett of badgers in Shingle Street disrupted filming of Benedict Cumberbatch drama The Child in Time.
The burrowing badgers set up shop beneath the only road in and out of the hamlet, meaning production equipment couldn’t be transported.
“We got a phone call saying ‘you’ll never guess what has happened’, which is something you don’t want to hear, and it was tipping down with rain,” said Karen Everett. “When the road collapsed they got in a couple of Land Rovers and had to drive everything up to the bridge and manually hand it over the other side.
“That was an extra day on their schedule just moving equipment, but when it was confirmed as a sett the county council moved heaven and earth to get that bridge in. It can take seven days to get one of those temporary metal bridges in and they got it in overnight.”
How to solve a problem like parking
With BBC’s DIY SOS filming in Mildenhall in November, Screen Suffolk had to help manage the logistics of sourcing space for 100 trademen and women’s vans in a quiet residential estate.
Coupled with the production vehicles it soon became a sizeable task, but the local knowledge and strong contacts Screen Suffolk built up made it an achievable feat.
Jim Horsfield, who was on the ground there for Screen Suffolk managing the issue, said: “When we did the initial recce with the BBC they said we have got 100 trades people and they all need their own van because they need their tools. The district council really helped with that because a lot of the land was theirs and they were very helpful suggesting places.
“A lot of people are discovering this for the first time – having a production in the area is new to them because we’re a new service.
“It’s all the infrastructure behind the lens you don’t see that we’re really there to help sort out.”