Film producer looks to put Suffolk on the big screen
- Credit: Archant
Film producer Richard Johns knows a good story when he sees one having produced features starring the likes of John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Tim Roth and Orlando Bloom. Having been born and brought up in Essex he wanted to return to the wide open skies of East Anglia, having spent most of his career working either in London or Newcastle.
Ten years ago he decided to upsticks and relocate to Holbrook, just outside Ipswich, and move his business here as well. Speaking to Richard, it is clear that he is passionate about making Suffolk and East Anglia an important part of his film-making life.
“I think Suffolk has been rather overlooked and it’s become something of a personal mission to redress the balance.”
Throughout his career he has prided himself on giving young writers, actors and directors a break and wants to apply this philosophy to his new life in Suffolk. He has a number of East Anglian projects in development, including an innovative animation series for TV, but he is on the look-out for more.
He says that Suffolk has a rich potential for storytelling and lots of creative people beavering away in towns or tucked away behind hedgerows and he wants to provide an opportunity for East Anglia to make its mark on the film and television map.
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“I think that it’s great that Suffolk is building up its database of film professionals who live here because it certainly helps attract companies to East Anglia and having people like writers, directors and cinematographers living locally helps seek out not only interesting locations but also helps expand the type of stories that can be told in East Anglia.
“If you speak to a lot of London based movie producers or TV executives and you mention Suffolk or East Anglia and they think of beautiful, rural countryside, historic towns or our beautiful coastline then they immediately go into period drama mode – they think that’s all that can be shot here but as we all know, there’s a wealth of stories that can be told about the modern world.
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“They also think that they can’t easily work here because they are unaware of professional collaborators in the region and we hope to change all that. I’m an Essex boy, born in Leigh-on-Sea, my wife’s family come from Sudbury, my grandparents lived in Halesworth and so I have some very strong reasons to want East Anglia to be represented on screen.”
He said that even if stories were period pieces it is still possible to tell contemporary stories, populated with identifiably real, modern characters. “I am working with Jo Carrick, from The Red Rose Chain theatre company, adapting one of her plays about the protestant martyr Alice Driver and hopefully turning that into a TV film. That is set in Tudor England but Alice Driver is a remarkably modern woman, intelligent, charismatic, idealistic and determined to do the right thing. It’s an incredible story about an inspiring person which lifts the character out of its historical setting and connects with modern audiences on many different levels.
“I think Jo’s talent as a writer is to discover figures from our local history and make them stand out as vital, alive contemporary figures – people we can all relate to. She makes them and their stories fresh and exciting.”
He said that in the last two or three years, through meetings with various writers and introductions to creative talents through friends, made him realise that Suffolk had a wealth of talent hidden away that didn’t have a mouth piece for the wonderful stories that they had to tell.
“I want to connect with creative talent here and develop relationships on an individual basis, nurture talent and then see if we can create something on a much more strategic basis to attract film and television companies to tell our stories – so often they are attracted to the big urban centres when there is a wealth of engaging story material and locations to be discovered here in East Anglia.”
At the moment Richard has a number of projects in development in addition to Jo Carrick’s including an adaptation of a Frederick Forsyth short story and a children’s animation series created by a local artist.
“What I have done is start to have a number of conversations with various film companies and broadcasters, principally the BBC, asking them about the type of stories they are looking for that could be set in and made in East Anglia, something that is different from the material that they are getting pitched all the time.
“We want to capture the real flavour of our East Anglian experience, the real, genuine feel of living in the East – both rural and urban stories – which come from writers and other creatives that I have nurtured.”
He described himself as a 21st century match-maker creating a conduit between East Anglian talent and the film and TV industry.
Among the projects he has on the go is a feature film adaptation of The Shepherd, a Cold War ghost story set in the early 1950s, based on a Frederick Forsyth short story which was originally pencilled in to start shooting at a former World War Two airfield in south Norfolk this winter but may now have to be pushed to the winter 2021 because of the ongoing Covid pandemic restrictions.
Casting cannot to be confirmed until decisions are made on the likely shooting schedule. The film is being written and directed by Backbeat director Ian Softley. “It’s incredibly life-affirming and it’s something I have been developing for three years and we have got a wonderful location and access to real Vampire aircraft.”
Richard said that he has also been developing projects with writer Daniel Heyes, who is a senior lecturer at the University of Suffolk and he wrote a film called Vs a few years ago set in the world of rapping and based in Southend.
“It tells the story of a young man who is passed from pillar to post in terms of his foster care and is about to seriously fall off the rails when he discovers rapping and becomes part of a community. Dan has this incredible ability to put authentic sounding words in the mouths of engaging and complex characters in very subtle ways and he is very interested in telling stories about groups of people whose voices have not been heard. We are working with him and the BBC on a number of projects.”
In addition, Richard is also seeking a home for a new children’s animation series, inspired by African folk-tales, which tells the story of a 330 year old tortoise. “It’s called Kunkuru Tales and it’s the most beautiful project to work on.
“It’s been created by a very gifted young artist called Zainab Balami and she lives just outside Norwich and has developed this wonderful animated series for 3-5 year old children. It revolves around this British five year old girl, who has a Nigerian grandfather who tells her these amazing folk-tales from his childhood. Essentially it’s the story of her and the tortoise’s adventure and it’s absolutely lovely to watch and we are hoping to place that with a channel very soon.
“It also illustrates very nicely the fact that you can work with talented East Anglian people and still have the opportunity to offer a platform for an authentic West African voice.”
He said that he is looking to champion the voices of new writers in the region and he is looking to connect with professional writers with stories to tell. For more information visit Richard’s company website Corona Content.