PUBLISHED: 16:06 07 November 2016 | UPDATED: 16:06 07 November 2016
Suffolk is not known as a film-producing centre, but, as Andrew Clarke discovers by talking to independent producer Lucinda Rhodes Flaherty, all that could change
For actor and film producer Lucinda Rhodes Flaherty a move from Essex to Suffolk provided her not only with a change of scenery, but the confidence to strike out and take control of her career.
Along with sound recordist husband Jeet Thakrar, they moved from Romford, bought a cottage just outside Framlingham and launched their new company Picture Perfect, a film production company based in the middle of the Suffolk countryside. For Lucinda, life in Suffolk is perfect too. It is, she says, the right place to base a film company.
“There’s a lot of rubbish talked about the need to be based in London. I talked to the Bond producers before we set up Picture Perfect and asked them straight out, ‘Do we need a London office?’ and their answer was, ‘Absolutely not’.”
Lucinda started her career as an actress – and still acts occasionally – but is increasingly concentrating on being a film producer.
“I appeared in The Detectorists, filmed here in Framlingham, but I’m trying to limit how much I do because, quite frankly, being a producer takes all my time. I have appeared in our own shoots occasionally, but it’s not something I want to continue doing simply because I can’t always be there. As a producer I am trying to keep the shoot on schedule, solve all sorts of logistical problems, last minute hic-cups and I can’t do that if I am shooting a scene.
“But, more than that I think it cheapens the product. It looks gimmicky and you could be doing it for the wrong reasons.”
Fifteen years as an actor, 10 years in television, has given her a working knowledge of film production and a desire to move from in front of the camera to working behind it.
“I worked a lot with a director called Daniel Peacock, he’s fabulous, he’s very hands on with the camera, lighting, scheduling. You may recognise him from Party, Party, which he also wrote, and The Comic Strip, and Quadrophenia. We did Cave Girl together for CBBC. I did four TV shows with him in eight years and that was my film production university and schooling.
“He encouraged us to ask questions and I learnt on set. We then did a lot of children’s stuff for the BBC and moved onto grown-up television but I have always been interested in casting and how the whole package gets put together.
“I did a few independent films which invariably have young or upcoming producers and I thought, ‘Why can’t I do that?’. So, I gave it a go and found that not only did I enjoy it but I was good at it.”
She and Jeet pooled their collective professional experience, took a deep breath and formed Picture Perfect, a company which, initially at least, specialises in producing exciting, commercial, low budget features, which have found a lucrative home online and on DVD. Their latest movie, Undercover Hooligan, examines the world of organised crime and the difficulty of sending a police officer undercover to infiltrate this close-knit world. The film stars Kris Johnson as Michael Clarke, a suspended police officer, who has a chance to redeem himself in a risky operation. Lucinda recruited big name support in the form of actress Ali Bastian (Hollyoaks and The Bill), who plays DC Baker, Clarke’s caretaker.
Being a commercial operation Lucinda keeps a close eye on costs. The budgets aren’t big, but she doesn’t mind spending if the money is transferred to the screen and if it results in a better film, which brings better sales. Spending on a named co-star helps, but Lucinda is clear, she doesn’t cast names for names sake.
“They have to be right for the part otherwise you are compromising the whole project.” Films tend to be developed in-house and are the projects of writer-directors, people with whom Lucinda and Jeet have had professional relationships over the years.
“At the moment we don’t buy in works from the outside, everything we do is developed in-house. We come up with the idea and take it from there. It may stem from a historical event – we’re looking at an idea for a war film right now, and we would love to shoot a film completely in Suffolk. If you look around the locations are wonderful. They are varied, picturesque and atmospheric. We have everything on our doorstep why would you want to go anywhere else? So we are actively looking at story ideas which will make the most of Suffolk locations and see what we can come up with.”
Having lived most of her life in and around London and south Essex, moving to Suffolk has come, quite literally, as a breath of fresh air to Lucinda.
“I love it here. We have a gorgeous cottage just outside Fram, I love the fact we can live and work here. I love coming into Framlingham and Woodbridge to shop. I love the fact that culturally Suffolk is so exciting, and I am hoping that we can add to that mix by bringing a bit of the film industry to the county.
“We have our office at home, so our costs are really low, we are close enough to London to zoom off for meetings, but we have proved that you don’t need to be based in London to run a successful film company. Suffolk has a lot to offer and we want to make Suffolk part of our regular filming locations. There’s a lot of talent in the county too which we can harness. I think it’s all very exciting.”
Undercover Hooligan, written and directed by Nicholas Winter, produced by Picture Perfect, is released on Boxing Day online and on DVD.
Although, Suffolk is not home to big studio complexes like Pinewood, Shepperton or Leavesden, the county has a long tradition of playing host to popular film and television productions.
TV series like Dad’s Army, Lovejoy, The Detectorists and the Peter Davison period detective serial Campion have been filmed in the county in the past along with films like Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and the James Bond epic, Tomorrow Never Dies. But these have been one-off events. Now there is a co-ordinated attempt to make Suffolk more attractive to film-makers.
Earlier this summer, Suffolk County Council hired film location firm Film Fixer to sell Suffolk to film-makers and to production companies. Christopher Hudson, county council cabinet member for Ipswich, says the firm has already voiced its intention to work with local crews and companies on its projects, and he looks forward to the positive impact it should have on leisure, food and tourism in the county.
While Film Fixer is focused on bringing outside firms to Suffolk, homegrown film-making talent has taken control of its own future by forming FILM Suffolk – a co-operative that brings together film professionals to help sell their skills to outside production companies and to also help local film-makers make their own proposed movies a reality.
FILM Suffolk maintains a list of film professionals, including actors, extras, sound and camera crews, production designers, lighting talent, as well as writers, producers and specialist talents like stunt performers and vehicle hire. They promote facilities like the former Bentwaters airbase. Its a secure film-making base, with former aircraft hangars that make excellent studio facilities, miles of runways for extended chase sequences, and the option for aircraft and helicopter action scenes.
Julien Mery, who founded FILM Suffolk along with writer Matthew McGuchan, says Suffolk, close to London and with a wealth of historical and beautiful landscapes, is in an ideal position to become an important film-making centre.
Since the demise of ScreenEast in 2010, East Anglia has been without a regional body responsible for promoting the area to outside film companies and encouraging production from local professionals. As a result the county has been “absolutely under-used”.
“As backgrounds, Suffolk is not visible enough and that’s what we are trying to do with FILM Suffolk. There’s a very lucrative mid-market that will look at minimising all of their costs, but we are still talking £10 million movies.
“The really continuous employers are productions such as TV or documentaries. That’s bread and butter work for the film industry.” Northern Ireland has done exceptionally well by hosting seven series of the big budget TV epic, Game of Thrones. Not only is all the studio space used but local creative people, and support services like carpenters, hotels and restaurants, are all kept busy.
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 legwork themselves. That has included unearthing the best places to shoot in Ipswich and thinking outside the box while doing so.
“We’ve recently scouted more than 50 locations for Ipswich Borough Council and we’ve got a location manager looking for more locations within Suffolk,” he says. FILM Suffolk’s biggest achievement came last year when they successfully produced a portmanteau feature film, With Love From Suffolk, which linked together eight short films written, cast, crewed, shot and edited in Suffolk. It has been touring Suffolk cinemas to great acclaim and is available to outside film producers as an example of the talent and locations that can be found in the county.
“It’s our calling card – our showreel,” says Julien. Film-makers of the future are also not being forgotten. Suffolk One, the Ipswich sixth form centre, plays host to the East Anglian Student Film Festival, curated by film and media studies teacher Darren Meitiner-Harvey.
Meanwhile Aldeburgh Cinema is seeking to expand the horizons of young filmgoers with their year-long Young Audiences programme, in which Aldeburgh cinema links up with six independent cinemas across Ipswich and the Suffolk coastal area to screen 18 titles that wouldn’t usually be screened in mainstream cinemas. The programme will also include art and filmmaking workshops, which will bring together music, visual and performing arts. The six cinemas involved in the partnership are, Aldeburgh Cinema, Leiston Film Theatre, Riverside Theatre Woodbridge, Ipswich Film Theatre, The Cut Halesworth, and the Marina Theatre Lowestoft.