The talent turning Yorkshire into England's film capital

The location scout

Behind the scenes during  the filming of BBC crime drama Peaky Blinders.
Behind the scenes during the filming of BBC crime drama Peaky Blinders.

If Bridlington receives a sudden spike in visitors this summer, the town will have Leon Seth to thank. It was back in 2014 that he first met with the production team behind the big screen version of Dad’s Army and there was just one thing they wanted him to do – find Walmington-on-Sea in Yorkshire.

“It was like the opening of Mission Impossible,” says the Sheffield-based location scout. “I chose to accept it and off I went in search of somewhere which, with a little TV trickery, could double as a market town in wartime.”

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For a while Thirsk, Beverley and Filey were all in the running, but when Seth wandered through Bridlington’s Old Town he immediately knew he had found Captain Mainwaring’s home.

Location scout, Leon Seth.

“It was pretty instant. I don’t mean to be unkind when I say that it’s one of those places which hasn’t changed in years. It’s the kind of high street I guess most of us thought had disappeared and it was easy to see how we could transform it. As a location manager you are the first people connected to a production that a town or village will meet so it’s vital you get off on the right foot. Everyone in Bridlington was completely on board right from the start, although I’m not sure anything could have prepared them for the arrival of Catherine Zeta Jones.”

Originally from Liverpool, Seth is now based in Sheffield where he did a masters in film at the city’s Hallam University.

“Probably one of the most unusual locations I’ve ever been asked to find was an underground medical facility from the 1970s for the Channel 4 thriller Utopia. I did a bit of research, asked around and eventually I heard about Seacroft Hospital in east Leeds.

“At the time a lot of the old hospital buildings were being decommissioned and there was an operating theatre which was just perfect for filming. You can do all the research you like as a location scout, but so often in this business you just need a bit of luck.”

Location scout, Leon Seth.

The production designer

Over the years, Grant Montgomery has recreated Jane Austen’s world of Pride and Prejudice, brought Birmingham’s criminal underworld in the early 20th century to life and wound back even further for a small screen version of Beowulf.

However, ask the production designer what his biggest challenge to date has been and he doesn’t hesitate. “Easy,” he says. “It would be building the trenches of the Somme for Birdsong. In Belgium. Everyone has their own idea as to what they looked like, but it often bears no relation to reality.”

It took Montgomery and his team of 30 Hungarians six weeks to transform a sunflower field into First World War apocalypse, for the BBC drama, but when Sebastian Faulks, the book’s original author, arrived on set, he knew that they had nailed it.

“He was a little taken aback by how real it looked. The production designer’s job is basically to create the world of the film, from the grand backdrops to the very small details. In Birdsong, for example, we included a small photograph of Charlotte Gray who appears in the final book of Faulks’s trilogy. It’s something that would only have been spotted by a handful of viewers, but together all those details build an authentic world.”

Montgomery’s love of film and television was first sparked by a childhood visit to the famous Pinewood Studios.

“I must have been eight or nine years old and they were filming the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. That was it. I just loved the idea that in this anonymous looking building you could create these different worlds and while I later studied theatre design I always knew that I wanted to work in television.”

Montgomery, who has previously worked on Death Comes to Pemberley, Peaky Blinders and Jamaica Inn, spent a chunk of last year working on horror film The Limehouse Golem, which saw a little piece of Victorian London recreated in an old mill building in West Yorkshire.

“The production team were originally talking about all sorts of exotic locations until I came along and said: ‘How about Keighley?’ They might not have heard of the place, but as soon as I showed them they were sold. It looks fantastic and means another corner of Yorkshire on the big screen.”

The make-up artist

Should Lisa Parkinson ever have to make an acceptance speech at the Oscars, right up there on the list of thank-you recipients would be one half of The Hairy Bikers. Before the cookery shows came calling Dave Myers was a professional make-up artist. He was also something of a mentor to Lisa, who 16 years ago was among the first graduates of York College’s media make-up course.

“He was an incredible teacher, so patient and I learnt so much from him.”

Last year, Lisa worked on the children’s show Hank Zipper and the soon-to-be-released blockbuster Hunter’s Prayer and she ended 2015 specialising in lesions, blood and gore on the independent horror film Await Future Instruction.

“It’s nothing if not varied,” she laughs. “And the great thing is that most of my work is in Yorkshire. When Yorkshire TV closed its studios, it was quite scary for a while and there were real fears that if productions went elsewhere, so would the skills. For so many years we had produced long-running programmes like Heartbeat, The Royle and Frost and then almost overnight everything seemed to stop. For a while we all had to cast our nets a little further, but it’s been really lovely to see how the industry has been transformed over the last few years.

“If I’m employed as a designer then I will create the whole look of the make-up and the internet has made a huge amount of difference in terms of research. Go to a website like Pinterest, tap in 80s make-up and you’re away.”

The camera operator and focus puller

One Sunday last summer, Steve Gardner had what you’d call a career-defining moment when three shows he had worked on aired on three different channels.

“You couldn’t have planned it. An Inspector Calls, This is England ’90 and The Trials of Jimmy Rose all went out at exactly the same time. I can’t remember when I’ve had two shows in the same month let alone on the same night.”

On set, Steve’s job is to make sure that all the cameras and lenses needed for the shoot are ready and working and then once filming has started he’s the one who makes sure the actors are in focus. Now based in Sheffield, he got into film and television production having initially trained as an electrician before studying film at Sheffield Hallam University. And since graduating 10 years ago he has worked pretty much continuously.

When we speak he’s in a snow-bound Keswick where he has been filming scenic shots of the Lake District for a BBC drama, but he will be back in Yorkshire to resume work on Victoria soon. The ITV drama, starring Jenna Coleman, is being filmed partly on location in the county and partly at the new Yorkshire Studios facility.

“They have basically built the interior of Buckingham Palace in one giant hanger. You walk down this huge corridor and there’s this great dance hall on one side and the Queen’s bedroom on the other.

“Production companies are definitely investing a lot more money in drama. Last year I worked on Jericho about the building of the Ribblehead Viaduct. They basically built a huge great shanty town in Wortley, near Barnsley, complete with saloon bar. Sadly it didn’t serve proper beer, but it’s still about as close as any of us will come to working on a Western.”

The production manager

If an extra cameraman is needed on set, it’s Danny Gulliver who gets the call. If the catering isn’t up to scratch or the cleaners haven’t arrived, those complaints also land at his door.

The production manager from Bingley began life as a runner at Yorkshire Television. Almost 20 years on he now holds the purse strings and has recently worked on both A Royal Night Out and Dad’s Army.

“It’s great that Yorkshire is getting more high- profile productions. The only downside is that it can mean behind the scenes talent is in short supply.

“Something like Dad’s Army was a joy because they just seemed to get how important it could be for the town. When somewhere welcomes a film crew they often don’t realise how much disruption it will cause.

“We may need all the lights in a particular street of houses turned on at 11pm at night or we might need to close the roads on a busy afternoon.”

Danny, who is also co-founder of the Inflatable Crowd Company, which provides virtual crowds on productions at a fraction of the cost of employing extras, admits he did have early ambitions to be an actor.

“I was on the reserve list for RADA, but I didn’t get in, so I decided to take a year out. When the time came to reapply, I was already working for Yorkshire TV earning £275 a week. That seemed like a fortune, so I shelved the idea of becoming an actor and any desire to be in front of the camera has long since waned.

“Whenever I finish a production, I come back home and say: ‘God, that was hard work’. But as my wife rightly says: ‘So was the last one’. It’s true, but it’s also an awful lot of fun.”