A brighter picture as new funds start to flow for home-grown Hollywood dream

Peaky Blinders, due to be screened in the autumn by the BBC and Sally Joynson, below.
Peaky Blinders, due to be screened in the autumn by the BBC and Sally Joynson, below.
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Today Screen Yorkshire announces a raft of new film productions. Arts Correspondent Nick Ahad hears exclusively about the movie news.

You’re a youngster from Yorkshire, dreaming that maybe one day you’ll get to work in the movies. Not likely, right? That’s the sort of dream kids only have in, well, Hollywood.

Except today the dream becomes more of a reality than ever, with the announcement of the biggest slate of film funding seen in Yorkshire in years. Screen Yorkshire, the regional agency that two years ago faced closure has announced the biggest production slate in its 10 year history.

“For Yorkshire, this news is absolutely fantastic,” says Sally Joynson, chief executive of Screen Yorkshire. “To have these really high quality productions, that will secure major audiences around the world – and investment while they are shooting – being made here in Yorkshire, is really great for all of us.”

A production slate is the name given to a list of films being made by a particular company. When it was set up, over a decade ago, Screen Yorkshire was publicly funded and was not only in the business of making movies, but also finding and training regional talent to bolster the industry.

The money it received also allowed Screen Yorkshire to act as a hub for film companies making work here, which were able to turn to the organisation for help and support in finding both locations and crew.

Two years ago the two major funders of Screen Yorkshire had their own funding pulled as a result of the coalition Government’s spending cuts. First the UK Film Council disappeared virtually overnight. Then, regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, Screen Yorkshire’s other major source of income, was also scrapped.

“It was an incredibly hard time,” says Joynson. “We’ve gone in the last two years from having 25 staff to now only having seven. The new slate we’re announcing today is the result of two years of incredibly hard work to make sure that we are still here now and that film production continues in the region in the future.”

Screen Yorkshire, established in 2003, was one of a number of screen agencies set up around the country to try to redress the London-centric balance of one of Britain’s great industries. In the wake of central cuts, the Leeds-based organisation, one of the most successful of the regional agencies, became one of only three to survive, alongside an agency in the North East and one in the South.

In order to do so, it had to become a private business, but has remained committed to much of its original purpose – mainly investing in film production, but also ensuring that film has a place in Yorkshire by bringing projects here and training the next generation of talent. Next week it will announce a raft of training and development schemes linked to the new productions.

Screen Yorkshire now holds the Yorkshire Content Fund, a funding pot which it uses to invest in productions and convince companies to bring their film and television shoots to the region.

In the wake of the cuts, 
Screen Yorkshire has managed to secure £7.5m of European Regional Development Funding to add to this Yorkshire Content Fund, to put into productions here over the next two-and-a-
half years.

The European money is only unlocked when Screen Yorkshire finds match funding from the private sector – which the agency’s staff has been working to find over the past year.

Today’s announcement will see £2m of the European money invested in the five productions.

The TV and film work that will receive this investment are:

‘71, a feature film set in Northern Ireland, an action chase thriller about a young soldier who has to survive the night on the dangerous streets of Belfast in the chaotic early years of the Troubles.

Girls Night Out, a feature film from the director of One Fine Day, which tells the story of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret joining the crowds to celebrate VE Day and set out on a night of adventure.

The Great Train Robbery is made up of two feature length dramas being made for BBC1 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the event. The two films – The Robbers’ Tale and The Coppers’ Tale – tells the stories of the two main groups involved in one of the most infamous crimes of the last century.

A Miracle is a comedy road-movie following the adventure of an unlikely pair that come together to collect a coffin containing a Georgian millionaire’s dead aunt, leading them through unexpected adventures.

Catch Me Daddy, from writer-director Daniel Wolfe, tells the story of Laila, a young Asian girl on the run from her family, is hiding out in the badlands of West Yorkshire with her drifter boyfriend Aaron. When her brother arrives in town with a bunch of bounty hunters in tow she is forced to flee for her life and face her darkest night.

Joynson says: “It is a really fantastic, seriously high quality slate of productions. We have always brought high quality film and television projects to the region, but now there is an added emphasis on the productions needing to be commercially successful. These are films that will go on to a global stage and hopefully will do fantastic business around the world.”

A production already shot in Yorkshire late last year, thanks to the new incarnation of Screen Yorkshire, is Peaky Blinders, a gangster period drama due to be screened in the autumn by the BBC starring Cillian Murphy and Sam Neill.

The shoot, which took place around Yorkshire with locations including Keighley railway station, is a good example of the sort of extra investment a production in the region can bring.

Joynson says: “It is really difficult to put a figure on the extra investment that a production brings into the region, but it is fair to say that it is substantial.
“When a film or TV series is shot here, it creates jobs for crew. It also brings money into the economy with people connected to the film staying in hotels and other accommodation. Then you have the use of local transport, let’s say there is a shot in a movie that requires flowers – a local florist will be used. The examples of how the local economy is boosted by a production goes on and on.”

By bringing filming to the region, Screen Yorkshire is also helping to preserve and build on the film heritage that is so strong in the area. It was no accident that Bradford, two years ago, was named the first ever UNESCO City of Film, recognising the great film heritage the city and Yorkshire has.

Films like Billy Liar, Room at the Top and This is England are part of the history of Yorkshire film – but that history needs to be added to.

The other side to all of this is talent retention. When regional screen agencies were set up, it was to address the fact that if you wanted to work in the movies, you had little choice but to go to London, at the very least, if not to America.

Hugo Heppell, head of production at Screen Yorkshire, is credited as executive producer on a number of the high profile successes Screen Yorkshire has enjoyed in the last decade.

He says: “Mark Tonderai’s debut film, Hush, was one that we supported – Mark then went on to direct House at the End of the Street – a Hollywood movie.

“Tom Hooper directed The Damned United, then he came back to Yorkshire to shoot some of The King’s Speech, another film we helped support – and now he’s directing Les Miserables.

“What that amply demonstrates is that if we have these productions happening in Yorkshire, it provides an opportunity for people to make a career path that takes them to the top of the film industry.”

Maybe those pipe dreams of Yorkshire youngsters, wondering if they might become the next Steven Spielberg, aren’t just the stuff of Hollywood dreams any longer.

Screen Yorkshire’s successes

Red Riding Trilogy: Filmed in and around the region, this trilogy based on David Peace’s novel was a smash hit around the world.

This is England: Made by Sheffield’s Warp Films, but supported by Screen Yorkshire, the movie spawned a TV series and sent director Shane Meadows into the big leagues.

Kill List: Ben Wheatley’s film was a critically acclaimed thriller.

Tyrannosaur: Paddy Considine’s directorial debut was one of the most lauded British movies of recent years.

Damned United: Starring Michael Sheen as Brian Clough, the unpredictably volcanic Leeds United manager.