Sunday, 25 October 2009

Tip # 18: Seamless locations… Finding the kitchen

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer/Production designer)

This is part four in a seven part series on finding the right locations.

Right so we had found our restaurant now we needed the kitchen. Considering we used three separate locations in Lewes, Brighton and Alfriston to create “The Amble Inn” (an exterior scene was shot at the Moonrakers in Alfriston) it was vital that all the locations were seamless. Finding a kitchen that would fit and be believable as the kitchen of The Rainbow Inn proved to be immensely difficult. The kitchen at the Rainbow Inn although quite big had incredibly low ceilings and narrow spaces, and the set up meant that unfortunately we couldn’t use it. So we had to find an alternative. We visited kitchen after kitchen and they all were either too large or industrial, too small with the wrong equipment or logistically just impossible to film in.

The kitchens at The Rainbow Inn.

This was the location that had us pulling our hair out, time was running out, and it seemed every kitchen we visited was just one disappointment after another. That is until just as we began to think we had exhausted all our options Dan and I saw the kitchen in The Master Mariner in Brighton. It was perfect -the right size, feel, look and layout and it was almost ideal for filming. When it came to getting permission, we had met Asher the owner before so he knew us. We told him all about our film and what we had set out to achieve, and luckily for us Asher also has a real love for film so was happy to give us permission to use it.

The kitchens at The Master Mariner, as seen in the film.

We had finally caught a break and found our kitchen. I remember at the time we had a hundred and one other things on our plate with pre production and securing our kitchen that day was a much needed bit of success and good news for us.

Vist The Master Mariner, in Brighton Marina:

Asher Burman, manager of the Master Mariner,
films the crew in his kitchen.

Cast and crew filming in the kitchens of The Master Mariner.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Tip # 17: Trust your instincts… Finding your key location

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer/Production designer)

This is part three in a seven part series on finding the right locations.

So now that we had our village, our base so to speak we could start working on everything else. Choosing Alfriston as our Ambleton would colour and influence all our other choices in locations. Such as our restaurant, our general store, Chris’s home and so on. We also wanted where and when possible to have locations that were “two for ones” as in both the interior and exterior of the location were appropriate and fortunately we did just that. This logistically made filming that bit easier saving us time and extra shoots . For us it was imperative that all our locations were seamless and that even though for example Chris’s house was actually in Brighton and The Rainbow Inn, is in Lewes their interiors and exteriors aesthetically had to fit and feel like they were part of and belonged to the village in Alfriston.

Finding our “Amble Inn” was no easy task after a lot of research we had a list of 30 or 40 that on paper at least were maybes. We spent two full days driving around almost all of East Sussex.

Sinéad Ferguson (Production designer) and
Itsuka Yamasaki (writer) during the
location scout at The Rainbow Inn.

On visiting them however they just didn't fit the bill. They were either too small, the decor wasn’t suitable, they would be impossible to film in and the list just went on and on. We finally narrowed it down to two possibilities - one a restaurant in Alfriston itself and the other The Rainbow Inn just outside Lewes. I made up my mind instantly and fell for The Rainbow Inn. From a production designer point of view, in my mind’s eye aesthetically it was exactly what I was looking for. It had character, warmth and charm with its unmatching chairs and great little quirky details. It was traditional but had subtle modern touches here and there. I knew it would look great on screen and I could completely envision and believe John and Kate living and working here.

Sinéad (far left) and Itsuka (far right) taking notes in what
was to become the famous
bar in the film.

I was absolutely convinced that it was perfect and trusted my instincts on this but had to a little bit of persuading. Dan (director) had reservations at first and rightly so, it wasn’t completely open plan as we had initially wanted. Also filming wouldn’t be easy and he had to rethink and work out potential alternatives. Fortunately for us though, he is a little genius and he worked out ways it could be done. Success!

Well no, there was still the small matter of actually getting permission and securing the location...

Visit The Rainbow Inn here...

The wonderful Rainbow Inn as seen in the film.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Tip #16: Local knowledge…. Finding the village of Ambleton

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer/Production designer)

This is part two in a seven part series on finding the right locations.

With Ambleton Delight, Itsuka wrote a wonderfully rich screenplay creating a little world of her own in a quintessential and idyllic English village. I will be the first to admit that I was apprehensive and more than a little daunted when it came to recreating this village and bringing it both to life and to screen. We spent hours driving all over Sussex but to no avail that is until we visited Alfriston. Dan and Itsuka had visited very briefly once when they were writing the script, so it was always at the back of their minds and when we finally made the trip together I could see why. It was perfect and exactly what we were looking for. To be honest after all the trips we made and time spent there I grew quite fond of Alfriston. It is a beautiful and picturesque little village and by the end of filming I knew most shop owners and so on by name, was chatting away with the locals and found myself giving directions to tourists on more than one occasion.

Cast and crew on the narrow streets of Alfriston village.

I would say that one of the advantages of us being from other countries and not “locals” so to speak is that we still haven’t become blind to our everyday surroundings and it is often this fresh eyed approach that works when scouting locations. A disadvantage though is lack of local knowledge of places. That may seem inconsequential to anyone else but it's gold to a filmmaker. Being aware of this I set about making contact with Jilly a local councillor in Alfriston . Dan and I met her one afternoon in the charming Badgers Tea House in Alfriston, and over coffee we proceeded to grill her on all aspects of the village, the people the places and so on. As luck would have it she happens to be a lovely person who has a background in film herself and we immediately hit it off. In the end she was more helpful then I could have hoped she gave me contacts with the local drama group The Alfriston Players who ended up playing our village councillors. When we said we were still looking for a hall, she suggested the village hall in Littlington as a possibility. This was a God send at the time as it was a location that was proving almost impossible to find So we immediately checked it out and it turned out to be just exactly what we were looking for.

Alfriston village main street became our
Ambleton main street

The Alfriston Village Stores became
the Ambleton Village Store.

So in short, when filming in somewhere unfamiliar don’t underestimate the wealth of knowledge locals have, it can prove to be invaluable.

Visit the real Ambleton:

Dan Parkes (director) and Roger Marshall (camera operator)
filming the village sign (which was digitally changed to the Ambleton sign).

Monday, 5 October 2009

Tip # 15: Locations as characters

By Sinéad Ferguson (Producer/Production designer)

This is part one in a seven part series on finding the right locations.

We always set out to achieve a low budget film with a big budget feel. One way we did this is by immediately dispensing with the usual low budget approach of using minimum locations. Is it cheaper to have minimum locations? Yes. Easier logistically? Most definitely. But it’s visually boring... it’s bland, uninspiring and unimaginative. So if you’re not afraid of a little or in our case as it turned out quite a lot of hard work...the effort is definitely worth it and means that your final results on screen are something everyone can be proud of.

From the get go I always thought of the locations as characters in our film and they were as important and integral in the storytelling as our leads, especially considering their ever present time on screen. I absolutely consider it time and money well spent even if your budget is almost nonexistent like ours. I maintain that whatever your budget no matter how small, put the money on the screen, ie your actors and your locations.

Finding just the right locations can be a daunting task. From my perspective as both producer and production designer I had a very clear vision of what we were looking for. Understanding their importance I wasn’t satisfied with us finding locations that were anything less than perfect for our purposes. Get it right and the locations would subtlety enhance and compliment the storytelling, get it wrong and they would easily distract from and hinder it.

Ultimately finding and securing all our locations, involved countless hours doing research online, followed by innumerable hours spent in the car driving all over Sussex, add to that an almost epic amount of emails, endless phone calls, meetings, negotiating, compromising, and persuading, followed by even more convincing and eventually after all that rigmarole our locations were secured.

Easy peasy !

The next few blogs with give you some practical advice based on our experience with finding and securing locations...