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County in the spotlight as Screen Suffolk enjoys busy year

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Suffolk will be gracing screens both big and small once again in 2020 after a busy year for Screen Suffolk.

More than £1.6 million brought to Suffolk’s economy, a 12 per cent increase in filming days and three blockbuster movies – the numbers behind Suffolk’s filming were encouraging for 2019.

Just a few years in to its journey, the county’s official film office, Screen Suffolk, is already delivering on the promise of its early potential.

Filming in Suffolk during 2019 (26834404)
Filming in Suffolk during 2019 (26834404)

Prior to December 2016, when the county’s authorities united to launch the service, a meagre 20 filming days were the most that could be expected.

As Suffolk rolled into a new decade however, just three years on from that inauspicious launch that number is now seven times higher.

It has seen the likes of Ridley Scott, Danny Boyle and Armando Iannucci roll cameras to capture the picturesque county. The Screen Suffolk team is buzzing for the year ahead following last year’s 140 filming days – a 12 per cent increase on the year before.

Filming in Suffolk during 2019 (26834400)
Filming in Suffolk during 2019 (26834400)

“It’s fantastic – it’s what we set out to do,” says Karen Everett, Screen Suffolk director. “We are really excited about 2020.

“The location manager world is quite a close-knit community so people who have come up and had a great experience tell their peers.

“If you are filming in a district where they don’t have a film office you have to find hotels or facility supplies – they can come to us and we are a one-stop-shop and we are with them for the entire journey.

“Quite a lot say the service they get has been amazing.”

That experience was one which saw top drama series The Crown make a return to West Suffolk.

In 2018 Elveden Hall was used as a double for Ghana, while this time the production went to Newmarket for season three instead of having to trek to the US, which it was representing on screen.

But that’s not all. Several feature films have been filming across the county too.

Perhaps the highest profile of those is The Dig – the Netflix-distributed tale of the Sutton Hoo discovery featuring Ipswich-born star Ralph Fiennes.

Like Danny Boyle movie Yesterday – which hit the big screen during the summer – it was a case of showing Suffolk in all its glory.

"The Dig was a huge one for us,” Ms Everett says.

“That filmed in September last year and will probably come out in August.

“It’s a great one because it’s a Suffolk story and hopefully there will be an increase in tourism for Sutton Hoo off the back of that.

“We are happy to double for other places but when it is actually a Suffolk story and we get them to film here, that is the ultimate opportunity to show off the county.”

As well as the historic site, the production also took in the likes of Aldeburgh, Snape Maltings and Shingle Street.

According to Jim Horsfield, operations and business development manager with Screen Suffolk, the fact Danny Boyle’s Beatles-inspired flick Yesterday showed the county as it was has been a big boost for the service.

“It’s been a fantastic advert for Suffolk,” he said.

“I have spoken with people around the country and referenced Yesterday, and they have seen Suffolk with new eyes.

“When they shot in Halesworth high street they didn’t change any of the names – Richard Curtis [screenwriter] wanted it to be authentic.”

The Ramsholt Arms – the pub where Himesh Patel’s emerging songwriter character Jack ‘debuts’ the forgotten Beatles track Yesterday, has reportedly experienced a boom in customers as a result of that scene.

At the end of this month, The Personal History of David Copperfield – which filmed for a week in Bury St Edmunds in 2018 – will be released, complete with a special screening at Bury’s Theatre Royal.

But that isn’t where the feature film appearances in Suffolk end.

Filming has taken place across Suffolk for a production which currently cannot be named, while the producers of the latest Judge Dredd series have been shooting the apocalyptic zombie film School’s Out at Orwell Park School.

Elsewhere, locally-based filmmaker Roland Oliver has been busy at Bentwaters for a new World War Two movie, which also included filming in Silent Street, Stowmarket and the old council offices in Needham Market.

And for television buffs there is plenty to enjoy, too.

New factual series Bone Investigators enjoyed a week in Ipswich – the premise of the series being that bones are analysed to discover how a person lived, died, their diet and all manner of other findings.

Alongside that, famed comedic presenter Clive Anderson made a visit to West Stow and Woodbridge for the Smithsonian channel’s Mystic Britain series to find out about ancient British rituals.

But while the prestige of having television and film productions – as well as shoots for television and internet adverts, fashion catalogues and other stills projects – is no doubt of interest, there is a wider economic boost, too.

Screen Suffolk estimates an average day of filming generates £11,500 for the economy, which includes spend on food and drink, facilities, hotels and local talent. Creative England uses a benchmark of £35,000 per day.

That means that last year alone, Screen Suffolk’s work generated between £1.6 million and £4.9 million, while the 475 filming days notched up since its inception puts that between £5.4 million and £16.6 million in three years.

While people can expect to enjoy seeing a few projects this year which filmed in 2019, what does 2020 already hold?

Rachel Aldridge, operations and business development manager, says: “We can’t say too much, but there is a really big production for a streaming service which we can’t name just yet.”

Mr Horsfield adds: “There is a feature film coming in which is using Bentwaters as a base, an Indian feature film basing in Suffolk.

“There are a number of large locations they are scouting at the moment that will feature very heavily.”

The team is eyeing another increase in filming days for the year ahead – at least 10 per cent if all goes well.

But there is more work – including securing more locations to add to the 450-strong database, adding to the 400 cast and crew registered and 378 days of work for local cast and crew members.

And you could be involved in filming in the year ahead.

Mrs Aldridge says: “If anyone has a location they want included on our database, or if you are looking for a change of direction and you have a transferable skill like carpentry or hairdressing – these are things that can be included, so get in touch.”

To find out more and to get involved, visit www.screensuffolk.com