On location: Swallows and Amazons



I’ve worked with Screen Yorkshire on a number of occasions, documenting the wide variety of movies and TV shows that choose to film in our region.

They have included TV productions such as A Robber’s Tale, the location for which was a dilapidated abandoned farmhouse on a freezing winter’s day; the interviews took place in a drab upstairs room as filming continued below, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, with shooting taking place in Wentworth Woodhouse on a grey, wet and very cold day. I feel a pattern beginning to emerge…

The feature films have included ’71, where I hooked up with Jack O’Connell after having interviewed him a couple of weeks earlier at Derby Film Festival; Bait (originally The Taking) with my mate Dominic Brunt; Swallows and Amazons, on which I re-connected with producer Nick Barton a full 13 years after meeting for a pre-production interview on Calendar Girls; and, just a fortnight ago, Dark River, the third film from rising director Clio Barnard. I’d first seen her on the amazing and ground-breaking The Arbor, shot live in the middle of a council estate in Buttershaw, near Bradford.

The Screen Yorkshire connection is the natural evolution of my relationship with the former Yorkshire Screen Commission. Back in the mid 1990s it was run by Liz Rymer, who gave me (and photographer Jim Moran) often exclusive access to a string of movies. They included Brassed Off, Little Voice, Solo Shuttle, Among Giants, FairyTale – A True Story, and L.A. Without a Map (with a pre-stardom David Tennant).

All of the resultant location reports appeared in The Yorkshire Post. Later they were adapted (along with an exclusive interview with Ken Loach on Kes, plus reports on classic titles such as The Railway Children, Agatha and This Sporting Life) for my 2008 book Made in Yorkshire, which I wrote in partnership with Jim Moran, who supplied many of the photographs. Made in Yorkshire

I’ve always enjoyed the dynamic of the set visit. It requires a different journalistic discipline to other jobs. Patience and tenacity are necessities. Inevitably there is a lot of hanging around waiting to speak to actors. So the trick is to grab anyone and everyone who might have an interesting story to tell. Thus I’ve spoken to extras, location managers, cameramen, as well as key personnel such as scriptwriters, producers, directors and actors.

Writing a location report is akin to stitching together a tapestry. It’s about focusing on seemingly unconnected moments to create a series of interlocking vignettes that give a flavour of the day. A vital component is keeping the energy high – being able to jump straight into an interview at a moment’s notice, and to pick it up seamlessly if, as is often the case, that individual is whisked back to the set mid-chat.


Director Dominic Brunt and actors Joanne Mitchell, Victoria Smurfit and Jonathan Slinger on the set of The Taking, later retitled Bait. (Photograph copyright: Tony Earnshaw, 2014)

On location at Plumpton Rocks for Swallows and Amazons I picked up no fewer than ten interviews. How to sift wheat from chaff (not that there was much of that) is the key to compiling a winning piece. The other aspect is recognising and respecting one’s contacts. So I remain grateful to those that made it work: producer Nick Barton, PR guru Lawrence Atkinson and Screen Yorkshire’s Rachel McWatt.

The report – an exclusive – appears in The Yorkshire Post (see cover below) and can be read here.


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