It’s a wrap
West Raynham used to be on the military front line; now it is a film set
HIDDEN FROM view, in the rolling, scarcely populated, unspoilt countryside of west Norfolk, a quiet revolution is happening.
A gargantuan hangar, once home to fighter jets and military vehicles, is now at the centre of an exciting project to make this little bit of the county an internationally recognised hub for the film industry. All summer, unbeknown to most, a film crew featuring a stellar cast and acclaimed director has been in residence.
The former RAF station at West Raynham, near Fakenham, has already been the setting for a short film and some commercial work, but this summer was its first foray into the movie business, providing not only space for a full set build, but also office and warehousing space for production, costume and make up.
The Souvenir, developed with the British Film Institute and backed by BBC Films, is set in the 1980s and tells the story of a young film student involved in her first serious love affair. It is produced by acclaimed, award winning television and film director Joanna Hogg, executive-produced by Martin Scorsese and stars Three Musketeers and War and Peace actor Tom Burke.
It is a huge coup for the team running the former air station, which is gradually being transformed into a vibrant community with housing, businesses and recreational facilities.
The vast air hangars, overlooking the cracked concrete runways, offer huge potential for the future – not only for the site itself, but the wider Norfolk economy and creative community.
Ian Fox, co-director of FW Properties which manages the former RAF base, decommissioned by the MOD in 1994, said there had already been serious enquiries from other film companies seeking studio build space.
The site, which has been renamed the West Raynham Business Park, is already a hub for rural businesses, specialist crafts people and artists. It also provides housing for hundreds of people in the refurbished officers and
“Each hangar is bigger than the Bond Stage at Pinewoods studios and that’s what makes us unique”
servicemen’s homes and has a shop, pub, sports facilities, a children’s nursery, play area and plans for a new community centre.
He says one of the final parts of the puzzle has been the vast hangars which remain largely unused.
“This site has always attracted a lot of interest – we get artists asking to come here to paint, historians, RAF enthusiasts – people are incredibly interested in, and inspired by, the buildings and landscape. Then we were approached by a location agent who was looking for somewhere to film a new feature – and he really liked what he saw.
“It became apparent that it might also work for other films as well because of the massive space we can offer,” says Ian.
“It is a huge leap of faith but we feel it is exciting and important to not only us but the county. It really could put the film industry on the map in Norfolk and hopefully bring attention to the amazing creative and skilled people working here. We could have gone for the long term letting of the hangars providing a secure income, but such has been the interest in using the space as a film studio that we feel we need to go for this in a strong, positive way.”
Local location manager Crispin Buxton, who used the site previously to shoot a short film, came on board with the project and after months of planning, the film cast and crew arrived in the summer.
“At the moment, the industry is full to capacity and finding excellent locations which can offer what we have here is incredibly hard. There is huge energy and financial backing going into attracting film production to this country but at the moment, the lack of studio build space can hold it back.
“The major London studios are not only completely full but hugely expensive. Not only is the availability not there, they are not affordable to a whole range of small and mid-range film makers. What we can offer here is availability and affordability. Each hangar is bigger than the Bond Stage at Pinewoods studios and that’s what makes us unique – the build space we can offer is absolutely extraordinary, as we have seen with the sets being built for The Souvenir.
Both Ian and Crispin also see wider community engagement and the potential local economic benefits of the project as key.
“The catering for the shoot has been done by The Crown at East Rudham and they have blown everyone away with their food; then there are the accommodation providers, the taxi drivers and the craftsmen and technical staff who can offer their services. The cast and crew also feature a lot of local people and we have had a group of trainees here helping who are either current students or graduates of the University of East Anglia and Norwich University of the Arts.
“There are numerous creatives who leave this county and go off and work elsewhere because they have to, not because they want to – we want to stem and turn the tide. If we can create a growing studio, whether making feature films, music videos, shorts or commercials, we can hopefully bring together a really strong creative community working here as well. It is incredibly exciting for Norfolk.”
(from left) Crispin Buxton, Catherine Newey and Ian Fox
Above left: lunch on location