Haunt­ing beauty

Suf­folk’s evoca­tive coast lures wri­ter­di­rec­tor Ja­son Fig­gisN

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE -

For Ir­ish film-maker Ja­son Fig­gis Suf­folk holds such an al­lure that, hav­ing com­pleted one film which cap­tures the beauty and at­mos­phere of the county, he is now seek­ing other op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­turn to the coast and cre­ate new work which show­cases the evoca­tive land­scape.

Ja­son has just fin­ished work on a film cel­e­brat­ing the life of Suf­folk au­thor MR James, and has also re­cently com­pleted a doc­u­men­tary on East Anglian pho­tog­ra­pher Si­mon Mars­den, which was nar­rated by fel­low Mars­den en­thu­si­ast John Hurt. Si­mon loved the East Anglian land­scape and fre­quently pho­tographed places such as Cas­tle Ris­ing, Bin­ham Pri­ory, Dun­wich and Burgh Cas­tle.

Ja­son was in­tro­duced to the re­gion by Sax­mund­ham-based pro­ducer John West, who is now work­ing with him on a raft of new movies which, they hope, will all be shot in the re­gion.

Speak­ing to Ja­son, it is easy to share in his en­thu­si­asm for the won­ders of the Suf­folk land­scape and ap­pre­ci­ate the beauty of our sur­round­ings as ex­pe­ri­enced by a fresh pair of eyes.

So what brought you to Suf­folk? JF: “The MR James doc­u­men­tary was shot on lo­ca­tion in Suf­folk. They wanted a spe­cific look and that’s where I dis­cov­ered my love of the Suf­folk land­scape. The coast­line is like an­other char­ac­ter in the MR James story and when we ar­rived in Alde­burgh we were greeted by prob­a­bly the great­est mist of the 21st cen­tury.

“We had planned to bring in smoke ma­chines to get the ef­fects we wanted and na­ture stepped in and gave us our ef­fects for free. Ev­ery­day we filmed we got the sea mist we needed. We were re-en­act­ing stuff as well and we got all this at­mo­spheric footage. It was just a case of point and shoot.

“My pro­ducer, John West, then got me hooked up with Screen Suf­folk and they started look­ing for lo­ca­tions for me and the next two films I do will be shot here in Suf­folk.” Hav­ing shot the Si­mon Mars­den and MR James films back-to-back and with two more films in the pipe­line, you are clearly who loves to be busy and loves en­ter­tain­ing an au­di­ence. JF: “We shot the MR James doc­u­men­tary in mid-April and I am cur­rently edit­ing it to­gether. I am a great be­liever in what Stan­ley Kubrick said: “You’re not a real di­rec­tor or film-maker un­less you edit your film as well be­cause that de­ter­mines what the au­di­ence will see. You need

to put to­gether that au­di­ence ex­pe­ri­ence. The or­der in which the au­di­ence see things ef­fects their re­sponse, it com­pletely changes how they see your film.

“I love the work of John Ford and Al­fred Hitch­cock be­cause they main­tained con­trol of their films even though they were sub­ject to huge stu­dio in­ter­fer­ence. Cary Grant once com­plained that he could never get into the rhythm of his dia­logue be­cause half way through a line Hitch­cock would say ‘cut’ and shoot a re­ac­tion shot, or an­other line, be­fore switch­ing back to Grant. When you look at the fin­ished film you see no hint of the frac­tured na­ture of this method of shoot­ing. Hitch­cock shot like this so no-one at the stu­dio could edit the film in any other way other than in the form that Hitch­cock wanted. And when stu­dio bosses used to visit the set he used to pre­tend that there was some­thing wrong with the cam­eras. He used to get the crew to com­plain about a fault and he would apol­o­gise that the vis­i­tors couldn’t see any­thing on their visit. He was a crafty one all right.”

When did you first dis­cover the joys of the Suf­folk land­scape?

JF: “The Si­mon Mars­den film was the first time I worked in Suf­folk, but I knew the area from my love of MR James and in the early noughties my girl­friend and I drove all over East Anglia, and on one visit we sneaked up the drive­way of his boy­hood home in Great Liver­mere.

“I was re­ally fa­mil­iar with the area and I love Suf­folk’s nat­u­ral beauty and I love the fact that the vil­lages are kept so clean and there’s clearly so much pride in where peo­ple live. So when they asked me to go and make a film about MR James, one of my great he­roes, I knew I had to just clear the sched­ules and just go and do it.”

So you are plan­ning at least two more films in Suf­folk. Can you tell me a lit­tle about them?

JF: “One is called Night Pho­tog­ra­phy which is a vam­pire love story but it is also a very grue­some vi­o­lent film, and I want that set in a night-time, un­der­world cityscape, but the other film we are do­ing, with Lara Bel­mont, who won the BAFTA for Best New­comer in 1999, and went onto work with Tim Roth, Tilda Swin­ton and Ray Win­stone in The War Zone, is a film called Winifred Meeks.

“I just sent her the script and she said she would do it im­me­di­ately. It’s a haunted house film and she so loved the char­ac­ter and the story that she said that she would drop ev­ery­thing and come and do it. It’s set in this iso­lated house called Seav­iew. Lara plays the writer of a se­ries of highly suc­cess­ful teen crime de­tec­tion nov­els and she goes to the house be­cause she wants peace and quiet to write her lat­est book in the Emma Hart Mys­tery se­ries.

“I’ve al­ways wanted to do a haunted house film but I wanted to do it in the tra­di­tion of Monty Rhodes James. I don’t want any of the stupid jump scares that the Amer­i­cans keep do­ing. I want the film to have a slow build of creep­ing dread and I think that is what ap­pealed to Lara. She told me she’s not a fan of hor­ror movies but she liked the fact that it was a drama in­fused with su­per­nat­u­ral el­e­ments.”

Have you got a sense of how you’re go­ing to tackle the film yet?

JF: “I want it to be a date film where cou­ples cud­dle up in ter­ror, and yet walk away happy be­cause it’s not a bleak film, there is a good res­o­lu­tion. It’s a case of the ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing ter­ri­fy­ing, but you can still walk away from it. There’s a real sense of es­capism which hope­fully peo­ple will want to re­visit. We’ll hope­fully be shoot­ing that in the au­tumn. I am sick and tired of tor­ture porn movies and feel­bad movies. Here’s a hor­ror film with a story with a great lead char­ac­ter and an up­beat end­ing.”

‘I love Suf­folk’s nat­u­ral beauty and the fact that the vil­lages are all kept so clean’

ABOVE: The evoca­tive Suf­folk coast will be the set­ting for new films by Ja­son Fig­gisRIGHT: Wri­ter­di­rec­tor Ja­son Fig­gis

BELOW LEFT:John Hurt with Ja­son Fig­gis at the record­ing stu­dio, work­ing on the nar­ra­tion for the film about pho­tog­ra­pher Si­mon Mars­den

ABOVE RIGHT: Joanna Lum­ley with writer-di­rec­tor Ja­son Fig­gis. The pair worked to­gether on Fig­gis’ doc­u­men­tary A Mav­er­ick in Lon­don about The King’s Head pub theatre.

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