It’s a wrap

West Rayn­ham used to be on the mil­i­tary front line; now it is a film set

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

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

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