In a few short years, Leeds-based Screen Yorkshire has made the county a hotbed of film and television production, but its future is now in doubt. Grant Woodward reports.
WHEN Colin Firth and co took to the stage at last month’s Oscars to receive the coveted Best Picture award for The King’s Speech, few could have blamed the staff in a small office 5,000 miles away in Leeds for affording themselves a wry smile.
Screen Yorkshire, the agency that supported the box office smash about King George VI’s fight to conquer his stammer, has seen government cuts place a huge question mark over its future, with nearly half its team set to lose their jobs in the next couple of weeks.
The £10.2m contract that financed its work to promote and support the region’s film industry runs out at the end of this month and is not being renewed by Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency that is itself being axed in 2012 as part of the coalition’s promised bonfire of the quangos.
Last November culture minister Ed Vaizey named Screen Yorkshire, founded in 2002, as one of eight agencies that are to be merged into a single new body called Creative England that will represent regional film.
Under the proposals, Screen Yorkshire would cease to exist and instead it would be left to Creative England’s Manchester-based offshoot, Creative North, to bang the drum for Yorkshire, along with the rest of the north. But if there’s a sense that the final credits are about to roll, that’s not necessarily how Screen Yorkshire’s quietly defiant chief executive Sally Joynson sees it.
Sitting in the organisation’s offices on the Calls, she insists hopes of survival aren’t being abandoned just yet.
“Screen Yorkshire – and I think the industry as a whole in Yorkshire – feels very strongly about the need for a presence in this region and we will continue to make that case to the management at Creative England,” she says.
“There are lots of discussions going on at the moment about the most appropriate structures in each of the three territories of Creative England (Creative North, South and Central).
“What we know at the moment is that the Creative North hub is likely to be at Salford in Manchester.
“But we have a very successful screen agency in Screen Yorkshire with a significant track record and a real expertise in supporting film, so we are arguing very strongly that there should continue to be a base here in Leeds.”
It would be understandable if Joynson and her team – whose numbers will be cut from 19 to 10 by the end of March – were left feeling more than a little aggrieved at the prospect of seeing their work to breathe new life into the Yorkshire film industry jeopardised by a shift to Manchester.
Three years ago Screen Yorkshire set up its Film Friendly Partnership, which established links with local councils and other organisations in the region with the aim of making it as easy as possible for production companies to film here.
There are now 21 local authorities and other key organisations signed up to the visionary charter, each with a dedicated member of staff responsible for fast-tracking applications for filming in the area and ensuring that shoots run as smoothly as possible.
The goal was to make Yorkshire and Humber the number one destination for film and television production in the UK – and all the signs are that it is well on track to achieve it.
The agency currently handles 500 filming inquiries each year which come in from not only this country but from across the globe.
It has led to a string of hit movies
being filmed in Yorkshire over the last few years – everything from The King’s Speech and The Damned United to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – while television producers have flocked here to shoot high-profile shows such as ITV comedy-drama Married Single Other and new James Nesbitt vehicle Monroe.
In terms of value for money, Screen Yorkshire can point to some pretty impressive numbers too.
According to the body, in the past four years it has won more than £82m in inward investment, created 1,086 jobs, supported 812 businesses and invested in the skills of 1,637 people.
All that on the back of just over £10m of funding.
“Screen Yorkshire is not an organisation that’s just nice to have when times are good,” Joynson insists. “It feeds an entire supply chain.
“When you get production into this region you are generating significant spend. Take a drama production, for instance. It hires local crew, it hires locations, it needs feeding, it needs to stay somewhere, it needs transport, it needs security... all of these different parts of the supply chain benefit from Screen Yorkshire’s activity in bringing production here.
“And it’s not just the financial return either, but also the return in terms of profile and people thinking this is a place they want to do business.
“We have a very clear role to play in getting Yorkshire’s name and stories about the region on to the screen. And I think that’s one of the areas Screen Yorkshire has been very successful in.”
So why on earth is the money being cut off now, just as its work appears to be reaping not inconsiderable rewards?
Joynson is admirably diplomatic, saying there is no reason why Screen Yorkshire should be immune from cuts and that, in the current climate, every publicly-funded organisation has to be prepared to change.
“I suppose the irony is that at a time when the company is in such a challenging position it’s never been busier and the scale and quality of the projects we work on increases year on year.
“If someone walked into our office they would get no sense of anything other than an incredibly busy, stable company.”
The agency suffered a potentially lethal double blow when its two main funders – the UK Film Council and Yorkshire Forward – bit the dust in quick succession.
Faced with the prospect of its own extinction, the agency is now looking elsewhere in a bid to secure its future.
Gearing its business model around generating as much income for itself as it can, funding applications have already been submitted to organisations both at home and abroad.
Though unlikely to become fully self-financing, the hope is that if central government no longer has to put so much in the pot Screen Yorkshire will be able to stay in Leeds and carry on its work.
“We have had a tremendous leg-up with the public funding we’ve received so far but we are now operating in a very different economic climate,” says Joynson. “It’s not an easy one, but we’re certainly not going to sit here on our laurels and expect somebody else to continue to pay for the work we do.
She feels the next six to eight weeks will be a good barometer of the agency’s chances of survival, as things fall into place and it becomes clear what money is available.
“Whatever happens though, ultimately I want there to be a legacy in Yorkshire. But the first job is to keep Screen Yorkshire in business, keep production flowing into the region and continue to support the talent and businesses that are here.
“We have a great team here who are so passionate about what they do and so committed about bringing these productions to Yorkshire. When you see something like The King’s Speech or any project you’ve worked on succeed there is an enormous sense of pride.
“If audiences enjoy the projects we’ve been involved with or supported then that’s fantastic because it’s not just got our name attached to it but Yorkshire’s,” she adds. “And that’s the important thing. We want to make sure Yorkshire continues to have a voice, a presence and a profile.”
* To have your say on the future of Screen Yorkshire visit: www.creativeengland.co.uk
SCREEN Yorkshire’s Greatest Hits:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The striking landscape around Malham, including the Limestone Paving, Tarn and Cove, all play a part in Harry’s final adventure with Ron and Hermione as they race against time and evil through the countryside on their dangerous mission to locate and destroy Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes.
This black comedy horror about two brothers (Andy Serkis and the League of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith) who manage to bungle the kidnapping of the daughter of an underworld boss and then stumble upon a dark rural secret was filmed at Harewood House with investment from the Screen Yorkshire Production Fund.
The Damned United
Loosely based on the bestselling book by David Peace charting Brian Clough’s ill-fated reign as Leeds United manager, Screen Yorkshire supported the film through its Production Fund and provided locations and crewing support. Locations used included Elland Road, Headingley Stadium and the streets of Armley and Beeston.
A Passionate Woman
The BBC drama was based on the hit play that debuted at West Yorkshire Playhouse in 1992. Written by local screenwriter Kay Mellor, it starred Billie Piper as a young wife and mother who falls in love with her Polish neighbour in 1950’s Britain, only for her affair to implode 30 years later on her son’s wedding day. Locations included Roundhay Park, Hyde Park Picture House and Kirkgate Market.
Adapted from local author David Peace’s cult noir novels, the trilogy of interlinking films was set in a dark and paranoid Yorkshire of the 1970s and early 80s. Supported by Screen Yorkshire through its Production Fund, Red Riding shot at various locations including the Yorkshire Evening Post building, Seacroft Hospital, Temple Newsam, Armley jail and the Brudenell Social Club.
DCI Banks: Aftermath
Starring Stephen Tompkinson (Wild at Heart, Grafters) and based on the hugely successful novel from award-winning international crime writer Peter Robinson, who was born in Leeds, shooting took place in Headingley, Kirkstall Road and Lincoln Green.
Some of Yorkshire’s most stunning locations and finest restaurants were showcased in BBC2’s comedy series The Trip, starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Screen Yorkshire gave production liaison support to the team on the Yorkshire leg of the shoot, which took in a number of locations across Craven District and the Yorkshire Dales, including Bolton Abbey, Malham Cove and the Ribblehead Viaduct.
Married Single Other
The six-part romantic comedy shot in Leeds for ITV explored the lives, loves and loathes of three couples. Starring Lucy Davis, Dean Lennox Kelly, Ralf Little and Miranda Raison, locations included Millennium Square, the Victoria Quarter, Kirkstall Abbey, Clarence Dock, Roundhay Park, Harehills and Allerton High School.
The King’s Speech
The opening scene, set in Wembley Stadium, was actually shot at Leeds United’s Elland Road stadium, with hundreds of local extras in period costume and dummies from The Inflatable Crowd Company at Skipton filling out the crowd. Screen Yorkshire provided ongoing crew and locations support during the Yorkshire leg of the shoot.
Starring James Nesbitt as neurosurgeon Gabriel Monroe, the new ITV series was filmed entirely in Leeds, with Screen Yorkshire providing locations and crewing support. Backdrops include the former Leeds Girls’ Grammar School, Leeds General Infirmary, the city centre and parts of Headingley.