When a film re-telling an Oscar Wilde fable as a gritty tale about copper thieves was shot in Bradford, the production team rented offices in Little Germany for several months, and cast and crew stayed at the city’s Great Victoria Hotel.
The film was The Selfish Giant, which went on to win an array of international awards. Now it has been nominated for a Bafta, against blockbuster movies starring the cream of Hollywood.
It is up for Outstanding British Film, alongside such heavyweights as Gravity, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Rush and Saving Mr Banks. The ceremony takes place in London on February 16.
With Bafta nominations often mirrored at the Oscars, there could be more glittering success to come for this haunting film starring two unknown Bradford schoolboys.
Written and directed by Clio Barnard, of Otley, The Selfish Giant won a British Independent Film Award for technical achievement last month. In November Miss Barnard was awarded the inaugural Wellcome Trust and BFI Screenwriting Fellowship, in association with Film4, recognising her “original, enquiring and visionary screenwriting”.
The film premiered at Cannes last year, winning the Europa Cinemas Label Prize for Best European Film. Shot in and around Odsal and Buttershaw, it stars Shaun Thomas, 16, of Holme Wood and Conner Chapman, 14, of Buttershaw, as two boys who, excluded from school, turn to scrap metal dealing.
“I’d never acted before, I used to mess about and didn’t think drama was for me,” said Shaun, a pupil at Tong High School. “Now I'm studying drama at school.
“We went to the London Film Festival, there was a red carpet and loads of camera flashes. My mate said I’ll be going from Holme Wood to Hollywood!”
Bradford City of Film director David Wilson is “delighted but really not surprised” at The Selfish Giant’s Bafta nomination.
“It’s up against heavyweight blockbusters with outstanding actors including Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench and Emma Thompson, but the naturalistic performances of the young leads from Bradford in The Selfish Giant has captivated audiences at major film festivals,” said Mr Wilson.
“Clio Barnard’s ability to portray social realism and pack a real emotional punch, combined with Mike Eley’s poetic cinematography, make The Selfish Giant a strong contender.”
The Selfish Giant is one of several films and TV productions filmed in the Bradford district over the past year or so.
Scenes for The Great Train Robbery, broadcast on BBC1 in December, were shot in Shipley, Keighley, Haworth, Buttershaw and Bradford city centre, with venues including the Oastler Centre’s Fountain Cafe, Bradford Club and City Hall. The robbery scenes were filmed on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. More than 100 cast and crew stayed locally during filming.
The double bill, A Robber’s Tale and A Copper’s Tale, starring Jim Broadbent, was one of 20 major film and TV productions shot in the region as a direct result of film agency Screen Yorkshire’s input, which also brought Jamaica Inn here. Heading up BBC’s new 2014 season of drama, this adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel was shot partly in Keighley and Tong, and stars Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey), and Matthew McNulty, who was in the 2012 re-make of Room At The Top, filmed in Bradford.
The Great Train Robbery and Jamaica Inn both received investment from Screen Yorkshire’s £7.5m Yorkshire Content Fund, set up in 2012. The first production receiving support from the European Regional Development funding was Peaky Blinders, starring Sam Neill, Cillian Murphy and Helen McRory. The drama, about a gangster family in post-First World War Birmingham, was filmed largely in the Bradford district, at Undercliffe Cemetery, Peel Park, the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway and Dalton Mills, Keighley. The Vintage Carriages Trust, which owns Ingrow Museum of Rail Travel, provided carriages and a steam locomotive.
Screen Yorkshire chief executive Sally Joynson said: “This is the type of production we are looking to attract to Yorkshire – big budget, epic storyline and with immense talent involved.”
Screen Yorkshire’s Content Fund – the largest of its kind in the UK – is having a major impact on production levels locally. Forthcoming investments include Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and paranormal thriller Residue, both partly filmed in Bradford, and Hank z Zipzer, based on actor Henry Winkler’s children’s books, filmed in Calderdale with Bradford actors in the cast.
Mr Wilson said throughout 2012 and 2013 there had been a “marked increase in film and television requests within Bradford and the wider region”.
“This is not by chance; it is due to a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes with organisations such as Screen Yorkshire whose production fund has had great success,” he said. “We have seen hit Bollywood director Vikram Bhatt in town for 1920s London; a Hindi horror movie with scenes shot in Little Germany and Undercliffe Cemetery. The City of Film team assisted with locations and use of offices as a unit base. They loved the experience in Bradford and have promised to return for future productions.
“Then there’s Get Santa, which we’re assisting with on locations. This will be an exciting production and we hope some of it will be made in Bradford.”
Mr Wilson said City of Film receives regular filming requests through Screen Yorkshire and Creative England, set up to look after film and digital outside London, and the team continues to develop links with BBC Salford, which made Bollywood Carmen, broadcast live from City Park on BBC Three last summer.
“Add to this the Government tax credit which was applied to high-end TV drama from April 2013 and there is even more incentive for film and TV productions to make content in the UK, particularly in Yorkshire and Bradford,” he added. “The fact that we have the UNESCO City of Film designation and a rich film heritage, combined with a diverse range of stunning locations, makes Bradford an obvious choice, if people know about us. And people are getting to know about us and what we have to offer.”
Film production not only raises Bradford’s profile; it’s also good for the economy. This year the City of Film team aims to make local businesses more aware of how they can benefit.
“Cast and crew spend time and money in hotels and restaurants but also on things such as taxis, hair and make-up,” said Mr Wilson. “We’re trying to encourage Bradford businesses to adopt a film-friendly approach, and this is starting to yield results.”
City of Film supported office accommodation for The Selfish Giant in Bradford, and helped out with filming locations. The team also supported BBC2’s Great Railway Journeys, which recently featured Bradford’s Midland Hotel, and Songs of Praise, broadcast from Bradford Cathedral next month.
“Film and TV production helps us promote a positive side to Bradford, often overlooked by national media,” said Mr Wilson. “The fact that we’re mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide because of our City of Film designation is testament to this.
“It is said that for every one person in front of the camera there are some 200 people who have helped to put them there. You only have to look at the credits of a film to see that in most cases this is true.
“There are opportunities for writers, electricians, set designers, sound specialists, wardrobe staff – we want to ensure that businesses in Bradford are aware of the opportunities, from catering to carpentry, and are ready to respond.”