Yorkshire growing reputation as the 'Hollywood of England'
Updated 2:44pm Wednesday 26th March 2014 in Features
Sally Joynson, Chief Executive of Screen Yorkshire, outside St William's College in York. Pic: Mike Tipping
Yorkshire is earning a reputation as the Hollywood of England. STEPHEN LEWIS meets the woman who is helping make that happen.
YOU know you're in the right job when you start getting telephone calls about reindeer. The deer in question were at Harewood House, where filming was taking place for a new Christmas feature film, Get Santa.
They had been running around in the gardens. "And we got a report to say 'the reindeer behaved well today'," says Screen Yorkshire boss Sally Joynson. "This is such a strange life!"
Strange, but exhilarating too.
Sally's love affair with film and TV goes back to an early childhood passion for Blue Peter, and a girlish determination one day to be a Blue Peter presenter. That never happened. But decades on, as chief executive of an organisation which invests in film and TV productions shot in Yorkshire, the 57-year-old has played a key part in helping the White Rose county become known as the 'Hollywood of England' .
Despite being at the heart of the regional film and TV industry, as Screen Yorkshire boss Sally doesn't visit sets as much as she'd like to.
Filming schedules are tight so it is difficult for them to make time for non-essential visitors, she says. But she has never lost her sense of excitement at seeing film crews at work. "I've always said that the day I don't get excited when I see a film crew is the day I have to leave this job!"
Those who share this excitement have rarely had it so good in Yorkshire.
There has been an explosion in the number of big new productions being filmed in the county.
York people were transfixed last summer when St William's College was transformed into a Regency courtroom for filming of the BBC drama Death Comes to Pemberley.
The drama was based on a sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and saw the odious Mr Wickham being tried for murder. For ten days or so in July, College Street was covered in tons of dirt, and played home to pigs, goats, drunkards, horses and carriages – and an immaculately costumed Matthew Rhys, playing the part of Mr Darcy.
Filming for Pemberley also took place at Castle Howard and the Ryedale Folk Museum. Another big BBC Christmas production – The Thirteenth Tale, a spooky Gothic chiller starring Olivia Coleman – was filmed partly at Duncombe Park near Helmsley ; and even the hit series Peaky Blinders, about gangsters in the slums of Birmingham just after the First World War, saw some filming at Newby Hall, near Ripon.
Earlier this year, statues in York Minster appeared to come alive during the filming of a TV adaptation of Susanna Clarke's bestselling novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. And York city centre, the Minster and Selby Abbey are among the locations chosen for the filming of Bill, a new comedy film about Shakespeare's 'lost years'.
York and Yorkshire have never been strangers to film crews. The ITV drama Eternal Law was filmed in York in 2011 though sadly it proved a bit of a flop.
Castle Howard reprised its starring role as Brideshead in the film version of Brideshead Revisited. And in 2008 various locations around Yorkshire, including the Ryedale Folk Museum and St Williams College in York, were used as locations during the making of a film version of Robinson Crusoe.
But with filming now beginning in Yorkshire on a version of Vera Brittain's First World War memoir Testament of Youth, there is a sense the county really is coming into its own.
For once, that phrase the 'Hollywood of England' isn't much of an exaggeration.
Yorkshire probably hasn't seen this number of film and TV productions being made for 20 years or more, Sally says.
There are obvious reasons why .
Yorkshire landscapes are second to none, Sally says. "We've got everything – not just period locations like the Minster, but moorland, dales, beaches, gritty back alleys, the whole spectrum." The county can stand in for just about anywhere, whether a modern cityscape is needed; a terrace of grimy Victorian streets; or sweeping upland landscapes.
There is more to Yorkshire's appeal, however.
When regional screen agencies were scrapped in 2010, Screen Yorkshire survived - although in a different form. It won the right to administer a £15 million film and television investment fund, the Yorkshire Content Fund, which was set up in February 2012 with backing from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Sally and her small team then began the business of investing in productions filmed largely or partly in Yorkshire.
Since then, Screen Yorkshire has invested nearly £7 million in 18 major projects – including the TV dramas Peaky Blinders, Death Comes to Pemberley, Jonathan Strange, the Great Train Robbery and Jamaica Inn, and feature films such as Get Santa, Bill and Catch Me Daddy.
Her organisation doesn't make grants, she stresses. It makes commercial investments, at commercial rates, and expects a commercial return.
And how can she be sure Screen Yorkshire isn't going to invest in an expensive flop?
It is not always easy, she says: but there are things you do. You interrogate producers about the sales projections. You look at other producers involved - is it the BBC, Channel 4, the British Film Institute? And then you look at the talent involved: the directors and the stars.
With producing credits on shows such as Pemberley and Peaky Blinders, Screen Yorkshire is clearly getting a lot right.
The Yorkshire Content Fund is now the biggest regional film investment fund of its kind in the UK - and it has helped put Yorkshire firmly on the film and TV producers' map.
"You mention the name of Yorkshire and producers in London say 'oh, yes, we've heard about you!'" Sally says.
The sheer number of film and TV productions being made here now means that Yorkshire has a growing pool of film and TV talent. "We have a very strong, large and experienced workforce ," Sally says. And that in itself helps to maintain the county's success, by making it easy for producers to decide to film here.
With Screen Yorkshire having, just this January, secured a further £7.5 million of ERDF funding, the success of the Yorkshire 'Hollywood' looks set to continue.
That is great news on many levels. First, there are the financial benefits. Screen Yorkshire invests almost £4 million a year - and in addition to more than making its money back, that investment generates about £15million a year in spending in the region. Then there are the longer-term benefits that result from the county being featured in high-profile dramas and feature films: the Brideshead effect that brings visitors to see the site of some of their favourite dramas.
For those interested in breaking into film or TV, Yorkshire's success brings real opportunities for a foot in the door that were simply not there a generation ago.
And for those who simply love film or TV, there's the chance to see great productions being made literally on our doorstep.
So if you are a film or TV buff, keep your eyes peeled for the latest crew coming to a location near you. It probably won't be a long wait...
How Sally ended up in films
SALLY JOYNSON was brought up in Buckinghamshire. She loved TV as a girl, and longed to be a Blue Peter presenter.
When she came to York St John College, however, it was initially to train as a teacher. She then switched to a history degree, before getting a job, based at the college, as a research assistant.
She never lost the dream of getting into TV, however. Her break came when she landed a job at Radio York. With no qualifications as a journalist, she joined on the very bottom rung, taking a 60 per cent pay cut in the process. But she loved it. “Having thought that TV was going to be my aim in life, I realised how brilliant radio was.”
She met her husband, presenter Andy Joynson, at Radio York, before leaving the station to become a TV and radio production assistant at Open University TV.
After a career break to have children, she went to work for the BBC in press and PR, before joining a Yorkshire organisation which provided training for the media and creative industries. In 2002, when Screen Yorkshire was established, she joined as head of industry development, before becoming chief executive in 2006.
Her own life has taught her that careers never go in straight lines, she says. If she’d been asked 30 years ago where she would end up, she never have dreamed she’d have been in charge of a multimillion-pound film and TV investment fund.
So what is her advice to local young people keen to break into the film and TV world?
Be persistent, she says. Know what you want to do, and go for it. Do your research, understand what businesses you’d like to work for are looking for, and then “pull out all the stops to get yourself noticed.”
That means being confident – and not being afraid to follow letters up with telephone calls.
It won’t be easy, she warns. But persistence is the way to succeed. And the good news is that with the film and TV industry in Yorkshire booming, there are now more opportunities than perhaps ever before.
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