Written by Daniel Judd
They used to say that your face is your fortune, but did you know your home could be too? With the British Film Council offering incentives to film in the UK and the BBC moving out of London and setting up regional hubs, demand for locations has never been higher.
And East Sussex with its historical and seaside towns, the South Downs, the Seven Sisters National Park, the Bluebell Railway, The Brighton Pavilion not to mention its short distance from London, has often been the star of the show.
Wind Chill Factor
Series 4 of gritty crime drama Luther, starring Idris Elba, required a house in a remote location where our hero could hide out. The Coastguard Cottages, over the brow of Seaford Head and overlooking the Seven Sisters, proved suitably dramatic for a two-parter when Luther would meet, as billed, ‘his most chilling adversary to date’.
Filming can often be good for the economy and have spin-off advantages. One eagle-eyed Seaford businesswoman sent Idris some flowers and got a personal phone call ‘thank you’ from him. The story was picked up by the local and national press and customers flocked.
One American graphic artist grabbed an opportunity and produced a tube-like map of locations for his Brit TV obsessed wife. He now sells prints of it online.
Holmes from home
The same Seven Sisters setting also proved a beautiful backdrop for a clifftop walk for a retired Sherlock, played deliciously by Sir Ian McKellen, in the film Mr Holmes. Two very different detectives hiding out in the same Sussex locale!
And for Holmes’ retirement retreat, Locations Manager Richard George chose Wickham Farm, a National Trust B&B near Rye.
Talking of historical dramas, often a location cannot be used because it no longer looks historically correct. For example, the 2010 remake of Brighton Rock was filmed mostly in Eastbourne!
The filming of Brighton Rock also illustrates how the budget can often force a change. When the planned £10 million became a modest £5.75 million, the planned opening scene, with Kite being killed on a crowded Brighton Station platform, was relocated to a windswept stretch of seaside.
Fortunately, for those responsible for the BBC’s recent production of E.M Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels, much of Rye, the inspiration behind the fictional town of Tilling, remains untouched or was easy enough for set dressers to disguise.
“I’m just pinching myself every day, that we are here in Rye in Benson’s Lamb house and garden, but also that I’ve not only had the opportunity to play this character but adapt the scripts as well!” Writer and actor Steve Pemberton told the BBC.
On the Level
But it’s not just the bold and the beautiful that catch a location scout’s eye. Often a location is chosen because in needs to be plain ordinary. Cuffs and The Level, made by Tiger Aspect Productions Ltd and Hillbilly Films respectively, featured police in action in and around Brighton & Hove and required backdrops for chase scenes plus homes for both sides of the law.
“We’ve filmed quite a lot in Brighton,” said the Director Andy Haddock. “In the sun it’s lively, warm, buzzy, hopeful and just a brilliant place to be.
“When it’s cold, windy, the middle of the night, you’re down on the pier and the wind is blowing, it’s quite scary. It had a spooky feeling down at the old pier in the middle of the night. And it’s misty.
“At night it’s like anything can happen.”
So, just because you live in a generic two-up-two-down semi, your home could have star potential.
One thing you may want to consider when renting your home is that if it goes to a series you might have to be refrain by doing major DIY. Producers of CBBC’s The Sarah Jane Adventures spent a long agonising meeting discussing why the title character now had a much bigger kitchen (complete with island) only to just decide that nobody would notice – they didn’t.
The same production team must have had kittens when the new owners of the house next door refused permission to film inside and then one weekend decided to paint the outside… bright yellow! Again they had to quickly think on their feet. A line of dialogue was added and a paint brush put into a hen-pecked character’s hand, to explain away the change.
Foyled again and again
Sometimes, if a one-off becomes a series, film crew could be part of the furniture. – Handy if you own a pivotal location, like the Grade II, four-bed Jane Colts-Tegg owned in Hasting’s Old Town. Also know as Christopher Foyle’s abode in the ITV drama Foyle’s War.
‘Location scouts knocked on the door one day and asked my father if they could take some pictures of the exterior,’ Jane told the Mail on Sunday.
‘When he told me about it later, I didn’t believe what he was saying and just dismissed it. Then this chap called Donald rang me up.
‘It was no joke, and the filming of Foyle’s War was to become a wonderful, integral part of my life for the next ten years.’
This may sound like a nightmare, but only the outside was used… and the property later sold for £758,000!
It’s a wrap
You can see how getting the right location is vital. It has to feel right for the drama to make sense no matter how heightened the reality is or how far back in time and space its set. Get it right and the location can be seen as a character in its own right.
How to get your home famous
- Sign-up with a reputable agency
- Look out for requests in the press or last-minute leaflet drops through your door
- There are local commissions across Britain that provide promote, encourage and support film-makers. Get in touch and register your property
- Remember, you’ll need to declare this extra income for tax purposes
- Think about what you can do your property to make it desirable
- Up to £2,000 a day fee (although the owners of the Doctor Foster dream home reportedly got over £5000!)
- Free decoration if it’s not quite right – they’ll tidy up afterwards too!
- It could push up the price of your property.
- You can dine out on it at dinner parties for years!
- You could have a whole film crew in your kitchen or blocking up your drive for days
- You might have to put your ideas for an extension on hold
- Irate neighbours, who don’t appreciate your love of camera cranes and night shooting, may turn nasty!
- Your house might be used as the setting for less than reputable characters and activities!
Do you have memories and pictures of filming that’s happened in your home or on your doorstep? Email them to us at YES@eastsussex.gov.uk and we’ll publish the best. Please include a caption with your pictures!
Written by Daniel Judd