THAT ONE TIME WHEN SPIELBERG SAID NO TO LINCOLNSHIRE
Lincolnshire as a location for film production.
We have a lot to be grateful for, living on such an island of history, culture. We have literature, music, poetry, war and peace, and also, Jim broadbent. The appeal of British artists, in particularly within Hollywood is a celebrated achievement. It’s not hard to recognise the many ways that British culture dominates Hollywood with artists, in front of and behind the cameras. But also, there is the allure of history, heritage, pared with the backdrop of British landmarks and landscapes for epic shooting locations.
If you think about the most successful films, The King’s Speech (2010), Shakespeare in Love (1998), Chariots of Fire (1981) and The Full Monty (1997), to name a few — you can tell that there is a hunger, not only for the story itself, but for film locations too.
Although those movies above are filmed in Britain because of cultural and historical necessity, there are many other filmmakers and studios that choose to film here, just because of the location.
Steve Jaggs — Vice Chairman at British Board of Film Classification — stated in a 2001 article about their role in attracting filmmakers to the UK:
“Not only are we a country that has some superb locations, but we do have studios of the size that professional filmmakers require.”
Of course such a major figure in the British film industry would have to merit expectations to those types of claims. It often takes a British filmmaker, production or funding body to make it happen, or at least offer through suggestion. Throw in a heap of rich historical context, and you have the chance of pulling over the biggest names in the business.
WHEN SPIELBERG SAID NO TO LINCOLNSHIRE
There are times however when a location is considered but the big name behind the choosing decides to decline. One of the most interesting accounts of the local area being considered for filming was Cleethorpes beach. The film that was considering this location was Steven Spielberg’s, Saving Private Ryan (1998).
This arguably would have done for Lincolnshire what Braveheart (1995) did for the Scottish highlands – even if most of the movie was filmed in Ireland, it still boosted Scotish tourism.
Everything was apparently in place and it was suggested that Steven Spielberg himself noted that the location was “perfect” especially for its wide beaches for use in the Normandy landing scene, which — to many people — is the most talked about sequence in the movie. A film-reel was then made and sent to the production company DreamWorks SKG, highlighting everything from the locality of the Humberside airport to accommodation and catering establishments.
This was however not enough as there was a bigger incentive over the waters in Ireland. Even though the locations are the primary reason for filmmakers to choose England for their filming, Ireland offers what has been called “A tax incentive plan for producers” by stating instead, an idea that will assist them with their financial constraints. This is not how film commissions work but Ireland tends to be more aware of the financial priorities rather than hoping that their location is simply “just right” for the production needs.
Trish Shorthouse, Film commissioner of the Scottish Highlands and Islands Film Commission experienced a similar case of “finance over location” during 1992 invasion of Hollywood. Three major studios were after locations in the Scottish highlands, Braveheart (1995), Rob Roy (1995) and Lochness (1996). She spoke of the difficulties during this boom of interest.
“We always knew that the beginning set amount of the filming would be done in Ireland that was no question because of the tax incentives.”
It also seems that even though Britain wants recognition for its involvement of the entertainment industry we don’t flaunt locations for Hollywood’s gain unless they ask first. Once interest is established then councils will work their hardest to make sure they stick to their area for a film location.
LINCOLNSHIRE FILMING LOCATION: SUCCESS STORIES
In 2001, I got a phone call from my Lincoln based hair-dresser (Because back then I had hair) and she stated that my appointment for the upcoming week had to be cancelled. When I asked why, she explained:
“I have been asked by the people at Focus Features if I could paint Gwyneth Paltrow's nails throughout their filming schedule for the movie Possession.”
Naturally, I shouted…
“Damn you Gwyneth!”
…and slammed the phone down in a fit of rage.
No actually, I was fine with it.
They filmed at the University of Lincoln and various other locations, and even though Possession (2002) was a small movie, it gave the city something to talk about, at least until 2005 when Tom Hanks was seen walking about the city of Lincoln, enjoying the Bailgate with his family.
We obviously didn’t have much to worry about when it came to Ron Howard needing the equivalent of St Paul’s Cathedral when filming The Da Vinci Code (2006). His people were on it, and thankfully, they found the interiors of Lincolnshire Cathedral to be perfectly suited. This meant that Lincolnshire was finally on the prime map for film locations. A local resident Liz Gardener recalls:
“I remember being caught up in the buzz, but I was never one of those who claimed a sighting, even with the Cathedral being right on my doorstep. In fact, I knew something was going on when I walked past the Cathedral grounds, and I saw the grass was littered with people, prams and picnic blankets.”
Three years later, Lincoln Cathedral again stood in for Westminster Abbey, for the film The Young Victoria (2009), with cast members Emily Blunt, Paul Bettany and Lincolnshire’s very own Jim Broadbent.
It hosted the coronation scenes of Emily Blunt’s Queen Victoria, while the film also featured Lincolnshire’s own Jim Broadbent as William IV.
Other films such as The Dambusters (1955) Memphis Belle (1990), Atonement (2007) Rush (2016), King (2019) also gave Lincolnshire some great exposure — and that doesn’t include all the television series that have also brought many parts of Lincolnshire to life on the big screen.
POST BREXIT: WHEN IT COMES TO THE CRUNCH
It goes without saying that there was so much more for filmmakers and the entertainment media industry as a whole when the doors are open.
It is a wonder how future decisions to choose Lincolnshire as a filming location will be affected in the light of our new situation, away from the European Union. For one thing, the end of MEDIA/Creative European Funding will mean a great loss of funds and support for the industry. Naturally, it can be said that Britain will also be able to retain and control its own funds without having to pipeline money to the EU. Distribution will also become more limited for British films riding across the ocean to the EU, so it will be more difficult for native funds to grow. This could mean that any tax incentives for US/EU filmmakers may not be as attractive, and no doubt, location-wise; alternatives to Britain will be sought after first. The only thing that can make it a sure thing are the historical buildings that otherwise cannot be recreated elsewhere. Scenery Like with Braveheart, can always be found elsewhere.
The outcome of this impact is yet to be seen, especially while we ride uncertain times during this era of the Covid Pandemic. At the very least, with the positives comes a sense of control over our own tax rules, and there’s nothing to say that we can’t find a way of making films cheaper, just as long as we have everything that we need. It’s not like we have a choice in the matter. The industry has to find a way to thrive.
What is important now is that we find a way to attract international filmmakers. We must find better ways of driving the film industry forward. When it comes to it, Hollywood’s incentives for choosing Britain must be as financially rewarding as the location it delivers, not to mention locally grown talent that we can provide.
Lincolnshire still has a wealth of history that is still untapped and until they are able to recreate an entire city for less than a location shoot, it will be available to those who seek it.