BLOG: Talent is everywhere, opportunity is not

Liverpool is the most filmed UK city outside of London, with crews currently filming all over the city region. But why do film-makers gravitate to the ‘pool and who’s responsible for making it happen? Lynn Saunders heads up Liverpool City Council’s Film Office and is directly responsible for attracting £100 million worth of film and TV business to the city and region over the past ten years. 

This week, Liverpool opened two pop-up film studios which it’s hoped will act as a catalyst for the development of a so-called new ‘Hollywood of the North’.

“I hate the limelight and try to avoid it as best I can given the work I do.  I’m much happier putting Liverpool in front of the camera instead which is probably why I enjoy the work so much!

However, a few years ago ‘Storm Doris’ decided it was my time to shine and I made international news when a random Granada News reporter spotted me hanging onto the Cunard railings for dear life whilst Doris did her best to sweep me off my feet.  He pointed his camera my way and that was my screen debut!  

My kids rang to tell me I was trending.  I had to ask a colleague what that meant.  My colleagues kept shouting updates to me across the office, ending with ‘you’re in the Guardian now’!  When colleagues in the lift began to share and laugh at the video, I knew it was going to be with me for life.  Last time I looked, it had five million views and it’s even been uploaded onto a site which says ‘it’s better to titanic music’!

At least it’s an entertaining story to share over dinner with friends, when we get a chance to do that again.

As was sharing a plate of chips with Ewan McGregor and his mum at the Cannes Film Festival one year, minding Tom Hardy’s dog whilst he was shooting scenes on Formby Beach for Peaky Blinders or getting a sneak peak at the Bond set at Pinewood studios and seeing Daniel Craig up close and personal.

Credit: Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy (and his dog) on Formby Beach shooting Peaky Blinders Series 4 © Caryn Mandabach Productions/Robert Viglasky

However, the job is not all showbiz and Hollywood.  The days are long, crew are out in all weathers and there are 1001 challenges we face every day to support the army of people that make the shows we love to watch. 

It’s not life or death, thankfully, but viewing content has been a lifeline to many over the past 12 months and the insatiable appetite for even more will never go away.

Covid has touched all our lives and this has included the film and TV industry.  But with strict controls and measures in place, production can take place again safely. The sector re-opened here in the UK with ‘The Batman’ in Liverpool last June.

It was a Herculaneum effort to make that project happen, but as usual in Liverpool we were all pulling in the same direction and if Warner Bros was going to pick a city to host the largest feature filming first out of the studios anywhere in the world it was always going to be Liverpool.

The memory I have of that shoot is not the positive international headlines made, or the £2.5m that was spent in the city, or the brilliant photos in The Echo newspaper.  It was that first Film Office apprentice, Paul Dixon, was working on it in his first freelance job.  That the entire Locations Department were made up of Liverpool crew, many of whom I’d supported and mentored over the years.  That there were a shining group of trainees from LJMU recruited and paid to help out and when a five-year-old little girl in Cherry Lane, Walton told me it was the best day of her life seeing Batman at the top of her street. And I knew what that felt like. 

I was born in the Victorian slums in Liverpool City Centre and, before they were pulled down, was moved as a four-year-old with my baby sisters and parents to a brand new purpose built 1960s housing estate on the outskirts of the city.

Photo: Cantril Farm, Liverpool. Aerial photo via Liverpool in Black n White

It was a planner’s dream, but not a very practical, nurturing or inspiring place in which to live and grow. I left school in the 80s at the height of a deep financial recession and to a backdrop of significant national and local political unrest.  I was the generation known as ‘Maggie’s Babies’.  There was very little to do on the estate, no culture, no jobs and not much hope, but the music was great!

My mum and dad both worked in manual jobs and there was no opportunity for me to go to university, I had to work to earn my keep.  My first job was at Kodak factory in Kirkby making film/tape for cameras and movies, how apt!  But it wasn’t the type of work I wanted to do though for the rest of my life.

Mersey Television had started filming ‘Brookside’ at the edge of my estate.  I was fascinated that this ground-breaking and utterly amazing show was filmed every day just a very short distance from my house – made by – and starring local people.  The TV was full of shows featuring Liverpool talent and I was desperate to work in the industry, but there was no opportunity for me at the time.

Photo: Phil Redmond, Creator of Brookside on set

Photo: Phil Redmond, Creator of Brookside on set

So my next chance was a YOP scheme with the Arts Council, in the Bluecoat.  I was on the final short list of two candidates; one who had academic qualifications, and me without many, but both each deserving of and needing the opportunity. A coin was tossed and my fate and future sealed and I never looked back.

Talent is threaded in the DNA of people in this city but opportunity even today can still be a challenge, particularly those from disadvantaged and diverse backgrounds.

Indigenous production companies continue to recruit local talent both in front and behind the camera particularly Lime Pictures which is the largest independent production company in the UK based in Liverpool.  LA Productions, Hurricane Films and Red Union Films are also based in the region who regularly produce award-winning film and TV projects providing talent in all roles and across all departments.

These companies, their work and combined with the itinerant production supported by the Liverpool Film Office is the foundation for its plans to grow the film and TV sector in the region further.  The schemes Liverpool City Council has underway with the Combined Authority with the Pop-Up temporary units on Edge Lane adjacent to the Littlewoods Film Studios will provide further opportunities for freelancers, new entrants, those retraining and transferring skills (particularly craft and financial services) and work with early years to inspire school children who live in the Central and Picton Wards of the opportunities both – in front and behind the camera – in the big boxes that are being built over the road in Edge Lane.

Liverpool has the talent. We are now creating the opportunity.

Liverpool Waterfront