How your home could be a movie star

If you've ever walked around your house and thought it was the perfect setting for a film, now could be your chance to see it immortalised in celluloid.

If you've ever walked around your house and thought it was the perfect setting for a film, now could be your chance to see it immortalised in celluloid. Jules Stevens talked to movie locations manager Paul O'Grady who said he was always looking for unusual properties in Norfolk.

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As a nation of curtain-twitchers television programmes that peer inside people's homes have grown ever more popular.

So being a film location scout might strike many people as their ideal job.


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Locations manager Paul O'Grady has toured the country looking at people's homes as possible settings for movies, adverts and fashion shoots for over 20 years.

Now he concentrates on finding houses and settings in Norfolk and said the area was growing in popularity among film makers.

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The 47-year-old recently organised high profile locations for big-budget Hollywood movie Stardust and Stephen Fry's latest offering - Kingdom.

The jewel in Norfolk's location crown was Holkham beach, he said, which was used at least once of month by film crews.

“It's my bread and butter,” said Mr O'Grady. “That one location gets used more then all of Norfolk. People are prepared to come out here for it, where as normally it's hard to tempt filmmakers out of London.

“Whether it's filming bird watching with Bill Oddie, Time Team with Tony Robinson or an episode of Kingdom with Stephen Fry, movie makers are always looking for a good beach location in England.

“Holkham has even been used as a double for Cape Town,” he said.

For the opening shot of Kingdom filmmakers planned to film Fry from a helicopter walking alone down the wide beach.

“We did that really early,” said Mr O'Grady. “Stephen Fry stood on the beach and we zoomed out from the helicopter. In the shot he's the only bod on the beach. It looks really impressive. The team were really pleased with it.

“It's difficult using helicopters there because you have to arrange it with English Nature to make sure it doesn't land anywhere where there are birds nesting,” he said.

Mr O'Grady was also involved with transforming Elm Hill in Norwich into a medieval wonderland for the fantasy film Stardust starring a host of big-name actors including Sienna Miller, Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro.

“I have a property on the street,” he said, “So I know everyone there. But it took us six weeks to get everyone to agree to the shoot. We can't offer people who are hesitating more money because then others would turn around and say they want more money too. We have to use diplomacy. We told people that it would be really good for business, bringing lots of people to the street.

“In the end the person who was most against us filming at the beginning was asking by the end when the sequel would be shot.”

His company, Norfolk Locations, pay people between £300 and £3,000 a day to use their house, depending on whether they were shooting a movie or photographs for magazines.

He said Stardust was one of the biggest films he had worked on. It involved dressing the whole street up to look like it was a different period, and hanging giant film lights 100ft above the street from helium balloons.

It took weeks for carpenters and set designers to make the changes, and many days of bureaucracy to get permission from authorities to move benches and turn out all the electric street lamps.

“The film demanded a very specific location - a medieval cobbled street going up a hill, with a kink in it and a landmark building at the top, in this case The Britton Arms. Believe it or not, after scouring all of Europe, only Elm Hill fitted the bill,” he said.

Mr O'Grady fell into his unusual job after a friend, who worked for Burberry at the time, rang him looking for places for a fashion shoot in Norfolk.

“He rang wanting to find locations and then rang back again wanting me to find all the crew somewhere to stay near the site. I was beginning to think that I was doing more than just a small favour for friend when he offered to pay me.

“So I just fell into the job. It's not the kind of thing you can do a degree in after all,” he added.

Despite several high profile films recently movies are still not regularly shot in Norfolk- something Screen East, the body that supports filmmakers in the region, is trying to change.

Kerry Ixer, head of locations at Screen East, said the organisation was promoting the area as assessable with lots of unique views and properties, including Cromer and The Broads.

And their work also involved pushing the idea of having films made in the county to businesses and local people.

Both she and Mr O'Grady said they were looking for more locations to add to their lists.

Mr O'Grady said he looks through the EDP property section every week and sees the impressive houses for sale wishing many of them were on his books.

He said: “We are not just looking for huge houses but unique places, including flats and properties in towns.”

t If you want to get your property on Mr O'Grady's books call him on 07973827536 or go to his website www.norfolklocations.co.uk

t You can get in touch with Screen East by going to their website www.locations@screeneast.co.uk

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