Filming The Woman In Black on location in Essex
"GLOOMY salt marshes, an all-enveloping fog, strange goings-on in a remote, isolated community..."
Thus started my review of The Woman In Black at the Civic Theatre in Chelmsford five years ago, followed by the quip that it wasn't describing a night out in the Dengie peninsula but the stage version of Susan Hill's much loved gothic ghost story.
Little did I know that a few years later the Dengie would be chosen as a location for the big screen version of the story.
But when the film's producers and director tasked location manager Chris Moore with finding a suitable spot to film the bleak exteriors needed, Osea Island in the Blackwater Estuary, just off Maldon, was the front-runner.
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Chris, 36, who has worked on major productions like The Bourne Ultimatum and The Dark Knight, explains the process involved in finding a location.
"Essentially, I get a script and I look for what's needed and in this case, it was a causeway, marshes and a house, and you rarely find all of those in the same place."
"First of all you look to see how it breaks up in terms of what you need. You do that in conjunction with the designer and the director, then you go out and start scouting.
"On this film, Hammer (the famous British horror film production house) had done a pre-scout and had sent people around the country to get some ideas.
"They'd found Osea, so we went to see it and it looked great but we had concerns about tidal issues and whether we would be able to film there. We even thought about building a causeway in a field and using CGI.
"But we decided to go with Osea because it had that wonderful causeway and it had the right logistics. It looked perfect but we had to weigh up the practicalities. The more difficult it becomes to film somewhere, the more expensive it becomes. Osea looked fantastic but we had to think about whether it was practical.
"With any location manager, 70 per cent of it is the look of the place but 30 per cent is the practicality."
Osea Island was chosen for the causeway scenes for the film and while the production used a village in Yorkshire and a house in Peterborough for other parts of the shoot, they were keen to make the most of their stay in Essex.
"We spent about five or six days filming at Osea causeway," says Chris. "Because of the tide, we could only film there for six hours a day but you can't wrap a crew after six hours, we work 12 hour days, so we looked for other locations we could use nearby."
Looking at other scenes they had to shoot, the production ended up using Mangapps Railway Station at Burnham, Colne Valley Railway in Castle Hedingham, the beach at Bradwell-on-Sea, All Saints Church in Ulting and Layer Marney Tower near Tiptree.
"We were lucky in Essex," says Chris. "There were two period railways. We looked at the schedule and what we needed to shoot and worked out how to do it. We used carriages from both places."
Layer Marney's famous tower, seen recently on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow, does not feature in the film but the crew used the visitor attraction's gardens to shoot dream sequences featuring Arthur Kipp's wife.
Chris says Ulting's All Saint's Church "had the right feel for the designer" for some graveyard sequences while Bradwell beach doubled as a stretch of coast overlooking Eel Marsh Island.
"The beach is great," says Chris. "You could look either way and there were no modern trappings, so we didn't have to worry about that. The Bradwell community were really accommodating and helpful."
Chris says wherever the crew filmed, the locals were very helpful – and a lot more friendly than the locals in the film!
Chris, who's originally from Derbyshire and trained as a theatrical stage manager, says he would definitely return to Essex to shoot movies – and has already been back since filming The Woman In Black.
"We shot at Clacton Pier for a British film called Love Bite which is out this year. The council were brilliant, I'd go back there in the blink of an eye. They got it, they understood our needs and were very accommodating and let us do what we wanted, within reason."
The film, a comedy horror about a werewolf preying on virgins in a quiet seaside town, stars Timothy Spall alongside two Essex actors – Ed Speelers from Great Totham, best known for playing the lead in 2006 fantasy film Eragon; and Kierston Wareing from Leigh-on-Sea, star of Fish Tank and acclaimed TV dramas like Luther, Inside Men and The Shadow Line.
A bit of an untapped resource so far, don't be surprised if you see more film crews descending on Essex in the coming weeks and months.
"In terms of proximity to London, Essex is great and a large part of this business is down to logistics," Chris says.
"Essex has some real gems in it. There are some real barren landscapes. I know quite a few productions that have popped in and out of Essex.
"I would definitely come back to Essex if it had the right setting. It's proximity is great and it's not overshot."