Wildcard Films shoots supernatural mystery on location near Guildford
Wildcard Films has chosen the distinctive Norney Grange near Guildford in Surrey to film low-budget supernatural mystery Blackwood. TLG visits the set to find out more about the location and see what appealed to the production.
Norney Grange is a distinctive Arts and Crafts house built in 1897 and extended six years later. The building grabs the eye against a background of white frost. It is a cold, frosty morning in mid-December when we visit and the weather serves to amplify Norney Grange’s rural beauty.
The house has been chosen as the main filming location for Wildcard Films’ Blackwood, the debut feature from director Adam Wimpenny and writer Joe Hill. It’s the story of a couple and their young son retreating to a country home in a remote English village. As they try to fix their marriage, the husband begins having visions of a masked boy and starts investigating a mysterious local disappearance.
“It looks great, doesn’t it?” says Location Manager Christian McWilliams as he gives us a tour of the house’s exterior: “It’s been used for films like Shadowlands and Wimbledon in the past. We have a great script and some serious talent in Adam Wimpenny and Joe Hill. We’re here for three weeks. On a practical level Norney offers easy access from London and the owners are very accommodating to our production needs.”
On a practical level Norney offers easy access from London and the owners are very accommodating to our production needs.
Christian McWilliams, Location Manager
McWilliams gives us a tour of part of the ground floor. A rear living room still displays wallpaper left over from Richard Attenborough’s Shadowlands, which visited in the early 90s (“The owners liked it so they left it as it was when they left,” McWilliams says). Next to this is a cosy study covered in newspaper clippings reporting on a young boy’s disappearance – the handiwork of Blackwood’s art department. The furniture and decor of the house is broadly modern, with the occasional antique.
“Normally on a shoot like this you would probably build sets in a studio,” says producer Adam Morane-Griffiths: “but as we’re working with a low budget we decided location filming was better. We considered filming locations in Yorkshire and Gloucester - Screen Yorkshire wanted to fund us at one point, but we opted to film elsewhere in the end.
“As you’ve seen, Norney Grange offers a different and distinctive architectural styles that we thought were less expected in a film of this sort. Also, we didn't have to do so much with the production design here as everything’s already quite modern.”
The crew are fitting makeshift blinds to windows in preparation for an interior scene set at night, as we move into the house’s main hallway. Everything actually feels quite homely, with Austrian oak panelling being among the staple interior features.
Wildcard has set up a bank of video monitors in a ground floor living room. Joe Hill watches the feed from upstairs as the crew set up a scene with stars Ed Stoppard and Sophia Myles. The shot is a simple push-in as the couple are interrupted at bedtime by their son. Hill asks for a minor dialogue change as a couple of rehearsals give way to takes, while radio messages relay concerns about props and costumes.
“We’re close to London here so we don’t have to worry about hotel nights for cast and crew,” says line producer Simon Moseley as we relocate to Blackwood’s makeshift production office in Norney Grange’s kitchen.
He adds: “The US studios like bringing big productions to this part of Surrey – War Horse and Thor: The Dark World among them – so local landowners are used to charging high location filming fees. That prices out productions with lower budgets; there was negotiation involved for this shoot. We got financial assistance from the UK tax credit too.”
Location fees help with the Norney Grange’s upkeep and it's attracted high-profile productions in the past, most recently Paul Bettany’s Wimbledon in 2004.
The house is a great location that should appeal to all budget ranges. Larger productions may opt to use London’s studio space but Norney Grange is a real find as an architectural curiosity, perhaps for exterior shots. Those working with a lower budget can follow Blackwood’s example and will find the building large enough to accommodate production space, make-up and costumes in one wing, while other parts of the house become a film set.
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