I’m ready for my Haunted Hotel close-up (well, the back of my head is)
- Credit: Archant
Entertainment writer Wayne Savage has another crack at film fame, this time appearing in Film Suffolk’s new anthology movie The Haunted Hotel as an arts journalist (quite a stretch).
I’m on the same call sheet as Poirot’s Hugh Fraser. Much further down, but still. It’s my second time as a film extra. I was a zombie in World of the Dead, a sequel to The Zombie Diaries, shot at Bentwaters. I didn’t make the final cut; believe me, I’ve checked.
This time I’m assured the back of my head, maybe even my hand, will feature. Worth taking actual short-hand notes - I’m very method, like a Suffolk Al Pacino - although it occurs later Teeline may not have been invented in the 1970s (it was created in 1968, bit of movie trivia for you there).
Luckily director Joshua Dickinson, who also wrote and acts in Housekeeping, was on hand to set-up The Writer in which I play an arts journalist; a test of my range. “A successful author comes to the hotel in the hope he’ll be able to concentrate because sometimes his writing guides him into these psychiatric episodes but it doesn’t quite work. You’re actually in the final scene so it’s going to give the ending away,” he warns.
The first block of shooting has taken place in sweltering heat, with health and safety concerns resulting in the team having to ask people in the area for fans and air-conditioning units.
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“Yesterday hit 30 degrees. A lot of us were sat in this one room, it was like an oven for 10 hours but everything’s going really well. This story is set in the 1970s so the guys who have done all the art department stuff have dressed it superbly. We even managed to find an original Old Spice bottle.”
Film Suffolk’s The Haunted Hotel features a cast and crew of volunteers from across East Anglia. Like previous feature With Love from Suffolk, the aim is to promote the area’s creative talent and tell stories with a special regional appeal.
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A lot’s changed since I last toured the now derelict Great White Horse, in the heart of Ipswich, late one evening two weeks ago. Dating back to the 16th Century, it’s already spooky with creepy corridors, nooks and crannies.
Charles Dickens famously featured the hotel in the Pickwick Papers and its guestbook includes everybody from Queen Elizabeth I and Lord Nelson, then High Steward of Ipswich; with Lady Hamilton to Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson after his abdication.
“It’s been really busy. We’ve got a fantastic art department who have painted, refreshed and repaired many of those rooms and they look absolutely brilliant. It’s been a real joy for the crew and the cast to go into these rooms that have been derelict for about 15 years and see them come to life as a Victorian bedroom or a 1970s writer’s den,” says producer Julien Mery.
“We’ve been really lucky. We’ve managed the impossible by sourcing furniture from suppliers here in the middle of Suffolk that we knew nothing about. At the same time we’ve had generous donations from Age UK at the Co-op Department Store.
“It was an incredible challenge to get so much from the 1830s all the way up to now. We had more than two lorry-fulls. But it’s real fun when you see the finished product.”
The majority of the footage will be shot in about four days with a few pick ups here and there. Then it’s into the editing suite for the film’s Halloween premiere at Woodbridge’s Riverside Cinema.
Julien says the team couldn’t have asked any more of all involved.
“It’s fantastic having so many people come together and help make this vision come true.”
Last chance for the loo interupts one of the production team before me and fellow extras Connor Love-Foster, Kathryn Pike, Mike Dommett and Sacha Walker are called to set to meet wardrobe mistress Mary Hunt.
She’s had the task of sourcing or making the 100 plus costumes for all eight films.
“It’s been quite a challenge, particularly in the 1830s because that was a very specific look; the 1920s as well. As we get nearer our own time, from the 1940s onwards, it’s a little bit easier.”
Some characters have fewer outfit changes than others, ranging from zero (like me) to as many as six.
“We’ve had some donations, I’ve also been able to travel to the Lowestoft Players, the Seagull, the Mercury in Colchester and the Maddermarket in Norwich for various pieces. I’ve had to create three or four costumes as well but in the time period that’s enough. Some of the cast were only chosen a week ago,” she explains, draping a selection of suitable 1970s kipper ties around my neck, “but the fitting’s have gone well.”
It’s the only change she makes to what I’m wearing. Not sure what that says about my day-to-day style. I guess journalists still aren’t paid enough to update their wardrobe. Blisteringly hot, she luckily doesn’t make me wear the heavy trademark trenchcoat I’ve brought along.
Mary’s looking forward to the premiere. “I’ll have to have a real snazzy dress,” she laughs.
I’m sure she knows someone who can help I suggest before we’re ushed on to the set.
Drama and theatre studies graduate Connor is used to the stage, appearing in many shows in Bury St Edmunds and Sudbury. He’s looking forward to being in his first film.
It’s Kathryn’s film debut too. You’d usually find the scare actor at Essex’s fright night experience Cursed, covered in full latex prosthetics and blood, dressed as everything from a zombie clown with a big scary nose to complete camouflage so you don’t know she’s there until she pounces.
“It’s on my bucket list to be a film extra so here I am,” she laughs, adding she’ll behave because she doesn’t want to get chucked off set.
Database programmer Mike got involved via a friend in production who mentioned they could do with extras. He’s never done anything like this before but tells me afterwards he had fun, adding he was surprised at everything that went on during a single scene as we were moved from place to place while the crew discussed lighting, cues and sound levels while the main actor ran lines.
“Hot,” smiles Sacha, who’s appeared in amateur theatre productions, when I ask how she found the experience.
“I thought the actor was doing amazingly with all the people shouting and talking about anything but what’s he doing while he’s remembering his lines and trying to give an interesting performance. You’ve got a lot to do.”
Nobody praises my shorthand performance.
The other chapters of the anthology are:
• Ghost of a Chance: A put-upon 1960s hotel manageress struggles to train a hapless new addition to her ghostly entourage.
• Devil Inside: In the present day, a gang of ageing thieves hole up in the derelict hotel, unaware of what’s in store.
• 40 Years: Set in the 1980s, an older gentleman returns to the hotel for an anniversary date with a twist.
• Housekeeping: A new hotel chambermaid in the 1990s is unnerved to discover the rooms have a habit of rearranging themselves.
• Room 27: In the strait-laced 1950s, a young couple plan a secret tryst at the hotel until ghostly forces intervene.
• The Contraption: Set in the 1920s, a young woman arrives at the hotel with a plan to prove that spectres are real.
• Watching: The young Charles Dickens struggles with his nerves while staying at the hotel in the 1830s and gets an unexpected visitor.