Coming Home - the Yorkshire short film that explores grief and hope

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Next scene - Credit: Archant

Two Yorkshire sisters have made an accomplished debut short film on a tight budget with an impressive cast and crew. Tony Greenway finds out how they did it.

Natalie Grosvenor and Jo Fox

Natalie Grosvenor and Jo Fox - Credit: Archant

Making a movie sounds glamorous. The exotic locations. The red carpets. The awards. The acclaim. Mind you, when you have to get up at stupid o’clock in the morning to shoot on the freezing cold North York Moors for hours on end, it suddenly becomes less attractive, particularly when you suspect that hypothermia is beginning to set in. But that’s just what film producer sisters Natalie Grosvenor and Jo Fox had to do last February, in order to make their debut film. It’s a poignant short movie called Coming Home, written by Jo, about a farmer struggling to tell her seven-year-old son that his absent mummy isn’t going to return. ‘It was SO cold,’ remembers Jo. ‘Don’t get me wrong. Filmmaking is pleasurable but it’s hard graft.’

Natalie, who works in healthcare services, and Jo, a former doctor turned science tutor at Scarborough Sixth Form College, are based in Pocklington and have formed a company called Fox-Grosvenor Films. While they’ve always been passionate film fans, they hadn’t thought about making movies until fairly recently. It was Jo’s writing that kick-started this particular creative process for both of them. ‘I’ve always enjoyed writing as a hobby,’ explains Jo. ‘I got a “how to write a screenplay” book for my birthday years ago. I read it, had a go and became a quarter-finalist in the Nicholl Fellowship Quarterfinals, which is run by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.’ She has since been shortlisted in the Blue Cat Screenplay Competition, and an initiative from Create50 that showcases the work of emerging screenwriters.

The reason Jo prefers writing screenplays is because, unlike novels, they don’t take long to complete. ‘I was able to write an entire feature film in six days,’ she says. ‘As a result, I’ve written a number of scripts. I was at a scriptwriter’s event and met Robyn Slovo who co-produced the Michael Fassbender thriller The Snowman and was talking to her about how I could turn one of them into a full-length movie. She said: “Make a short film first. That’s the way you’ll learn your craft.” So that’s what we did. And she was right. We learnt so much from making Coming Home.’

The four-day shoot took place at a holiday cottage at South Dalton; Millington Pastures in the Yorkshire Wolds; a location near Hutton-le-Hole and Yapham, near Pocklington. ‘That was where we filmed the crowd scenes,’ says Natalie. ‘We had a lot of local mums and children standing around in the freezing cold, drinking tea and eating sandwiches. We caused a frisson of excitement locally. People were so supportive and really got switched on to the idea.’

The lead is Rebecca Root, a trans actor whose credits include Hollyoaks, the BBC2 sitcom Boy Meets G

The lead is Rebecca Root, a trans actor whose credits include Hollyoaks, the BBC2 sitcom Boy Meets Girl and the Eddie Redmayne film, The Danish Girl - Credit: Archant

One of the most remarkable things about Coming Home is the calibre of the cast and crew which, including extras, numbers around 60. The lead is Rebecca Root, a trans actor whose credits include Hollyoaks, the BBC2 sitcom Boy Meets Girl, the Eddie Redmayne film, The Danish Girl and the upcoming western The Sisters Brothers, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Jake Gyllenhaal. The director, meanwhile, is Italian-born Sophie Tamaro, a film studies graduate, writer and director who works in the film industry as a casting assistant and whose credits include the Tom Hanks movie, Inferno.

Coming Home’s director of cinematography, Ernesto Herrmann, was Oscar-nominated for the documentary Amy (about Amy Winehouse) meanwhile focus puller Veronica Keszthelyi worked on Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin and BBC1’s Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch. Even the music has an impressive pedigree, because it’s provided by Driffield-based Edwina Hayes, who’s toured with the likes of Jools Holland, Van Morrison and Nanci Griffith, and whose version of Randy Newman’s Seems Like Home to Me was featured in the Cameron Diaz movie, My Sister’s Keeper. ‘Edwina is an amazing performer,’ says Natalie. ‘Why she isn’t hideously popular across the world, I’ll never know. We were so lucky she wanted to be part of this.’

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‘We assembled a really good team,’ agrees Jo. ‘These are all people who will go on to do great things, I’ve no doubt.’

Probably the biggest coup was the casting of Rebecca Root, who, while not universally well-known, is still an established star. ‘We’d seen her at an event in London and she was really interesting and down to earth,’ says Jo. ‘We sent her the script and she said: “It’s lovely. I’ll do it.” She came up to Yorkshire on the train for a day, we had lunch and showed her the locations we were thinking of using. This is someone who’s had lunch with Jake Gyllenhaal! So it’s all about getting your script into the hands of the right people.’

Filmmaking is pleasurable but it's hard graft, says movie maker Jo Fox

Filmmaking is pleasurable but it's hard graft, says movie maker Jo Fox - Credit: Archant

Well, actually, it’s not just about that. It’s also about raising cash because Natalie and Jo had to pay the cast and crew, even though they worked cheaply. A crowd-funding initiative didn’t catch-fire, so they ended up financing most of the movie themselves. ‘We both rolled out our husbands to help,’ laughs Jo. ‘My nephews were grips on the film and my son, who’s a film student at York College, was the boom operator. So we paid all of them in food. We hadn’t banked on a budget for our production designer, Emily Moitoi-Sturman. In fact, we had nothing at all. So, bless her, she worked for well less than half her normal fee.’

Ultimately, Natalie and Jo have been able to make Coming Home for around £11,000. ‘We shot the movie on a high quality camera with high quality lenses plus we had to hire all the equipment, pay insurance... all things that you don’t think about at first,’ says Jo. ‘You rely on people’s goodwill because unless you know someone in the industry who can give you a leg-up, the only way to get on is to put your hand in your pocket, make the film yourself and try to tell the world: “Look, we have talent. Please believe in us and invest in our next project so we can pay people properly”.’

There were also various logistical challenges that Natalie and Jo had to navigate along the way. ‘On the first day our child star, James Jakes, who’s a lovely little boy, had a raging fever and wasn’t well,’ says Jo. ‘He battled through that. We gave him ice cream and made sure he was comfy. His mum was on set with him at all times and we said to her: “Well... if he can’t do it, he can’t do it.” But it nearly kiboshed the shoot because we couldn’t have gone on without him.’ Luckily, James, who won the part through an audition, soldiered on.

Coming Home should be out of post-production next month. After a cast and crew screening, Natalie and Jo plan to enter it into various film festivals, including November’s Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York. ‘We want to use Coming Home as a calling card to attract financiers to our other projects,’ says Jo. ‘We’ll use it to prove what we can do, that we can hire the best people and show that we’re proper filmmakers. We’re developing a slate of Fox-Grosvenor films including one called Better in the Flesh which we’ll probably develop next as a full-length feature.’

On location on a winter's day

On location on a winter's day - Credit: Archant

This means that Coming Home will be ready in time for Oscar and BAFTA consideration. If that sounds like a pipe dream, remember that outstanding British short movie, The Silent Child, won an Academy Award earlier this year after being screened at various festivals and being shortlisted by academy members. ‘That’s the plan,’ says Jo. ‘That’s the aim.’

The sisters are rightly proud of their labour of love. But is the finished product as good as they thought it would be? ‘That’s what the director of photography asked me,’ laughs Jo. ‘I told him: “The thing is, I’ve seen this film already many times, but in my head. And no, it didn’t look exactly the same as what’s ended up on screen. But it’s a very good substitute...’