Hull-based Dead Bod Films reveal their movie-making plans for the city

A scene from One Summer When You Went Away now in post-production

A scene from One Summer When You Went Away now in post-production - Credit: Archant

Writer-producer Julian Woodford, co-founder of Hull-based Dead Bod Films, talks to Tony Greenway about his movie-making plans for the city

Chris Hopkin and Julian Woodford

Chris Hopkin and Julian Woodford - Credit: Archant

‘The thing with Hull,’ says filmmaker, writer and poet Julian Woodford, ‘is that people either love it and want to stay... Or they want to get the hell out.’ Woodford belongs squarely in the former category. He was born and raised in the Home Counties and educated in London but has lived in Hull since 2004 and is now one of the people leading the charge to put the city on the UK’s movie-making map. To that end he co-founded Dead Bod Films in 2015 with director Chris Hopkin and producer Emily Brown with the express aim of producing ‘original stories about the Humber region, using local talent’.

And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing. So far, Dead Bod has made a 30-minute crowdfunded short, The Bagpipe Maker’s Baby, which has been finding success in film festivals around the world while its first feature-length movie, One Summer When You Went Away, is currently in post-production.

Hopkin directed both films, while Woodford produced them and wrote the screenplays. ‘Danny, who’s the main character in One Summer, is one of those people who wants to get the hell out of Hull,’ says Woodford. ‘He wants to be an artist and do his own thing. His dad’s in jail and he unexpectedly discovers his mum has gone off to Greece with her latest lover, so he suddenly has an opportunity to leave; but then he meets this girl, Izzy, who is new to the city. She likes Hull and wants to stay.’ The film features local actors, took three weeks to shoot and cost just £1,000.

The Bagpipe Maker’s Baby, on the other hand, cost around £3,000 (a small set was needed which increased production costs), was filmed entirely on location in Hornsea and Skipsea, and is now available to watch on YouTube. ‘I’d written a short story,’ remembers Woodford. ‘Although it was about a bagpipe-maker, it was very English. I used to go to Hornsea a lot – my mum’s from there – so it was always a tale I’d envisaged being set on the East Yorkshire coast. I re-wrote it as a film script because I wanted to produce something locally that was ambitious but do-able – and something I’d written. I’d always believed in it. It’s kind of a weird fairytale.’

That’s one way of putting it. The magic realist plot focuses on a man who is asked to repair an un-repairable bagpipe by a mysterious figure. But why does the bagpipe appear to be made of shells and seaweed? And who is the woman who keeps pleading with him to save her baby from the sea? It’s haunting and unsettling but, ultimately, says Woodford, romantically hopeful and has been applauded in film festivals around the world. Because, while this is independent movie-making on a budget, Dead Bod’s production values are second-to-none and the cinematography is nothing short of glorious.

‘We’ve been keen to show The Bagpipe Maker’s Baby internationally,’ says Woodford. ‘People in the States have really got it: it’s been to film festivals on the East Coast in Virginia and West Coast and Toronto. It’s also been popular in India, with Chris winning best director at the Starlight Film Awards.’ It also won Best Short Film at the SeeMor Film Festival in Anglesey, with judge Karen Ankers saying it was ‘a beautiful film which deserves to be better known... and which I will never forget’.

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Dead Bod – which takes its name from the famous 1960s graffiti of an upturned bird painted on a corrugated iron shed at Hull’s Alexandra Dock – has other, more ambitious movie-making plans which it hopes to realise in the near future. These include an Anglo-Danish co-production called Koi, and a film adaptation of the Shelley poem, Men of England, the screenplay of which Woodford has worked on with a well-known female poet although he can’t reveal her identity just yet. ‘I always used to question why I write,’ he says. ‘You know: “Where is this coming from exactly?” But, actually, there’s no need for writers to question what they do. It’s not about them. It’s about the people who read it or watch it. They’ll take from it what they take from it.’

Coming to Hull has been a life-changing experience for Woodford who, after a divorce in 2002, found himself sleeping rough on the streets of London for four months. A recovered alcoholic, he’s been dry for 14 years and is now engaged to be married again. Things are on the up, and not just personally and professionally. There’s a new, exciting, fizzy vibe in Hull that he’s keen to tap into. ‘Film-making as an industry within the city is kind of new,’ he says. ‘Well... actually it’s always been there but it’s becoming more professional and more ambitious. We know we can cast and produce feature films here. Yes, Hull is riddled with problems, but it wasn’t named city of culture by accident. The city of culture year has gone but the organisations and companies are still there. There’s a real atmosphere of expectation and positivity in the city – and that if you do something in Hull, you’ll be taken seriously.’