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Town goes into the limelight
WHEN most people think of the film industry, their next thought is of Hollywood – the gleaming centre of movies and movie stars.
But every so often moviegoers are fortunate enough to enjoy a feature from Britain that has something to say about the British way of life.
That is why fans should be particularly proud of Phil Stagg, who has made scenes from Warrington and Northwich come to life for an international audience.
The writer and director from Appleton swapped the banks of the River Mersey for the French Riviera earlier this year when he jetted out to the Cannes Film Festival to promote his romantic comedy Barefooting.
It is the tale of two men, who decide to settle a lifelong mutual hatred and compete for the affections of a woman by running a cross country race.
“It’s not based on any real life – it is purely fictional. Sadly it is not autobiographical, although that would have made for an interesting sideline,” said Phil.
"I liked the idea of these two men whose whole lives are at stake for the sake of who wins a race."Director Phil Stagg
“It just popped into my head as a good idea. I liked the idea of these two men whose whole lives are at stake for the sake of who wins a race.”
Among the landmarks are Warrington Town Hall, Palmyra Square and the canals and rivers of Northwich.
“As it was a story about a cross country race, we had the opportunity to film in a lot of different locations,” Phil added.
“An awful lot of scenes are from my hometown as this particular story leant itself to Warrington and the actors and crew were mostly from the town.”
In fact, Phil was filming in Latchford when the Greenalls distillery set alight and the shoot had to be delayed because of all the smoke and the wail of fire engines.
“That was quite a memorable day but not for particularly pleasant reasons,” he said.
Phil also chose to film in Northwich because it was where he lived as a child.
“I have a great affection for that town and I have always been familiar with the good locations in the area.
“We did the very first day of filming there in a park behind the Memorial Hall and there was this wonderful riverside scene.
“We were lucky because there has been flooding there since.”
Phil started his creative career on the stage running the north west-based Arena Theatre Company.
After 20 years, he started to tire of running up and down the country and bought a video recorder to see if he had what it took to make a film.
His first feature was a documentary about his theatre group, which he followed with several short films.
“That was my way into the film industry but short films have a limited lifespan and were not really what I wanted to do.
“Ten-minute features are ok but they’re never going to shock the world,” Phil added.
He then gradually accrued the confidence, experience and technical knowledge he needed to make the full length movie, Barefooting.
“That’s the one that did it for us,” said Phil.
“It felt like the real thing for the first time. It took us a long time but we got there and thankfully a few people agreed.”
Barefooting premiered in Woolton cinema in Liverpool and was promoted in Cannes by Palm Tree UK, based at Pinewood Studios but Phil is still in search of a distribution deal.
Phil said: “It was a very successful screening with interest from the Americans, the French and the Germans but these things can take quite a while.”
Not that this has slowed the writer and director down because he has now been commissioned to create a new film called The Sweetheart Sisters set in the Lake District.
A thriller set in France and England called Caught is also in the works.