Birmingham Camera Action! the King's Speech May Have Grabbed the Glory at the Oscars but UK Film-Makers Still Face Significant Challenges When It Comes to Getting Productions off the Ground. However, in Birmingham Low Budget Movie-Making Is Thriving as Producers and Directors Come Up with Fresh Ways to Realise Their Visions. Alison Jones Reports

Article excerpt

Byline: Alison Jones

f one were to pick a hub of film-making creativity in Birmingham it is unlikely to be in Erdington.

IParticularly not in a fairly unprepossessing, partially empty group of offices above a shopping centre where the doors still bear the signs from its days as a Gender Reassignment Clinic.

It certainly isn't Hollywood (...which is several miles south down the A435) but writer, director and film-maker Andrew Spencer feels this less than glamorous city suburb is filled with untapped potential for the aspiring auteur.

Admittedly he is a little biased, he lives here. His dad used to be the vicar of St Barnabas Church.

Andrew is in the process of finishing a rough cut of his second film, The Casebook of Eddie Brewer.

It has been shot on location in Erdington at Rookery House, the former home of Barbara Spooner, later the wife of William Wilberforce, the anti-slavery campaigner.

The Grade II* listed house has seen better days. It was turned into offices by the council in the 60s but is now being handed back to a steering group for restoration.

However, before it could be returned to its former glory, the derelict, boarded-up building made a fittingly creepy location for a movie about a paranormal investigator.

"I had been working with Rookery House Steering Group and Dr Andy Green gave me this picture from the archives that inspired me," explains Andrew. "It was of a lady standing in the garden, a rather mysterious figure, and I got the idea of making a story based around the house and a previous occupant or member of the family."

He describes the film as a cross between The Office and Paranormal Activity, a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Eddie, an old-fashioned, somewhat inept investigator who has been probing the paranormal for 30 years following the untimely death of his wife.

Eddie is played by Ian Brooker, an actor who usually works as a voice-over artist.

The cast of professional actors worked for nothing, inspired solely by their faith that Andrew's script was a good one.

"They have all taken points so if it does anything they will get a cut," says Andrew.

It wouldn't take much to push it into profit, given that he estimates the total budget to have been somewhere between pounds 900 and pounds 1,500.

"Friends and relations gave me money. I wanted to cover expenses and catering which were the most important things. You need to keep actors fed and watered.

"It is very, very micro budget but it looks much more expensive than it is. Also, if you are shooting a documentary, it doesn't matter about the quality of the image so long as the acting is good. Blair Witch Project is a good example of that."

It is a ghost story but there wasn't the budget for special effects so Andrew is relying on the power of the audience's imagination to fill in the blanks.

"The scares are more cerebral," he says.

The house itself offered its own atmosphere, and possibly a genuine spirit.

"There were lots of spooky goings on. One of the actresses was in the toilet on the other side of the house and we heard a scream. She asked which one of us had been behind the door and none of us had. We were all in the green room or in the kitchen at the time. The security guard could vouch for the fact there was no one else in the building."

Once editing has been completed, Andrew hopes to take his work to film festivals in the UK and abroad.

"It is important to me to have a screening locally as well. This is very much a regional project, set in Birmingham, using Birmingham history and most of the accents are local as well.

"I'd like it to have a theatrical release. It has got a lot going for it. I think it could have a limited art house release hopefully, with a distribution company coming on board.

"I think people will be surprised it is set here. …