Close to Me: behind the scenes
When film crews come to town, local social media light up, especially when celebrity actors like Christopher Eccleston pop into a local shop* for a lunchtime sausage roll. HIP gets behind the scenes of the recent filming of the Channel 4 drama series to find out what it was like filming in Hastings.
The first question of course was “Why Hastings?” Well understandably, as the writer, Angela Reynolds, set her book in Sussex, “her neck of the woods”, it made sense that the drama series should follow suit. It could have been Brighton, Eastbourne or Margate, but in the end “Hastings just had a great vibe and it was the right sort of size and we just felt it had a real distinctive, interesting feel about it.”
Hastings was used to create the exterior fictional world of the film and then London is where all the interiors will be shot. So most of what the film crew were doing in Hastings was establishing the exteriors of the town. “Lots of going into doors and out of doors and driving past things. We’re trying to grab as much exterior as possible in the time, but all the interior things will get shot in London.” Apparently, that saves on the cost of hotels for 15 weeks.
But filming wasn’t just in town. One important scene was shot on the East Hill at the top of the funicular and other scenes were shot on Camber Sands and at Birling Gap near Eastbourne, incorporating the iconic Belle Tout Lighthouse, aptly described as “Britain’s most famous inhabited lighthouse”, not just for its striking location, but also for its use in film and television.
GOOD MEMORIES OF THE TOWN
Enjoying the Hastings vibe extended to the male and female lead. c is from Denmark but based in the US; although she’s been to London many times, this is the first time she’s worked outside London. And she “absolutely loved it” and thought it had “a very cool vibe”. Most of her time was spent filming but she managed to visit the current exhibition at the Contemporary on her day off which she also loved. She’s a very good runner and so she also enjoyed running along the seafront. Apparently, Christopher Eccleston is very much an outdoors person “so he loved being out near the sea”.
As for the crew, “everybody enjoyed having a drink after work” but there was “no wild partying going on”. Perhaps too tired in the evenings even to explore the local pubs, it looks like the White Rock, where many of them were based, got most of the business. And apparently, they didn’t even get to sample the bands at the end of the pier. On the other hand, several cafés used for daytime breaks got a particular mention: Hanushka, Goat Ledge, Bonjour and Kassa. During the early filming Kassa was a bit of a base and apparently the staff there were “really helpful”.
The locals have been very tolerant and polite and helpful and welcoming… There was little intrusion, just polite curiosity
Looking more long term, a number of the crew appeared to feel that living in Hastings and working in London could be quite appealing. “There’s a life of its own – it’s a nice community. It’s affordable.” A number of them were caught staring into estate agents’ windows. “It’s got a kind of interesting mix of grandeur and a growing boho feel to it.”
Hastings is also known as a friendly town and that came across when asked about reactions from the public: “The locals have been very tolerant and polite and helpful and welcoming. They just got on with their own lives and left us to it. There was little intrusion, just polite curiosity.”
Something else Hastings is known for is its supply of sun. Although that wasn’t the reason Hastings was chosen, it’s a memory that the actors and crew will take away with them: “We were thrilled to get good weather. We were totally blessed by the weather. It turned on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday but when we needed it, the sun came out.”
FILMING IN THE NEW NORMAL
And finally the pandemic. It affects everything and it affects filming. Apparently filming only restarted in the UK in September and Close to Me was “one of the first ones out of the blocks”. Filming during the pandemic was described as: “Really weird” and, just for emphasis: “Bloody weird!”
“There’s a new film role called a Covid Coordinator; then there’s a Covid Supervisor and one person who just organises all the testing. Three full-time jobs have been created to manage it all.” But the film industry is used to difficult circumstances: “It’s a safety conscious industry, it’s just another task and that’s what we’ll continue to do.
“But the big question mark is always insurance. As long as we have insurance cover and all our protocols, we’ll keep filming until someone tells us not to.”
And what are the protocols? The usual: “We do lots of handwashing and gelling and wearing masks and trying to keep our distance. We all have different cohort groups that we don’t go out of and all the central people are tested several times a week. It’s a serious amount of management and a lot of money has gone into keeping us safe. We think we’re doing a good job.”
* Oak Bakery
• For a review of the book you might like to try the Always with a Book review at tinyurl.com/y29qbhsb
• For more on the drama series you could try the article in Variety magazine at tinyurl.com/y5fehtz6
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