Producers have offered a behind-the-scenes look at how Stoke-on-Trent and The Potteries proved a hit as one of the key locations for a new movie about one of the world’s most influential ceramic artists.
Sky Original, The Colour Room, based on the rise to fame of one of city’s most famous former residents, Clarice Cliff will be in cinemas, on Sky Cinema and streaming service NOW on 12 November 2021.
Here, in an exclusive Q&A, producers Thembisa Cochrane and Georgie Paget offer an insight into filming on location in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire earlier this year, including how the crew loved Staffordshire oatcakes and how stars Phoebe Dynevor (Bridgerton) and Matthew Goode (The Imitation Game) were “naturals” at the potter’s wheel!
Where did you film in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire?
Gladstone Pottery Museum
Etruria Valley Trade Park
London Mill in Leek (known locally as Mason’s Mill)
Can you provide us with a little more background to the location-seeking process that you went through for this particular movie.
We knew fellow filmmakers from Birmingham and had been connected years ago to the film’s associate producer Sindy Campbell who had become a friend. At the time, Sindy was working for Film Birmingham, whose remit extends beyond just Birmingham, and we knew that for us it would be first prize to shoot in Stoke on Trent itself, as the film is set there and it was a place that our film’s subject, Clarice Cliff always loved. It was her home town and she never left.
Film Birmingham supported us by hiring a great local location scout to take pictures of possible locations, which is how we found Gladstone and Middleport Potteries. We were thrilled that we would be able to shoot authentic bottle kiln ovens and canals which still existed, and in Clarice’s day were so much part of the visual fabric of the Potteries.
Ffilm Cymru Wales, who had supported the development of the script, also connected us very early in the process to the West Midlands Production Fund, who are part of Creative England. We knew that, aside from regional support, they would also have connections to locations, so we asked them for access to their location database and they told us immediately that the one location we would struggle to find was old terraced houses.
They were right – these old houses are not really preserved and when they are, they are small spaces which are hard to shoot in and surrounded by residential areas. We did not want to disrupt residents in lockdown with a film shoot. We also needed to find the set for Clarice’s home close to the other brilliant potteries we had found – a massive challenge all round.
We had a look at the brilliant Black Country Living Museum, where a lot of Peaky Blinders and other shows have filmed, and while they became important allies and the place where we filmed many of our exteriors, we still could not find the home interior we needed.
That’s when the council of Stoke-on-Trent really stepped in and helped us explore every corner of Stoke-on-Trent and the area around this. Eventually we decided we would have to build the home – but as an independent film, a studio build is not really something we can afford. The council helped us find the Etruria Valley Trade Park which was a blessing and a great base of operations for a week of our shoot. In effect, we used it as a studio.
Then our core filmmaking team traveled in the autumn of 2020 to go and visit the various locations. Obviously we wanted to see if they could offer us the visuals that our film needed, but it was also a very important moment to speak to the owners and managers of the locations and understand whether they would support the film and all the logistical challenges that come with having a full film crew on site.
Fortunately, our locations are all very proud of their local heritage and supported us wonderfully every step of the way. It’s an independent film, and so it needed every bit of help it could get. The locations understood that and really became part of the team.
By the time we reached pre-production, we were still very much looking for a number of interior sets like the modeling shop, the actual colour room, and Colley Shorter’s office. We needed spaces we could control and dress as sets, where we could shoot for long periods without disturbing anyone, and these spaces also needed to look like they belonged to the factory exteriors we had already found. And on top of that, they needed ideally not to be all over the place (it’s complicated and expensive to move a whole film unit!).
We scouted a number of spaces, and were very lucky that we discovered the old London Mill in Leek, which was empty and had very supportive and enthusiastic owners who understood our needs and our vision and welcomed us. This same building became another “mini studio lot” – our absolutely brilliant art department worked hard to repurpose this space for a great number of our sets, such that we shot a number of different script locations in it, often striking one set to build a new one in the same space the next day.
The Leek council were also brilliantly supportive – we’re very proud of the scene that takes place in Leek Cemetery, as the vistas and views were very cinematic and helped bring emotion to the screen. We’re grateful we were given the opportunity to shoot there.
What was the biggest bonus of filming the movie in the part of Britain where Clarice was born, lived and worked?
It was incredibly rewarding and inspirational to shoot in Clarice’s hometown where she lived and worked her whole life. It also gave the film a great added layer of authenticity and a real connection to the community, which has been such a joy.
Clarice is a well-known name in Stoke-on-Trent and the surrounding area, and as soon as people heard a film was being made about her, we experienced a very warm welcome and a huge amount of support.
Crucially, we were also introduced to artists and artisans still working there and keeping the Potteries heritage alive. In many of our locations, we would be shooting a film and then also learning about the film at the same time – all around us were old photographs or old craft practices or old architecture, all from the time period of this film. So, it was wonderful both creatively and logistically.
Are you able to tell us where the crew stayed? And where the talent stayed during filming?
The crew largely stayed at the Hilton in Stoke-on-Trent, which was an extremely supportive hotel and our crew loved it there. Some of our key talent stayed in the lovely Dove Farm Barns which they also really enjoyed. For some of the key crew who would be on location for a very long time we hired smaller holiday apartments and cottages for the duration.
Did the crew and cast have any feedback on the hospitality and welcome they experienced?
Our team had a really great time shooting in Stoke and Staffordshire. The local communities in Stoke and Leek were extremely supportive and polite – we were barely disturbed, although of course people were curious.
Did the talent or any of the production team discover anything about the area they’d like to share with other visitors to The Potteries?
Very sadly most of the shoot took place during lockdown, so we couldn’t explore too much – but our crew definitely discovered and loved oatcakes! There was a lovely little hidden door down the road from one of our locations in Leek, and crew would nip out briefly to get oatcakes there -which cheered everyone up in the cold weather! We also all started to say “me duck”.
We absorbed a lot of the local history and we tried as much as possible to bring the fascinating things we discovered into the film. We learnt volumes from the local artisans we met, and who became part of our team – the brilliant artists Mark Delf and Louise Adams from Stockton Brook Studios, the team at Clay College, potter Emma Bailey and many others.
They literally taught our actors how to mimic the skills they would need to show on screen, and everyone on the crew walked away with a much deeper appreciation of the craft behind the ceramics we see all around us.
Recently at our preview screening, a number of us turned over our saucers to see the backstamp. We had never been plate turners before, but it’s become a habit now! We also really loved the countryside around Stoke – on rest days, cast and crew would plan long walks and stop over in local pubs. It’s especially great walking along the stretches of canal. And for weekends, the glorious Peak District and incredible views beckoned.
Has anyone become a collector of ceramics as a result of spending time here?
Erm, most of us!
Will you be recommending Stoke-on-Trent & The Potteries to other production companies as a location/backdrop?
We would definitely recommend shooting around The Potteries – there are so many great heritage spaces that are very versatile and can be used in so many ways and the local support all round was brilliant. There are also so many skilled artists that you can find great local resources for art department, and we had support from a local drama school and dialect coach. Even our very experienced VFX supervisor was actually from the area and enjoyed being able to shoot close to home.
Phoebe and Matthew did have a go at pot throwing at Wedgwood before filming started, how did they get on at the potting wheel?
They were naturals! Phoebe, Matthew, Darci and David all had a go at several of the different techniques during our tour of the Wedgwood factory, highlights including spraypainting fired vases (messy but so much fun!), and also getting to grips with the more precise techniques of lithography and gilding. Everyone was in awe of the history and the craftsmanship.
For more information on Stoke-on-Trent as a destination, see www.visitstoke.co.uk
Photo: Courtesy of Sky Originals
Phoebe Dynevor turned her hand to pottery throwing by getting in a little practice at the world famous Wedgwood Factory, at Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent. Courtesy of Sky Originals
Phoebe Dynevor and Matthew Goode preparing for their roles in The Colour Room. Courtesy of Sky Originals.