Creating an atmospheric thriller in a film noir style exposing the cruel underbelly of a community awash with crime and savagery was no mean feat for director Vince Woods.
Especially when tight budgets meant cameras could roll for only one month at a variety of locations in the North East including Newcastle, Hartlepool and North Shields. A trailer of Harrigan, the resulting feature length movie, will be taken to the Cannes Film Festival in May (16-27) and Vince is hopeful it will attract interest from buyers at the film world's most iconic festival.
Harrigan marks the return to the big screen of hugely popular TV actor Stephen Tompkinson who takes the lead role for the first time in a British movie. Set in Newcastle in the 1970s he plays Barry Harrigan a disenchanted police detective who returns to his patch on a sink estate after an undercover stint in Hong Kong and is appalled by the lawlessness on the streets. Harrigan is based on the real-life exploits of decorated police officer Arthur McKenzie who wrote the script.
Vince says: "Stephen is a brilliant actor and he has pulled out a really great performance in Harrigan. It was really great to work with him because he's got that natural ability. He is one of the most successful TV actors around. He's done comedy, he's done high-end drama, now he's doing detectives. He's got a really exciting range and this film shows that. One minute the character is shedding a tear about his lost daughter, the next minute he's standing in front of a riotous mob facing down a guy with a shotgun in his hand. Raging in pubs, fighting everybody and that's the great thing about this role, it's a very exciting role for him."
"We were looking for a North East actor for the role of Harrigan. We wanted someone who was tall and could pull off this ‘Jeckyl and Hyde' character - one minute charming and the next petulant. Stephen is absolutely fantastic in the part."
Harrigan was shot in Newcastle in January and February this year. Vince says: "It was an incredibly tight schedule with just 24 shooting days. That's extremely short for something that has babies in it, children in it, animals in it, a large cast, multiple locations, action, fires, stunts."
Working to tight budgets and in a short time frame is a discipline Vince learned early on in his career. After studying art for a BA Honours degree at Wolverhampton University and specialising in animation Vince took a job in Newcastle doing corporate videos and advertising work as well as corporate presentations.
He says: "I developed my skills in the commercial world if you like and that involved very strict deadlines with very demanding clients and that was an extraordinarily good discipline.
"I was always into the arts. Ever since I was a teenager I wanted to be a producer/director. My university course gave me the flexibility to do photography, film and animation amongst other disciplines. I developed a lot of experimental ideas as well as fairly structured story led films, short films, and we even organised a short film festival there called "If You Blink You'll Miss It" which went down very well."
Vince launched a successful event management company in the nineties but continued to gain experience in film and programme making. His credits include Carrickfergus United, a documentary about Catholic and Protestant football supporters in Northern Ireland, which was broadcast on Sky Sports, and The Bait Room, a short film about the base where patrol bobbies on the beat took their break on the night shift. The film was written by Arthur McKenzie and received acclaim at the Cannes film festival.
Together with Arthur, who has enjoyed a successful second career as an award-winning script writer since retiring from the police force, Vince has worked on several film projects which are now on the slate of his production company TallTree Pictures.
Vince says: "I set up TallTree Pictures with Arthur's daughter Kirsty Bell and Harrigan is our third full length feature film although it is the first that we have shot and produced entirely by ourselves. We hope to go into pre-production with The Road to Calum by the end of the year. It's another Arthur project and tells the story of Calum McCloud, a guy on a Scottish island who spent 20 years of his life building a road to save his community and his way of life without any help from the council and died shortly after completing it. The script is all ready to go and Arthur and I are passionate about it. Brian Cox will take the title role."
Vince enjoys working with Arthur who has been described by Stephen Tompkinson as a "legend". Vince says: "Arthur brings a rich depth to his writing because of his own experiences. He's lived life to the full as an international athlete and multiple decorated police detective. He saved life on numerous occasions. He's just got a massive canvas, a massive palette of colours if you like in which to work with. There's nothing more quirky than real life and we have to tone down a lot of Arthur's stuff because people just wouldn't believe it. He knows that these scenarios really happened. He was writing for The Bill at its peak and then he went on to do Wycliffe.
"All his characters and scripts are based on real people and that's a great reference point for the actors. When filming Harrigan it was great to be able to say to the actors if you've got any questions speak to Arthur, any doubts talk to the writer and that was great for me as a director. I knew I could trust Arthur. We trusted each other."
Harrigan will undergo three more months of editing for the full feature length version and it will be shown to it first test audience in July. The film will premiere in Newcastle and London in the autumn. Vince says: "The movie will have a small cinematic release around the country and then we are looking for both UK and international sales. We are already promoting our new projects and are raising finance for them."
The TallTree Pictures team is hopeful that Harrigan will prove a winner - attracting both critical acclaim and commercial success. Vince is happy with the result although he is still editing. He says: "It's a great story with a great cast. We found some fantastic locations in the North East and they have added to the atmosphere. Our scenes are predominantly filmed at night because I wanted a film noir mood and I am pleased with the visual results."