Clacton is used to tourists flocking to its sandy beaches, but not film crews featuring talented artists from Hollywood and ninja fighting morris dancers.
However, the popular seaside town was honoured to be the main filming location for this interesting mix of people for a few weeks recently thanks to Colchester based producer DB Morgan, who conceptualised the feature film idea in his dream.
“As with all great ideas they often kind of appear by magic. In my dream, I had a vision of a line of dark dressed morris dancers standing on a beach, staring out to sea. I’d never seen or heard of ‘Border Morris Dancers’, but after some research, I found myself deep inside the fascinating universe of the darker side of all things morris dancing wise.
“Once the vision was etched into my mind and I began researching the origins of Border Morris Dancing, I noticed many similarities between the dance and several martial arts styles involving stick fighting as part of their weaponry. It was then that the story began brewing in my mind; a world where secret assassins are hidden within morris dancing sides, ready to take care of situations, good and bad, that others can’t.”
In this movie, Morgan combines the talent of morris dancers with experts in a wide variety of martial arts fields, including Eskrima from the Phillipines, to work with the actors. As a result, they have created a number of visually stunning scenes, complemented with the backing soundtrack produced by high profile musicians who have performed at big festivals, such as Glastonbury.
He delighted in watching it all come to life as they filmed in a number of popular locations, such as the pier in Walton, the Royal Hotel in Clacton, Martello Tower and a few other places in Jaywick.
“It’s always very exciting seeing my words on the page begin to leap into the real world,” adds Morgan. “The way I put my films together is by auditioning acting talent as I work on finishing the script, so at the earliest opportunity, I get to see the talent performing the lines. This works so well because once I know who will be playing the role I can adjust things to fit their personalities and speech rhythms. Then, as we move on to table reads and rehearsals, the excitement grows and continues to build until we move onto the set. It’s a wonderful process.”
The film, directed by Gregg Masuak, who has created music videos for the likes of Kylie Minogue and Belinda Carlisle, also stars a stellar cast of performers from some big Hollywood movies. These artists include Jamie B. Chambers, who performed in Fury with Brad Pitt; Ross O’Hennessy, who starred as Lord of Bones in Game Of Thrones; Jon Campling, who performed as a Death Eater in Harry Potter; Ray Whelan, who was worked on EastEnders and Star Wars, plus Eloise Lovell-Anderson, who starred in The Royals and Villain.
“It’s wonderful seeing the amazing talent perform in Morris Men, adds Morgan, “such as watching Jon Campling becoming ‘Bagman Blythe’ and giving himself to the role. He’s a dark and mysterious character with a tragic backstory and Jon absolutely owned it. Seeing Ross O’Hennessy crawl into the skin of our main villain, Landlord Frank, was a delight. He exudes pure darkness and evil as head of a criminal empire that’s suffocating a peaceful coastal town. In fact, every member of cast brought their ‘A’ game to Morris Men and helped add a deep authenticity to the MM universe.”
Chambers, who stars as Tommy Martin in the film, and has performed in Kingsman: The Secret Service, said he thoroughly enjoyed filming in Colchester and Tendring. “I’m involved with a lot of dynamic fight scenes, which I’m very happy about. For example, I enjoyed being part of a seven minute fight scene on Walton pier with Ed Gamester, who was in Commando 3. We also fought through a fully functioning arcade, with rides amusements and a big Ferris wheel all in operation.”
Anderson, who stars as Sally Harding in the movie, said: “I really love playing a strong female character and I thrived on the elements of martial arts, especially, the Eskrima discipline. You don’t normally see it often in martial arts films, especially combined with the morris dancing. It creates a unique twist and something that’s not ever been seen before. As an actor, I always like to challenge myself and do things that push me out of my comfort zone. “
O’Hennessy was attracted to the the clandestine feeling of the morris men and the assassins, which drew him in straight away. “My character is at the peak of the pyramid in the town gripped with violence, so I’m the guy running the whole operation. He’s a very unpleasant character and I’m the nemesis to the morris men. I also love the Underdog Crew element of this production, which helps young local people get involved in DB Morgan’s filmmaking process. It harks back to when we were at school and there was always somebody sat at the back of the class who was told they could never achieve anything, but then you were pleased when they ended up as the CEO of a company.”
Campling was delighted he was given the part after he was invited to submit an audition tape: “It’s really nice when the part finds you as an actor because you spend a lot of time applying for things and reaching out. It’s so lovely when your reputation gets you the work. It was sold to me as an urban revenge thriller. I love those three words and that’s a lot to pack into a movie. Plus it’s about morris men, so I decided straight away that I wanted to be in it. As an actor, I often choose roles based on if I would want to see the movie and this is definitely one of them. It’s also one of those movies that once you’ve heard of it, you wonder why it hasn’t been done before?“
Morgan said he thoroughly enjoying watching this talent run amok on sets in Colchester and Tendring: “As an anxiety sufferer it’s always nice being close to home. Approaching Tendring District Council with my idea to turn Clacton into Hollywood-on-Sea was a positive process. They embraced our ideas and did all in their power to open up the town to us and provide access to some incredible locations, including our amazing three storey office block, an ex NHS office (Carnarvon House), used as our production base. This huge building also became home to several micro film sets – our two hospital rooms; ‘Sally and Bagman’s Lair’; and the Guild’s secret base. It was also great meeting local people. We ended up making friends and allies with several Clacton residents who became actors in the film, alongside their initial roles in the hair and make-up department.”
Although making the film was exciting, they faced a few challenges along the way, when locations had to be dropped at the last minute. However, their strong relationships with the council and other local business people helped with sourcing new locations quickly and painlessly.
Despite all this, Morgan still made some memories for life on set. “Undoubtedly, two of our most memorable scenes were the Valhalla (filmed on Point clear sea wall) and Solstice (filmed on my family’s farm in Ardleigh) sequences. Bystanders were amazed to witness a 24-piece drumming band, together with a bagpiper and a procession of thirty black clad morris dancers descending onto the waterfront.”
Find out more about the Morris Men movie.