When it comes to Paddington’s movies, the little bear has found a very happy home in Primrose Hill. That’s largely thanks to the hard work and consideration of supervising location manager Jonah Coombes.
In Paddington 2, opening on November 10th, Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, and Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington, are joined by Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson. Take a look at the trailer here.
“The whole theme of this production is proudly British,” says Jonah Coombes. “He espouses a lot of what’s best about Britain – including being friendly, polite and welcoming. It was important for me to reflect those positive values.”
In the first Paddington film, the Brown family brought Paddington home to the fictional 32 Windsor Gardens, near Portobello Road in Notting Hill, which is played by Chalcot Crescent, Primrose Hill in the borough of Camden, establishing the location very much as the little bear’s place.
“The script absolutely depended on this location, it’s become synonymous with the family. The pressure to make it work was real,” says Jonah Coombes.
“For the first Paddington we were on location in Chalcot Crescent for four days. But this time around we would have to be there for two weeks. So at the very early stages of the project I went and sat down with the local residents group, the Primrose Hill Community Association (PHCA), to get a feel for how we might be received.”
He found that this time around residents were understandably far more aware of how the filming process worked, and able to ask more questions.
“This meant we had to invest far more time and effort in consulting residents and making answers available for them, along with plans and changed plans. The extra effort was absolutely worth it. We really had to be respectful and get this right.
“It’s important that residents see this film and are able to feel proud of it – that this was filmed on their doorstep.”
The importance of the residents association, in this case the PHCA, cannot be over-stated.
“Lots of locals tell us they’re individuals and not represented by an association but I always explain that it’s easier for us to negotiate on a resident’s behalf with one organisation, so we do ask locals to participate in their residents group,” says Jonah Coombes.
“We did send every single household in the area a letter and of the 50 replies we had, all were completely upbeat and positive, except for two, who did have questions about the parking and so on.”
Efforts to make sure that residents felt invested in the filming included inviting young trainees from the Camden Roundhouse on to the set for paid work opportunities.
A screening room was set up so families could book to come along, watch the filming and chat with production crew. This was available throughout the filming.
A generous donation was made to the PHCA, which puts the money to work supporting a local library and community centre.
Jonah Coombes adds, “Initially there was a plan for a big outdoor Christmas party scene, and we’d invite residents to join in as extras. I really like this sort of thing. I think productions should think about inviting residents in as extras whenever they can. As it happened, the script took a different direction so the scene was cut in the end, which was a shame.”
All residents have also been invited to a free screening of the film on November 12th. This ensures that people who might not otherwise be able to afford tickets to the film will have the chance to see it.
They could well include some pupils from the nearby Haverstock School who visited the set one afternoon as part of their journalism project.
Project co-ordinator Danielle Corgan took eight children along in November last year, all aged between 11 and 13.
“It was a real eye opener for the pupils,” she said. “It felt wonderful to be invited into this secret world of activity going on, just around the corner really from their every day lives at school. They’d never seen anything like it before.
“It felt odd because the street of course is so familiar to the children, but on this day it was cordoned off and there were stewards ushering us in. They knew the row of houses so well and today, Paddington was in there somewhere. This was the creation of Paddington’s world going on right in front of them.
“It was wonderful for the children to observe all these things. They were filming a scene of Paddington getting out of the window. We didn’t meet Paddington’s head – which all the actors had to talk to. Although it’s probably just as well, apparently it cost £30,000.
“We did see the Brown children waiting outside the house for their cue.
“We thought there’d be a lot of noise and action. But actually, out of respect for the residents, it was all very hushed and quiet. And it was shocking to think that in a day they might film just 10 seconds of the film.
“It was wonderful for the pupils to meet production staff who could talk about how much they loved their work. So much so that some of the crew were up at 5am to get to work and after a night shoot they’re not home again until very late.
“We found that a whole house on the street had been rented for the props alone and another for the costumes. The sheer logistics of creating this world really hit them.
“The huge steadycam looked like a sort of weird dinosaur bird hovering. There was a man with a big black balloon to make the mist. It was quite dreamlike.
“I think they all now feel a lot closer to Paddington and it did mean something more when they heard the news that Paddington’s creator Michael Bond had died.”
Claudia Lee, Film and Broadcast Producer at the Roundhouse Trust in Camden, praised the production for offering no less than 10 of her young trainees work experience and entry-level paid jobs.
“It’s so important for big productions to remember that reliable and enthusiastic young trainees can be found locally, to prise open the closed-shop mentality of the industry. We need to work together to make sure that young people from a much wider range of backgrounds are being given chances.
“Paddington 2 introduced our trainees to a variety of departments, giving them hands-on opportunities and access to lots of advice for breaking into the business. They were literally handling lenses in the camera department, moving camera equipment, storing props in the art department and helping out in the video FX and editing departments.
“Paid work is also essential for young people looking for a break, it makes all the difference in terms of motivation.
“I think a few of our trainees were shocked at how hard everyone works. But this access to a huge, hierarchical production in their own neighbourhood was a brilliant experience. They were exposed to the huge range of specialisms in the industry, the way all the parts work together and to the discipline that’s needed.”
There was a lot of goodwill generated that Jonah Coombes should feel proud of, but would he do it all again?
“Absolutely, I’d be up for it,” he laughs. “This time around there was a lot of joking from residents about what we’d do if there was a Paddington 3. And I think we’d all give it a thumbs up.”
FilmFixer manages the film office service for many of the boroughs in which Paddington 2 was filmed, including Camden, along with Lambeth, Southwark and Islington.
FilmFixer director Karen Everett explains, “Audiences are as fond of the films as readers always were for the books, the production is becoming an institution, and with that comes the responsibility of making sure everyone feels as though they have been included.
“Along with 100 cast and crew in Chalcot Crescent, we saw far more nimble filming in other locations.
“On the Camden Lock towpath, it took just 30 to film Paddington chasing a thief.
“In Islington’s Jerusalem Passage, St John’s Square, Clerkenwell Green and Rosebery Avenue again just 30 cast and crew filmed scenes inside a telephone box and posters going up around the streets. The production made a donation to the Clerkenwell Green Preservation Society to thank locals.
“On Southwark’s Tower Bridge Hugh Grant, as a bad guy, is seen hiding in suit of armour. And iconic shots from Waterloo along to the Palace of Westminster and Lambeth Bridge were filmed by helicopter in Lambeth.
“It’s a feel good movie that really feels good to work with. We aim to ensure that all Londoners affected by the filming will feel the same.”