Lowdown on Spielberg war epic being filmed in Teesdale – that officials didn't want you to know
By Martin Paul - Senior Reporter
DETAILS of the Steven Spielberg war epic being filmed in Teesdale can now be revealed, despite efforts from officials to keep them secret.
It has been confirmed that crews working near Low Force are preparing to film a Spielberg First World War blockbuster, titled 1917. Filming is due to take place over four days later this month. Tracks have been laid through meadows to provide access to the falls, tents are being put up and security teams have been in operation during recent weeks.
Documents secured by the Teesdale Mercury through a freedom of information request show how Durham County Council and Spielberg’s production company tried to keep the details under wraps.
In the licence application to Durham County Council, Storyworks Productions said a crew of 200 would be involved in filming a “sequence following characters moving down river”.
Drones will be used and the sequence is to include stunts, special effects and smoke. Sam Mendes, who oversaw the James Bond film Skyfall, is directing the movie, which stars Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch.
It is understood 1917 will be released in December and tells the story of two British soldiers in the Great War in a single day at the height of the conflict.
In March, location scouts for Storyworks were first seen at Bowlees Visitor Centre, which is managed by the North Pennines AONB Partnership, and Low Force, which is owned by Raby Estates.
Simon Wilson, of the AONB, confirmed discussions with representatives of a film production company had been taking place for about a year.
At the time, he said: “They were down at the river for quite a few days and we certainly let them use our car park as part of their visit.”
The involvement of Storyworks Productions was discovered along with links with Sam Mendes’ Neal Street Production about the 1917 film.
However, neither Durham County Council, the AONB, nor Raby Estates would confirm this.
Emails exchanged between county council officers and Storyworks Productions now reveal the efforts to keep it secret.
In an email to the production company, a county events support officer wrote: “We haven’t and won’t share this details with the Mercury and I imagine this is what you would expect from us but please let us know if you would like to be connected to the Mercury.”
A production company representative responded: “In regards to the Teesdale Mercury we would ask that as you have written you do not share any details about out planned filming with them. I have passed [the information] on to our unit publicist as I know they [the Teesdale Mercury] have contacted AONB and Raby Estates also.”
Further proof that filming was planned came when Aqua Films arrived at the site in April – Aqua Films is run by Daren Bailey, who is also listed as the dive co-ordinator for 1917. Mr Bailey has previously been involved with movies and television programmes such as Game of Thrones, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Mama Mia!, Wonder Woman, Jason Bourne and both Johnny English movies
The documents released under freedom of information laws also provide details of what the filming will entail, which includes closure of the bridge at Low Force for three days.
In an email, Storyworks Productions said: “We would like to put a descender rig using a crane on the bridge to allow a camera to drop down into the water.
“We would only be looking at filming [on] one of these days but would require the others for preparation and removal.
“I do not have the exact preparation dates for this location but we are anticipating from early June to shoot for four days – if the water level is too low we would look at moving to the following week with strike work the week after.
“I am sure this is council practice but we would ask that all information regarding filming is kept confidential.”
Other actors involved in the Hollywood blockbuster include Mark Strong, Richard Madden, Dean Charles Chapman and George MacKay.
Filming is also taking place on Salisbury Plain, near Stonehenge, where a number of groups objected to plans to build a set comprising a temporary French farmhouse, over fears it could impact on as yet undiscovered archaeological remains.
Planning permission was also sought to shoot part of the movie at Glasgow's historic Govan Graving Docks.
The authorities say the meadow near Low Force that is being used as a car park and filming headquarters is not protected, adding that planning permission is not needed for the works.
Robin Byers, service manager of place and experience at Durham County Council, said: “I can confirm we received a request to film on private land at Low Force and we have been assisting the landowner and production company.”