Friday, October 26, 2007

More Than English - A Spanish Holiday With A Difference

Pueblo Ingles for me was a unique holiday experience. 16 English speaking people from Europe & North America thrown together in the beautiful region of Salamanca, in a hotel complex, near the historic village of Alberca. We met up with 16 Spanish participants who wanted to improve their English, through being totally immersed in the language. For eight days we were together, speaking English from breakfast time through till late into the evening. In return we Anglos (as we were referred to), received free accommodation, 3 meals a day including wine, and transfers to the hotel.

A Master of Ceremonies (an MC - there were two in our group) and a Programme Director, organised the activities and events. The one-to-one conversations covered a broad range of subjects. We talked about everything and anything, football, families, jobs, philosophy, holidays, royalty, television, the list was endless. I learnt so much about Spanish life, the culture and of course Spanish people. We often walked as we talked - around this scenic area (a world heritage site). Most evenings we had group activities which were very entertaining. On the second night, I was asked to do a comedy sketch about a mosquito. I'd never done anything like that before, but it was great fun, everyone enjoyed it and talked about it for the rest of the week.

I found the Spanish so friendly and open and we all bonded together very quickly, we felt we had known one another for a long time. We all made new friends, both Spanish and Anglos. Until you attend one of these programmes, you cannot fully appreciate the experience. Many felt it was life changing, their lives enriched by the whole event. There was an awful lot of laughter and as our sole Irish representative Malachy would say, 'the crac was brilliant'. A lot of us didn't go to bed till late, sometimes 3 or 4 am. On two evenings we danced most of the night, to the sound of an eclectic mix of pop, salsa & Spanish music. One morning we had a guided tour of the village - Alberca, followed by a visit to a traditional Tapas and a meal in a local restaurant. Later on in the week we went for a banquet one evening, which again the organisers laid on for us, it was very enjoyable.

If you would like more information about the holiday I went on, visit The company operates from different locations throughout Spain, with the recent addition of Italy.
An alternative company offers similar 6 day holidays to different locations in Spain and both provide a chance for you to meet your fellow Anglos at a meal the day before you leave for the programme. Incidentally, the two companies were once the same organisation, but the two founders decided to go their separate ways. Travel to Madrid is straight forward from the north, with cheap, direct, daily flights, from Edinburgh via Easyjet. Puelbo Ingles, will give you advice on accommodation for your time in Madrid.

For me, it was a privilege to share eight days with such a great crowd of people. Some of us are already talking about meeting up again. To paraphrase Jim a Canadian who said a few words at the end of the banquet, 'We came together as strangers, and for a week the Anglos gave the Spanish their voices and their ears and in return the Spanish gave us part of their hearts'. I'm sure you would enjoy the whole experience too.

More Than English - A Spanish Holiday With A Difference - More Photos

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Atonement boost for Redcar Regent

BLOCKBUSTER movie Atonement may have secured a Redcar cinema’s future, its boss believes.
Neil Bates thinks January 6, 2006, will prove to be the key date in The Regent’s history.
For that was the day Atonement director Joe Wright knocked at the Regent door, saying he was interested in making a film.
Twenty months on, the 266-seat Regent found itself hosting the movie’s official regional premiere.
And that, says Neil, shows that cinemas like The Regent have a place in today’s multiplex world.
Sitting in the deserted, 1930s cinema and reflecting on a whirlwind year-and-a-half, he said: “I believe all this has given The Regent a future again and cemented its place as a community asset.
“It’s like the cinema where they shot Peter Sellers’ The Smallest Show On Earth. That survived much longer simply because that movie put it on the map.
“January 6, 2006, was definitely the day which was the turning point for this cinema.”
Only just ranking behind that date in importance was surely September 5, 2007 - the day the Regent was full for two community showings.
But, explained Neil, he prepared unconventionally.
“I did a radio interview at 8am, then I started assembling the print.
“At that point, I said ‘Look guys, you’re on your own now - we’ve got a VIP premiere tonight and I need to buy some shoes.’
“I ran down town, got some and came back to get ready for the afternoon showing.”
Neil insisted on being projectionist for both showings, but he could only begin to relax for the second one - the first time he’d seen the film.
And while he looked on in awe at what unfolded on screen, there was one tinge of disappointment - a fight scene shot in the cinema itself didn’t make the final cut.
He said: “It started in the bar with James McAvoy fighting his way through singing troops, going round the back of the stage and trying to find a drink from a dry tap.
“He then goes on to the stage and spends time behind the screen, beneath images of kissing faces.
“I saw the rushes and it looked brilliant, but so did others and they’ve been left out too.
“But there was so much good stuff and at the end of the day, it’s Joe Wright’s call.
“Hopefully it will all end up as DVD extras.
“But the film itself is wonderful, a work of art. When the Redcar scenes came on, everyone was mesmerised - including me.”

Posted originally by Chris - administrator on September 7, 2007 on the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette website

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Redcar roles out the Redcarpet as movie premiere hit town

REDCAR was coming back down to earth today after an amazing day of glitz and glamour.
Delighted organisers believe yesterday’s 1940s event to mark the movie Atonement’s official regional premiere couldn’t have gone better.
Hundreds of people packed The Esplanade all day as excitement leading to last night’s red carpet premiere reached fever pitch.
And today, thrilled Redcar and Cleveland Council leader George Dunning said: “I wish we could put a price on what this is worth to the town! It’s a long time since Redcar has enjoyed such excitement. Brilliant.”
Redcar’s 266-seat Regent Cinema held two showings yesterday - the first a community screening, the second last night’s VIP premiere.
A third showing, for the Teesside extras who played such a special part in the film, was laid on at Cineworld Middlesbrough at the request of director Joe Wright. Mr Wright, who escorted Redcar and Cleveland Mayor Wendy Wall into the Regent, said: “Everyone talks about the scene we shot at Redcar but it would be nothing were it not for the generosity and spirit of the local people.”

Posted originally by Chris - administrator on September 6, 2007 on the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette

"Its only right Redcar should see Atonement first"

ATONEMENT director Joe Wright presented his film to Redcar “with love” - and revealed he’d even sampled a lemontop.
The man behind the movie which puts Redcar on the map gave heartfelt praise to the hundreds of Teessiders who took part as extras.
Speaking before introducing a community screening - one of three showings yesterday - he said filming the BBC film Nature Boy in Middlesbrough meant he already had a “soft spot” for the area.
He said: “We knew working with extras in London, often they are people that have done it before - they don’t have the same excitement, but it wasn’t like that here.
“Today’s incredible - I didn’t quiet expect all this.
“This feels very, very special. I’m very honoured to be welcomed back so warmly.
“I’ve even got my name up in lights over The Regent - mum, I’m on top of the world!”
Of the already famous shot which “tracks” across Redcar’s sands, Wright said they had just one day to get it right.
And of the film’s £15m budget, he admits “quite a bit of it” went on that scene.
He said: “It started as a joke. I came in one day and said ‘you know the steadicam shot we did in Pride and Prejudice, I’d like to do it in one take on the beach’. Then the joke turned into fact.
“When we shot the scene, it was very moving, just to see 1,600 people all giving themselves totally to re-enacting this extraordinary event.
“People are talking quite a lot about that shot. It’s the centrepiece of the film and that’s testament to the lads from this area.
“Without them, that shot would be rubbish.”
Wright said the Regent, which features in the film and hosted two of yesterday’s premieres, was “one of the reasons we shot here.”
“It was like a gift really. It’s a beautiful building and very romantic.”
He said it was a deliberate policy while filming in Redcar that the actors, including James McAvoy, mingled freely with locals rather than huddling away in their trailers.
And he said he got to see a lot of the area while checking it out “six or seven times” before shooting in Redcar.
But had he tried a lemontop?
And the verdict?
Later, Wright introduced a community screening at The Regent, saying Atonement was “made with love and brought back to you with love.”
He told the expectant audience, crammed into the 266-seater cinema: “We wanted to come and show you the film first because it’s partly yours. It’s only right you should see it first.”

Posted originally by Chris - administrator on September 6, 2007 on the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette website

Atonement Timeline

June 2002 : Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement regularly tops the best-selling books charts.
January 2006: A location crew turns up at Redcar, checking the area out and visiting, among other locations, The Regent Cinema.
March 2006: Redcar and Cleveland Council confirms Redcar promenade is earmarked for transformation into Dunkirk 1940 for a film based on the book Atonement. Recruitment of up to 1,000 extras begins.
May 22, 2006: Production company Working Title Films draws up a draft timetable for the movie, which could see work to build sets begin in early July and closure of the Esplanade from the Regent Cinema to the boating lake at the end of August for filming.
June 26, 2006: Working Title Films announces the start of principal photography on Atonement and confirms the cast list - including Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Romola Garai, Brenda Blethyn and Vanessa Redgrave.
July 12, 2006: The dates for shooting at Redcar are confirmed as August 21-24.
August 7, 2006: Redcar’s seafront penguins have been removed from the seafront as the town gets ready for Atonement to arrive.
August 16, 2006: Redcar seafront’s transformation into wartime Dunkirk is nearly complete. It’s also confirmed that for the 1,000 people who successfully applied to be extras, 5,000 missed out.
August 21, 2006: Hollywood rolls into Redcar as filming gets under way on an overcast morning.
August 26, 2006: In a farewell gesture, the Atonement production crew places a full page advert in the Gazette, thanking local people for their efforts.
September 6, 2006: Tallis Pictures say 70,000 people came to see Redcar filming.
December 22, 2006: Working Title confirms a September 2007 release date.
June 16, 2007: Atonement named as curtain-raiser at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
August 16, 2007: Details announced of official regional premiere, to be held on September 5, at the Regent
August 23, 2007: The Vue, Hartlepool, is the first in the region to show Atonement in a special gala preview night.
August 29, 2007: Keira Knightley and James McAvoy attend Atonement’s world premiere at Venice.
September 5, 2007: The Regent hosts the official regional premiere. Also, as a thank you from director Joe Wright, a special extras-only screening is held at Cineworld Middlesbrough.
September 7, 2007: Atonement goes on general UK release.

Posted originally by Chris - administrator on September 6, 2007 on the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette website

Monday, September 03, 2007

Joe Wright: 'I said I needed $4m more for Dunkirk, they said no'

24/08/07 Director Joe Wright tells David Gritten (from The Daily Telegraph) how he achieved the spectacular Dunkirk scene in his acclaimed film, Atonement.

(Pictured above - Director Joe Wright with the author of the novel 'Atonement', Ian McEwan.)

"Atonement includes an astonishing five-minute tracking shot conveying the wastefulness of war as Allied troops gather on the beach at Dunkirk, waiting to be evacuated.

"The budget was $30 million [£15 million] - not enough money to do the scene as written in the book, which included air attacks from Stukas," says Joe Wright. "I told [producer and Working Title co-chairman] Tim Bevan I needed $4 million more.

He said: 'I'm not giving you more than $30 million for an art film.' That was a liberating moment for me. So now I had one day and 1,000 local extras to create the whole disaster of that part of the war in one location. It was a case of necessity being the mother of invention."

Originally, the scene was written as a montage, requiring 40 set-ups, with time-consuming pauses between each one. But Wright decided to spend most of the day at Redcar preparing for a single shot.

The scene contains startling images: horses being shot, Bibles being burned, drunken soldiers, a huge beached boat and terrified refugees. James McAvoy's Robbie and two other soldiers stumble through this nightmare, with a camera operator walking backwards in front of them, a heavy Steadicam strapped to him.

"We had that route planned," says Wright, "and walked it through with the actors. We started at 6.30am, and rehearsed and rehearsed. I must have walked the route 150 times. We spent all day getting the extras in place.

"The scene wouldn't have had the emotional power had it not been for the community of Redcar, who were so dignified and put their heart and soul into it."

Shooting began around 5.30pm, when the light was ideal. The team did three takes, and were trying for a fourth when the Steadicam operator's legs gave out. Still, they got the shot they needed.

"It was an extraordinary day," Wright says now. "One of the best of my life."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Atonement Film Review - 24th August 2007

I finished filming as an extra in the blockbuster movie Atonement on August 22nd 2006. I didn't realise I'd have to wait a full 12 months and 1 day to see the end result on screen. Well was it worth the wait? The answer is yes. The movie has the meticulous detail you would expect from a director of Joe Wright's calibre.
Richard Brooks (writing in the Sunday Times) said he would be amazed if the jury finds a better film than Atonement to take first place at the Venice film festival on August 29th. He said, "I cannot think of a better British movie in years. Unlike most of our home-grown efforts, it is big scale, yet intimate when it needs to be."

I would agree. The story unfolds and the audience is drawn into the plot from the start. It begins in pre-war England in a large country house with James McAvoy’s character (Robbie Turner) being wrongly accused of rape and being imprisoned and thus separated from Keira Knightley. He is released from prison on condition he joins the army.

This is a love story and more, with the back drop of the Second World War. Although it is not a war film as such, the scenes of the Dunkirk evacuation are some of the best of their type ever executed in cinema history.

The scene that everyone locally will be waiting to see is towards the end of the film. Joe Wright shot the Dunkirk scene in Redcar in one complete take, with no edits. It looks amazing, maybe being part of it made me slightly biased, but the human tableau that McAvoy's character walks through engulfs your senses and I can’t wait to see it again. My only regret is that it wasn’t longer.

Apart from this, Atonement doesn’t disappoint in any department, the acting is first class and the story is engaging and I certainly didn’t guess the ending. I was lucky enough to be one of the 150 people to see a Gala performance at Hartlepool, last night. Pam Ainsley (the Atonement photographer) was also present and she was extremely impressed with the production. I’m sure it will help her Atonement book sales next month.
I will definitely see it again, this time at the Regent Cinema in Redcar, where the building is one of the cornerstones of the great set.
And finally did I see myself? Well possibly, the jury’s still out, until I get my hands on the DVD next year. Enjoy it.