The Story of Lad

The Story of Lad

From The Yorkshire Dalesman: March 2013

Dales-born director Dan Hartley talks about his first feature film.

“I grew up in the Dales. Every formative​ experience I had was shaped by the landscape ​that surrounded me. I can’t begin to ​describe just how powerful that feeling still ​is to me today… But I can show it.” – Dan Hartley

​Time and time again filmmakers have ​trained their lenses on the landscape​and people of Yorkshire, and triumphed at ​the box office. From stories about communities ​in decline, such as The Full Monty ​and Brassed Off, to individuals rising up ​and empowering themselves, as with ​Calendar Girls and Little Voice, Yorkshire ​always looks fantastic on the silver screen.

​So when Dalesman Dan Hartley decided ​to make his debut feature film it was no​ surprise that he would choose to make it in ​the county of his birth.​

Dan has long wanted to tell a story ​inspired by his childhood, showing the​powerful impact the landscape has on ​those people who live and work in the Dales. Brought up in Austwick, he attended ​the village primary school, before going ​on to middle and high school in Settle. ​Dan left the Dales after school, when his ​parents – who ran Benjamins, in Settle, ​and later the Cove Centre, in Malham – ​decided to emigrate to warmer climes.

​Since returning to Britain, he has made ​a name for himself working on a series of ​Hollywood films, alongside directors like ​Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg. With an ​impressive CV behind him, Dan is now an​ award-winning director himself, and he​ was understandably excited about bringing​ a film crew to Yorkshire.​

“In telling this story, I’m coming home. ​I’m returning to the villages and communities ​that I grew up amongst, and to my ​delight I’m finding that the world I cherished ​lives on,” Dan says. “The boy from ​down the street is now married to the gir l who lived on the farm. The farmer, the ​publican, the quarry man, they all still live ​here, drink there, celebrate this and disagree​about that. The community that I​ left behind when I was sixteen still thrives​and I want this film to be a celebration of​ that.

Above, director Hartley with young actor ​Bretton Lord

“Lad: A Yorkshire Story is the heart-warming ​tale of a thirteen-year-old boy​ coming to terms with the loss of his dad ​through the friendship he forms with a ​park ranger.​

“The ranger in my life was a man called​ Al Boughen, a park ranger whom I gravitated​ towards as a teenager; accompanying ​him on weekends and school holidays as ​he attended to his park duties,” Dan ​explains.

​“When I was sixteen my family emigrated ​to Australia and though I wasn’t to ​know it at the time, I was never to see Al​ again. Over the intervening years I’ve ​thought often of Al and the desire to tell​ his story has bubbled away as I’ve made​ the progression from film industry runner ​to director.​

“Finally, in October 2010 I felt that the ​time was right and I began to put into ​motion the script that would eventually ​become Lad. Whether through fate or happenstance,​ the embarkment of this journey coincided with Al’s passing and, though I ​wasn’t to meet Al again, I was lucky​ enough to meet his widow, Pat, and ​through conversations and photos was ​able to piece together a portrait of the man ​throughout his years as a park ranger.

​It was humbling to see these old photos​ of Al at work. He was a striking figure, ​immaculately dressed no matter how ​strenuous the work. And fit too, a testament ​to his younger years as a Queen’s​ guard.

​“Armed with the photos and Pat’s blessing, ​I began to craft the story of a boy and ​his mentor, along the way discovering ​some incredible local acting talent, including ​the two leads – Bretten Lord who ​would play Tom, and Alan Gibson who ​would play Al in the final film. With a​ combination of workshops and improvisation, ​we worked on finding the voice for the​characters and their relationship. With ​their gift for improvisation and inherent​ naturalism, they fell into the roles and I ​crafted the film around their real-life​ friendship.

“While the story and leading cast were in​ place, there was a very real chance that ​Lad: A Yorkshire Story might never have​ been made.​

“With our intended shoot date ​approaching, we had no finance, an unfinished ​script, half our cast and the challenge​ of finding a crew that would, at least initially,​ be willing to work for free,” Dan ​explains.

​“That all these obstacles were resolved ​in just one month of pre-production feels ​little short of miraculous. But from the​ outset there was a special energy that the ​film engendered, a feeling simply of something ​being ‘right’.

​“Just as importantly, independent filmmaking ​thrives on the unknown and the ​unplanned, and from the outset we determined ​that our limitations would become​​ our advantage. So, in the winter of early ​2011, we gathered the crew into a village ​hall that would become our production ​office and began the year-long process of ​crafting the film.

​“One of the first decisions we made was ​to shoot the film in a number of ‘blocks’​, with a view to showcasing the changing ​landscape and echoing the development of ​our lead actor, Bretten, on his journey​ towards manhood. In so doing, we established ​a principle that guided the production ​from that point – that we would shoot ​the film chronologically and allow the ​story to adapt to changes as they occurred. ​It was this organic process that ultimately ​gave Lad the heart that it needed; the ​actors developed genuine relationships ​with one another and, as these relationships​ evolved, so too did the story.

Excited sheep get in on the act as the film crew moves in for a shoot​

​“In terms of the crew, they could not​ have done more for the film. Because of​ our limited budget we couldn’t afford ​many of the usual heads of department​ and so everyone helped across a multitude​ of disciplines.​

“A local lad who worked in a bank ​became our gaffer, a student from the local ​college operated the boom and a childhood ​friend became our photographer.​ That said, we also had some experienced​ hands to guide us, with professional crew ​from the likes of Harry Potter and James ​Bond comprising our camera crew, and​ this combination of experience and newcomers ​worked together with surprising ​ease and professionalism.​

“In other areas the community proved​ vital through their contribution and support.

​“The national park service provided us ​with expertise and use of a Land Rover ​that was featured throughout the film. ​They also helped us gain permission for ​the numerous locations that would serve ​as the backdrop for our story and which ​were spread throughout the national park.

​“Even the local council surprised us by ​allowing us to convert the town hall [in ​Settle] into a bank, and then giving us permission​ to spread several tonnes of ​manure across the front of it!

​“Looking back at the production now, I​ realise how incredibly blessed we were. ​From the stunning local actors to the hardworking ​crew, favourable weather and ​community support, we managed to create ​something that to us feels like much more ​than just a film.

​“The making of Lad has been truly life ​transforming and the professional pinnacle ​of my life to date. What started as a ​process of introspection became so much​ more and the relationships that I formed ​with the people who helped to bring the ​film to life will be everlasting, as will my ​renewed appreciation of the landscape that ​shapes the Dales.

​“In so many ways too this is a coming​ home story, an opportunity to close the ​circle that opened when I left for Australia ​so many years ago, and with it, the opportunity ​to once more call Yorkshire my ​home, which is perhaps the greatest gift of ​all.”


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