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 landscapeand 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 thepowerful 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 disagreeabout that. The community that I left behind when I was sixteen still thrivesand 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 thecharacters 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.”