LONDON — Chris Noonan’s literary biopic “Miss Potter” may be set in London and Britain’s beautiful Lake District, but 50% of the principal photography took place on the tiny, self-governing Isle of Man, just off Britain in the Irish Sea.
Oscar-winning production designer Martin Childs and art directors Grant Armstrong and Mark Raggett built most of the early 20th-century interior sets in former cowsheds situated in the middle of muddy fields on the island.
“It worked really well. The set for the Potter house looked fantastic. You really couldn’t tell it wasn’t built in Pinewood,” comments London-based executive producer Nigel Wooll, who suggested U.S. producers Phoenix Pictures consider the Isle of Man as a location.
Spanning just 32 miles by 15 miles, the island boasts rolling countryside, one mountain, flatlands, sandy beaches, dramatic plunging coastline and a wealth of well-preserved historical buildings.
But it is not the diverse scenery or abundance of disused cowsheds that attracts international film productions.
“It’s no secret why the Isle of Man is popular as a location — it has some of the best financial incentives in the world,” Wooll says.
At present, the island offers up to 25% of a film’s budget in direct equity investment with no upper or lower limits. To qualify, 50% of all principal photography must take place on the Isle of Man, and the production should spend at least 20% of its below-the-line budget with local companies.
“You don’t need to have any other finance in place; if they believe in your project and think it will work well with the island, they’ll come onboard whatever stage you’re at. This is invaluable for an independent production where very often the first chunk of finance is the hardest to come by,” Wooll comments.
The disadvantage of shooting on the Isle of Man, he notes, however, is the cost of transporting cast, crew and materials over to the island.
“It’s a financial center, so flights can be pricey. It’s less than an hour from London, but it can be cheaper to fly to New York,” he says.
Also, there is no five-star hotel. Most cast members stay in the four-star Sefton, a restored Victorian hotel on the seafront of the capital Douglas.
Renee Zellweger chose this option during the shoot of “Miss Potter”. Johnny Depp preferred the privacy and extra security of a private house during the 2004 shoot of “The Libertine.”
The financial incentives can be accessed through Isle of Man Film, set up in 1995 as part of a scheme to diversify the island’s economy, until then reliant mainly on its offshore banking sector and tourism.
“Over the past 11 years, we’ve built a very solid reputation as a financier, location and a co-producer. These days, people come to us rather than the other way round,” comments the island’s film and media development manager, Hilary Dugdale.
“We’re very, very particular. We’re a triple-A-rated government and we’re using Isle of Man taxpayers’ money. We wouldn’t do business with someone who didn’t have impeccable financial credentials themselves,” she adds.
On average, the island welcomes some eight to 10 projects a year, usually a mix of feature films, TV dramas and animation.
Other international productions to have shot on the island in recent years include Paul Schrader’s upcoming Washington-set political thriller “The Walker,” the San Francisco cross-cultural romance “Mistress of Spices” and “Big Nothing.”