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Image of A couple passing a spinning basketball to each other in Freestyle

The Nicholls and Clarke Building in Freestyle

Date posted: 01.02.2010

Freestyle is a fresh, dynamic and uplifting teen romance set in London - it's also Film London Microwave's third micro-budget feature to go on general release. Locations across the capital were used for the shoot - with a tense freestyle basketball finale set in the popular Nicholls and Clarke Building, just around the corner from the Film London office!

Written by Michael Maynard and directed by Kolton Lee, the film tells the story of Ondene Marchant (Lucy Konadu) - a talented student destined to study in law at Oxford. She has spent her whole life following the demanding study plans laid down by her ambitious mother Hyacinth (Suzann McLean), a high powered barrister determined to push her only child to the top. After years of swotting, Ondene discovers freestyle basketball, and takes up the offer of lessons from a charismatic and gifted student Leon (Arinze Kene). As romance blossoms, the sweethearts face an uphill struggle with Hyacinth as they try to succeed in life and love.

The final scene of the film - the Freestyle Competition - was shot at The Nicholls and Clarke Building on Shoreditch High Street. Location manager, James Alexander, describes how he came to choose this particular location for the film: 'Having read and re-read the script, it soon became apparent that the finale of the film required a visually interesting, organic location. Managing a commercial project of this nature, with limited resources, ultimately leads to compromise and I nervously began compiling a list of venues. I then offered up a number of different locations to the director and production designer - these ranged from commercial venues, to more unusual, quirky un-established locations. In the end it was the urban setting - a strong feature of the narrative - that led to us opt for a non-conventional venue, and The Nicholls and Clarke Building certainly fits into that brief.'

Creating the spectacle of a performance arena with a small budget was one of the biggest challenges faced by the production. For producer Lincia Daniel, The Nicholls and Clarke Building provided scale and grandeur with the added value of a very distinctive look. She comments: 'We were indebted to Mick Bagnall at the City of London Film Office for allowing us access to such an excellent building - we couldn't have asked for a better location and Mick, together with his staff on the ground, were nothing short of superb.'

Owned and managed by the City of London, the location comprises of three main buildings - mostly warehouses and commercial spaces - which date back from the Victorian era to the 1970s. The joy of the location is in its versatility and, as a result, it has recently proved very popular with film and TV productions. It has been transformed on a variety of occasions - from a laboratory and insane asylum in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes to a Chinese opium den in upcoming feature film Shanghai.

For the location manager it was 'the dark and atmospheric interior, complete with chalky walls and symmetrical iron workings of the building that seemed to add an ethereal quality to the scene. The ceiling was high enough to accommodate a Louma crane (allowing for a fantastic high angle shot of the lead character running to the arena), and the impact of the supporting iron beams broke up the visual, adding a rich, cinematic feel to the dance sequences'.

As atmospheric as it was, creating the right look for the scene was not without its difficulties, as production designer, Dan Taylor, explains; 'We initially thought that The Nicholls and Clarke Building would provide a blank canvas on which we could create the backdrop to Freestyle's final set piece - however, we were informed that we would not be able to change the look of the building whatsoever. As we weren't able to paint, screw in, or temporarily change anything within the building, we had to freestand sprayed backings and erect our own stage, DJ booth and lighting gantry without causing any disruption. Working late into the night with the other members of the art department, graffiti and stencil artists, we transformed the space to what is seen in the final sequence. A massive success considering the location constraints and financial limitations put upon us in the final throws of a grueling shoot.'

In practical terms the location was large enough to accommodate a supporting cast of 100+ people, two camera units and supporting crew, and enough additional space for make-up/costume/crowd holding and a canteen. 'Another crucial element in making the production run as efficiently as possible', according to James. Thanks to the adjoining yard he was also able to host the unit base and technical vehicles on-site, keeping the unit compact, and adding valuable production time to the schedule. 'I had discounted central London filming due to budgetary constraints, but on the rare occasion that you find a building with ample parking and lots of space... it's certainly worth that initial phone call!'

Lincia adds: 'Although they were incredibly constrained by small budgets both location manager, James Alexander, and production designer, Dan Taylor, never allowed the lack of money to limit their imagination or creative ambitions for Freestyle. The film's high production values reflect the enormous amount of energy and spirit which came from them and all the Heads of Department in trying to achieve the director's vision.'

For all filming enquiries related to The Nicholls and Clarke Building please contact the City of London Film Office on 020 7332 3202 / 020 7332 3182 or email filmliaison@cityoflondon.gov.uk.

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