Essex may not have quite the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, but over the past year or so, it has become the backdrop for many TV and film shoots.
In April, for example, Tom Hiddleston was spotted filming The Essex Serpent in Brightlingsea while other scenes of the drama were filmed in Alresford and Maldon.
The same month, actors and screenwriters from the Stars Wars Andor series were also seen by fans at the former Coryton Refinery site in Corringham.
Oscar-winning actor Gary Oldman also spent time at the Navigation House in Harwich Haven Authority for his new production AppleTV + Slow Horses.
The small town has also played host to Downton Abbey stars and crew members who transformed parts of the area, including King’s Quay Street, into a 1900s film set.
Most recently Jessie Wallace, Steve McFadden and Letitia Dean of EastEnders toured a St Osyth trailer park – much to the delight of Tendring soap fans.
It’s clear that North Essex exerts a certain pull for filmmakers, but is it exactly the county that makes it a favorite spot for the big screen?
“Essex has always been a great location for filming, but it’s only in recent years that people have realized its true potential,” said Rodney Appleyard, Colchester film columnist.
“There is everything you need in a production – beautiful scenery, an interesting history, a rich variety of locations and some of the friendliest and most talented people to work with.
“People are also realizing that there are a lot of people in the area trained with the skills to create and perform in these productions.
“In Colchester for example, you have a plethora of students studying TV production and film and Signals also offers BFI courses.
“It creates a community of filmmakers ready to join us in helping with new productions when they shoot in the area.”
In addition to big budget productions such as those already mentioned, local independent filmmakers have also chosen Essex for their industrial productions.
Dom Morgan, 48, of Colchester, for example, recently shot his feature film “totally bonkers” at Clacton while giving marginalized teenagers a chance to work on a film set.
Entitled Morris Men, the award-winning film buff’s latest effort is described as an urban revenge thriller about ninjas fighting the dancers of Border Morris.
His first feature film cost just over £ 10,000 to produce and won 30 awards across the world and was also released with Moviehouse Entertainment.
But he chose to shoot his most recent film in Essex because that is where “the spirit of independent film is alive and vibrant” and the cost of doing so is more affordable.
Dom said, “With limited resources, it’s critical to find places where people understand your limits and embrace the spirit of independent filmmaking.
“For our last feature film, we had the support of Tendring Council, like Jason Smedley of the Royal Hotel, and the owners of Walton Pier and the Martello Tower Zoo.
“We are so fortunate to have incredible locations in the region to produce credible and salable works with extremely high production values.
“It draws more attention to the region as a viable production base and over time we are now seeing more films being shot in the region which strengthens our cultural footprint. ”
AG Longhurst, of Thorpe-le-Soken, also used locations scattered along the north Essex coast for his film Lucas & Albert.
The comedic gangster film sees two aging contract killers forced to do one last job before they can hang up their guns for good.
It stars John Altman, known for playing Nick Cotton in EastEnders and Michael McKell from the medical soap opera, Doctors.
The film, which premiered at Clacton, has since pushed back the 1917 Oscar-nominated film to win a National Film Award.
“Having been in the business for over 30 years, it’s no surprise that other companies, be it film or television, suddenly discovered it,” said Mr. Longhurst.
“Although the area is underfunded and transportation is a nightmare, there are a lot of people in the community ready to help and it attracts people to our industry.
“If their life is made easier, they are ready to come and the shooting out of season is also great because the hospitality and the structure are there, with hotels and places.
“Generally, if you can bring something that benefits the area you’re filming in, people will welcome you.
“I gave an interview last year and said East England and Tendring could be the next Hollywood – I really meant that.”
Dom agrees and, like Mr. Longhurst, thinks Essex and more specifically places like Clacton may well become the next La La Land.
“There has never been a better time for independent filmmaking and we are grateful to live in a place that actively embraces and supports our directing efforts,” he said.
“Our vision is to transform Clacton and its surroundings into our own little Hollywood-on-Sea.
“The Princes Theater is certainly designed for full-scale movie premieres, so maybe it won’t be long before we see the red carpet and the limos arrive.”