Film producer Stephen Woolley travels the world making movies, but in between jobs he loves nothing better than the rural life in Dyrham, says Jan Gilbert.
Leading British producer Stephen Woolley has spent a lifetime steeped in movies, from tearing cinema tickets in 1970s London to producing a string of award-winning box-office hits including The Crying Game and How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.
But when he’s not busy working with stars such as Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, and Simon Pegg, there’s nothing Stephen loves more than relaxing at home in Dyrham, his haven of peace and tranquility for the past thirteen years.
‘When you make films it’s such a nomadic exercise,’ says Stephen. ‘You’re not really in any one place for very long – suddenly you’re in Ireland or France or America. When you come home you want to be somewhere you can feel quiet. And making films is a pretty stressful activity too so the ideal was to find somewhere as stressless as possible.’
It was thanks to Stephen’s wife and fellow producer Elizabeth Karlsen that Dyrham became home. ‘I was shooting Michael Collins in Ireland and Elizabeth was in Bath shooting a film called Hollow Reed,’ he recalls. ‘We hadn’t been married long and we’d decided to move from Fulham. Then Elizabeth stumbled across this amazing house in a very quiet and lovely part of the world. It really is quite idyllic. You look out and it’s just countryside. We’ve got a couple of horses and a river running down the end of the garden, but we’re not far from Bath, Bristol, the motorway, or the train station, so in a sense we get the best of both worlds. It’s such a special place.’
As well as regular trips to Bath to take in the big-screen delights of The Little Theatre Cinema or the latest plays at the Theatre Royal, Stephen enjoys hiking through the region’s beautiful countryside, whether walking the family dogs in nearby Dyrham Wood or venturing further afield.
Magical mystery tour
‘Dyrham’s on the Cotswold Way and we recently walked to the end of the route at Chipping Campden. We planned the whole thing, staying at B&Bs and pubs on the way. Different friends joined us along the walk and did a couple of days here and there, so it was really fun. It’s pretty strenuous though as it’s very hilly, so you’re never walking in a straight line, you’re always going up or down something!’
‘There’s a real sense of achievement once you arrive somewhere,’ he adds. ‘And what’s great is the thrill of going to different places. You end up at some B&B and either you’re pleasantly surprised because the food’s great, or you’re crushingly disappointed that you’ve walked seven hours to get there!
‘There’s that sort of magical mystery tour element to it which we all love. Our next mission is to complete the Cotswold Way, which means walking about eight or nine miles from our house to Bath. So that’s our plan for the summer.’
But this month it’s time to hang up those hiking boots and pick out some red-carpet shoes, as Stephen and Elizabeth release their latest movie, Sounds Like Teen Spirit, an irresistible feel-good film which follows four young singer-songwriters from across Europe on their road to the Junior Eurovision finals.
Never heard of Junior Eurovision? Neither had Stephen and Elizabeth until BAFTA-nominated director Jamie J Johnson approached them about making a feature on the world’s largest song contest for young people, but Jamie’s idea struck a real chord.
‘I think if you’re my age, the Eurovision was an event alongside Wimbledon and the FA Cup,’ says Stephen. ‘As a kid I loved collecting stamps. I’d sit for hours and stare at some stamp from Monaco, not even knowing where Monaco was but just imagining its culture and people. I think stamp collecting and loving Eurovision as a kid were the same thing. I didn’t get on a plane until I was fourteen years old so the Eurovision, like stamp collecting, was like a journey around Europe.’
ABBA gold seal
If you’re expecting pushy parents and temperamental teens, think again as Sounds Like Teen Spirit is a real heart melter of a movie which celebrates the spirit of the underdog with all the humour of Oscar-winner Little Miss Sunshine. ‘The kids in the film are very talented and incredibly sussed,’ says Stephen. ‘They all have problems – the break-up of their parents’ marriage, being bullied at school, living in absolute poverty in a war-torn country – but there are so many wise words from these children that the film gives you a real sense of optimism. You’re just bowled over by their spirit.’
Eurovision veterans Björn and Benny felt the same. The Swedish songwriting duo, who are extremely protective of their music, have given the film their ABBA gold seal of approval, allowing one of their songs to feature on the soundtrack.
And the film is already receiving rave reviews and favourable comparisons with the multi-award-winning Slumdog Millionaire. So take a chance on Sounds Like Teen Spirit this month, and you’re sure to say ‘thank you for the movie’.
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