Could Birmingham be the new Manhattan? Could the Rotunda become as iconic as the Empire State Building? Could the floozie in the jacuzzi inspire as much awe as the Statue of Liberty?
Screenwriter and self-confessed Woody Allen fan Richard Lucas is hoping to change people’s opinions about his much-maligned home city.
He wants people to see that it can be as romantic as Paris, as historic as Rome and as quirky as London.
“At the end of a pitch meeting for investors last week I quipped that Woody has got Manhattan, Richard Curtis has got London and I got stuck with Birmingham.
“But I am okay with that. It is a beautiful city, constantly improving, full of good night life and restaurants.”
After spending more than a decade living in London, Richard returned to the city and promptly fell in love with its new look Bullring, its cleaned up canal side, its chic cafes and bars in Brindleyplace and the Mailbox, and its ever changing cityscape of soaring new towers and the refurbished Rotunda
Now he is going to make it a star.
He has written a film called Lip Sync. Originally he had no particular location for it in mind, but then decided Birmingham would make the perfect setting.
“I call it a BrumRomCom as it is set mostly round the canals, Brindleyplace and the Mailbox.
“The city is a character in itself in the film, which is your traditional boy meets girl, boy lies heavily to get girl, girl finds out and he loses her but eventually he wins her back.”
He intends that the movie will take as great a pride in its location as that other famously Birmingham-based film Take Me High, a musical featuring an entrepreneurial Cliff Richard launching the Brumburger on an unsuspecting world.
Richard feels that for too long Birmingham has been the butt of a cinematic joke, people’s perceptions of it coloured by things like the unintentionally hilarious ‘70s travelogue made – bizarrely – by Telly Kojak Savalas, who enthuses over the delights of Dale End, the police traffic control centre and Spaghetti Junction.
“When I was a kid going to Shirley Odeon with my mum and dad I would say ‘why do you never see Birmingham on the big screen’,” Richard recalls.
“Thirty plus years later I am still waiting. Now I want to be the man that does it.”
The story he has written is set in the Electric cinema and focuses on the two projectionists, Alex and Richie.
Alex is in his early 20s and unlucky in love ever since he caught his girlfriend cheating on him. Richie is married but putting his own relationship at risk because he is spending too much time trying to get Alex fixed up with girls.
When Alex becomes enamoured with a beautiful French jazz singer the pair go to extreme lengths to try and impress her.
However, when she realises she has been set-up by the two men (albeit with the best of intentions) she flees back to France,
In desperation Alex spams the entire country in an attempt to find her and becomes an over night celebrity when the police arrest him for it.
Richard reveals that the script has already piqued the interest of Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe. Richard and his co-film makers hope to sign him up as soon as they have raised all the funding for the project.
“I have spoken to his agent and he loves the script. It would be great for him to play a romantic lead.
“Alex is not somebody who is particularly smooth and I can’t think of anyone better to play it than Daniel. He has got that awkwardness but he is still handsome, and both boys and girls like him.”
For the glamorous singer, Tiggy, Richard hopes to secure the talents of French actress Ludivine Sagnier who appeared in Swimming Pool, opposite Charlotte Rampling. He envisions Rik Mayall as a tramp who acts as mentor to Alex, Julie Walters as his mum and perhaps Lucy Davis of The Office fame as Richie’s increasingly exasperated wife.
But Richard has been most encouraged by the amount of support he has received from local “celebrities” who want to appear in the film.
“Nick Owen is very keen to be in it, playing himself. I have spoken to Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne’s agent and if they are around they would play themselves.
“With a fair wind we will get 60 to 70 per cent of the cast (we want). Most of them would love to do it because they are from around here , people like Lenny Henry, Cat Deeley, Jamelia, Noddy Holder. These guys would just be in very small roles.
“We are trying to use as many Brummies as possible as cast and crew. There are some very talented people in the area, established actors as well as lots of new actors. We will be dipping into the Birmingham School of Acting, into the Conservatoire.
“For Richie I like the idea of using a local actor. I’d like to ‘discover’ a couple of people on this, possibly through the school of acting, maybe through local agencies or with the help of local theatres.
“Local business, restaurants and hotels have said they will help out where they can, just to see it being made here.
“It is so nice to have a film about the city that the people can get behind and be proud of.”
Richard doesn’t plan to shy away exploiting the unique appeal of the Birmingham accent, even though its unvarying notes and downward intonations have seldom been shown in the best light on film or television.
While Scousers are seen as witty and wily and Cockneys as cheeky rapscallions, the Brummie accent has often been associated with lack of mental acuity, or, as in the case of Ozzy, prolonged exposure to hard drugs and heavy metal.
“We are not hiding away from the accent,” says Richard firmly. “It is one of the joys of Birmingham. We are not going to have Hugh Grant accents running through the film. Indeed there are two friends of Richie who are very very Black Country and who we will be sub-titling.
“Brummies have always had a great sense of humour, particularly self deprecating. but very ironic as well.”
Richard believes that a cultural malaise has meant that Birmingham has missed opportunities to promote itself as a movie-making location.
“We got a bit lazy, took our eyes off the ball. Culturally it has gone a bit quiet.
“There is the old argument of which is the second city, Birmingham or Manchester. Every Mancunian I have know would say ‘name the last band to come out of Birmingham’. We don’t dominate the charts the way we used to back in the 80s with Duran Duran and Dexys. There are some some good ones about but Manchester has had big (music) movements, and they have Oasis of course.
“And other cities have really pushed the film-making side of things more than we have.
But now, in the last couple of years Screen West Midlands and Film Birmingham have as well. There is more of a will now so yeah, let’s get this city back on the map.
“We have seen what good The Full Monty did for Sheffield, Shallow Grave and Trainspotting for Edinburgh and there are endless films set in London.
The Lip Sync budget is relatively modest, set at just under one million pounds, but Richard admits this can be as hard to raise as a budget ten times that amount if you don’t have an established production company behind you.
“We have raised about two thirds. It has all come through private investors, whether they are wealthy investors or attached to big companies. It is an enterprise initiative scheme so it is a good tax incentive. They have minimum exposure, and it is a bit if fun as well.”
The investors might even get the chance to be in it as Richard has written some big production numbers into the plot with people spontaneously bursting into song and dance routines in locations like Victoria Square.
The struggling economy has slowed down the flow of money but Richard is hoping to have it raised in time for shooting to start in the autumn.
Ideally he would like to finish the film without it already being tied to a distributor. Then they could market it at festivals like Dinard in France or maybe Sundance, and benefit from the publicity a possible bidding war over it would create.
Lip Sync is Richard’s first venture into screen writing. He has spent his career working in television and film as a freelance TV and line producer specialising in drama. He was part of he team that produced an award-winning documentary marking the 30th anniversary of the Birmingham pub bombings.
“I did an art foundation course at Solihull tec, then did audio visual communication at Staffordshire. I dropped out by the third year, I chased after a girl and got behind on the work,” he blushingly admits.
“But thankfully it hasn’t ever hurt. I was only 21 then and maybe it was research for film.
“I have worked my way through the ranks on television, starting off as a runner.”
Now 40 and living in Shirley with his partner Alison, who is in fashion retail at Bicester, he is ready to take his career in a new direction.
“Writing is something I have always wanted to do. I have just sat down and written two films both of which are on the cusp of being made (the other is a horror film called Crimson Moon).
“I have even started writing a novel, a sort of dramatised travelogue.
“I have got three films in total planned in Birmingham, I sort of non-related trilogy. The second one would be a sex comedy set in Solihull...all the twitching net curtains. The third one would be a gangster comedy set round the Jewellery Quarter.
“I also want to make a vampire film in Wales but I would like to direct that one (Lip Sync will be directed by acclaimed documentary maker Peter Minns and produced by Adrian Milne who has worked with Steven Spielberg on the feature The Lost Children of Berlin)
“Television is becoming quiet in Birmingham there seems to be a will to move everything out to Manchester and Bristol, so it would be really nice to be a great centre here where filmmakers can come together, maybe have a local distributor,” continues Richard.
“There is a huge pool of very creative talent in Birmingham. The city gets a get a lot of stick and it is about time we told the rest of the country ‘look what we are doing, look what we can achieve’.”