This City Belongs, 4 years later

It hardly seems like 4 years ago that our team at Nova won the contract to produce the film that would help Hull to become City of Culture 2017.

In late July 2013 we heard that the council were tendering the job, there was a week to turn around and submit a concept, before panel interviews another week after that.

Deadlines were tight, but it was a job we were desperate to win. Only once in a lifetime would you be asked to produce a 4 minute film capturing the essence of the city that you love – a film which could play a part in changing the fortunes of that city. How could you not want to make that film?

The first thing was to find themes and ideas which we felt would mean something emotionally to the the people of Hull and beyond.

I moved to the city in 1990 at the age of 21. At that time the outlook for the city was pretty bleak, unemployment was high, regeneration happened elsewhere but not in Hull, there was still a strong feeling of isolation, of being overlooked.
But I always felt that Hull had a special thing of it’s own, a unique difference, a thing that is hard to communicate but something which everyone understood – a resonance.

So that concept – resonance – became the central theme of the film. What is that resonance, how do you express it, where does it live, what does it mean?

The next thing we wanted to do was build a team which we knew would be able to help us deliver the work. At that time Nova was a team of two – me (Matt Stephenson) and my colleague Alan Jones, but this was too big and too important a job for us to be able to do alone. And it felt right that we should involve other creatives in Hull who care about the city as passionately as we do. So we approached playwright Rupert Creed, musician Steve Cobby, audio producer John Rowley and fixer/producer Simon Wilson to help us.

Rupert’s role was to help us refine and develop the concept, and it was Rupert who immediately grasped the concept of ‘a special resonance’, remembering Philip Larkin’s introduction to the 1982 Bloodaxe poetry anthology A Rumoured City – “A place cannot produce poems, it can only not prevent them, and Hull is good at that, for Hull has it’s own sudden elegancies…”.

Our film, we told the interview panel, would explore those sudden elegancies and reveal the city’s unique resonance. It would feature the real people of the city, people we all encounter in our everyday lives, young people, old people, people who were born in the city, people who have settled here, and it would celebrate the Hull way of doing things – no bullshit, no flashiness, a respect for the past, a love of freedom, a willingness to be different.
And there would be a repeated line which would bring everyone together, a line which unites us all “This City Belongs To Everyone”.

We got the job.

Planning and shooting the film was both exhausting and joyful. It was like having the keys to the city – the enthusiasm and willingness of the participants (from Sir Tom Courtenay to the grocer on Spring Bank) was inspiring. Need a crowd of 1500 kids to all shout “We are Hull” all on cue? No problem. Need to get on the roof of every high building in the city? No probs, what time? Need to find the oldest person in Hull and get here to say a line? Sorted.

We shot pretty much every day for 7 weeks, waking at sunrise and finishing after dark. And then we worked with Steve Cobby to produce bespoke soundtrack – a rising, swelling, resonant C note which breaks into bells and beats as night falls.

We cut and re-cut and tweaked until the commissioning team, led by bid director Andrew Dixon, were happy.  and on November 12, 2013 the film went live on YouTube.

Overnight there were 35,000 hits and over the next few days our twitter and Facebook notifications went nuts. People talked about it in the street. People cried with pride. Schools showed it in assemblies, Hull City showed it on the screens at half-time, Look North showed it on the news, the national newspapers wrote about it and tweeted about it. The director general of the BBC, Tony Hall, complemented us personally, the Chief Exec of the Arts Council Darren Henley told us it was magic.

Four years later and This City Belongs To Everyone is still getting the hits on YouTube. It was a fantastic project to work on and we’re still incredibly proud of it – proud of the city, proud to be from Hull, proud of what we’ve all achieved, proud to be City of Culture 2017.

There’s a resonance again.

Here’s what bid director Andrew Dixon said about the process:

When bidding for Hull to become UK City of Culture 2017 we wanted to commission a four minute film that would capture the essence of Hullness, provide a groundswell of support within the city and help us to persuade key decision-makers that the city deserved the accolade. After a rigorous tendering process, Nova were awarded the £25,000 contract.
It was a big job, Nova’s plans were ambitious and the timescale was very tight but Nova exceeded our hopes in every respect.
Their production was an emotional four minute epic, filmed in scores of locations, featuring Sir Tom Courtenay and a cast of hundreds of local people. The film ‘This City Belongs to Everyone’ went viral with over 100,000 hits on Youtube in three weeks. It galvanised support for the bid within the city and undoubtedly played an important role in helping to persuade the judges that Hull should succeed in its bid.
We were impressed by Nova’s creativity, their ambition, their professionalism, their technical know-how and their ability to plan and deliver to our demanding brief.
Throughout the process they consulted closely with the bid team and through first and second cuts of the film they adapted and edited content, taking on board our suggestions.
I would have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending Nova to clients nationally or internationally.