Saturday, 17 March 2018

Director of Shaun the Sheep gave us preview screening

MEMBERS of the Henley branch of a charity attended a preview screening of the new animated film Shaun the Sheep

MEMBERS of the Henley branch of a charity attended a preview screening of the new animated film Shaun the Sheep Movie.

They were invited by Mark Burton, the film’s co-director, who has been volunteering with Headway Thames Valley.

He visits the branch’s headquarters at Brunner Hall in Greys Road, Henley, several times a year to play and run music workshops with his amateur jazz quartet.

When he started writing the film in 2010, he and co-director Richard Starzak consulted Headway because the story included a character who suffers amnesia after being hit on the head and they wanted to make sure it was handled sensitively.

In return, they included a message about the charity’s work.

The film is based on the children’s television programme by animation company Aardman.

It took nine months to make at its Bristol studios using stop-motion in which each frame is individually shot using clay models.

It was released in cinemas on Friday, a few days after the Headway preview at the Mayfair Hotel in London.

About 200 of the charity’s staff, volunteers, fund-raisers and service-users attended, including 18 from the Henley branch.

They were all given Shaun the Sheep hats as souvenirs.

Mr Burton, 54, who lives in Caversham, said, “It was a great day - lots of guests had done various challenges for the charity so there was a great spirit.

“I gave a quick introduction to the film and then we all sat back and enjoyed it.

“The film is going to be shown in 170 territories around the world so it has huge potential to raise awareness of Headway.”

Mr Burton, who grew up in Whitchurch and attended Langtree School in Woodcote and King James’ College, now The Henley College, became involved with the charity because he wanted to do voluntary work and the Thames Valley branch was particularly keen to work with a musician.

He said, “I didn’t know much about head injury but music was one of my skills, so I got in touch. They were really welcoming from the outset and I’ve been coming back ever since.

“ I feel like I’m really part of that community and they are all friends to me.

“Working on Shaun the Sheep meant I was too busy to go there for a while so I’m looking forward to going back and bashing the piano again.”

The branch has about 50 service-users with varying degrees of disability resulting from a brain injury. It offers information and practical and emotional support as well as organising social activities.

Mr Burton said, “It is a very inclusive and welcoming place. Its clients have a range of disabilities, from those who use wheelchairs to others with memory problems, but everybody supports each other.

“They can feel like they’re part of something as it offers them routine and a support structure, which is really important.”

Mr Burton was a comedy scriptwriter and worked on TV shows including Spitting Image, Have I Got News For You, Room 101 and Never Mind The Buzzcocks.

More recently he wrote or contributed to the screenplays for films such as Madagascar, Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit, The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit. Shaun the Sheep Movie is the first film he has directed.

He said, “My relationship with Aardman goes back to Chicken Run in 2000.

“They had a very strong visual director in Richard but they wanted someone with storytelling experience on board. We worked very well together, although it was a very steep learning curve. Animation films usually take five years to plan and make so it was quite an adrenaline rush doing it in three.

“Filming it in nine months was especially quick because for some scenes it can take a whole day just to get two seconds of footage.

“I’m feeling pretty confident that it will be popular, although there’s always a little bit of nail-biting when your film is first released.

“The reviews have been good but you can never tell how it will be received until it’s out there.”

Last year, Wendy Carlson, general manager of Headway Thames Valley, was invited to visit Aardman’s studios and see the film being made.

She said, “Mark has been a fantastic support to our charity and its music therapy for many years.

“Despite his obvious talents, we only found out about his film work from one of his band members; to us, he’s just Mark the pianist.

“His talents, modesty and selflessness are all too rare these days.”

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