Local Hero: New book charts the making of a Scottish film classic 40 years later

Peter Capaldi, Burt Lancaster and Peter Riegert on the set of Local Hero in 1982.

Forty years after writer-director Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero put Scotland on the world cinema map, the full story of how it was made is about to be told.

A new book due out next month explains why the production was filmed on the east and west coasts of Scotland, recalls Lancaster’s impact on and off screen and reveals the scenes that didn’t do the final assembly.

The book recalls how Lancaster struggled to interpret his lines, the director’s insistence that the film’s depiction of a mermaid be toned down, and how he was forced to change the film’s ending to satisfy his backers. Americans.

Peter Capaldi, Peter Riegert, Chris Rozycki, Jennifer Black and Denis Lawson while filming Local Hero. Photo: Moviestore/Shutterstock

Jonathan Melville’s book is drawn from new and archival interviews with key players in Local Hero history, and a Q&A event he ran with Forsyth at Mallaig when the film was released. screened to mark the 15th anniversary of Scottish mobile cinema The Screen Machine.

He recalls how Forsyth teamed up with producer David Puttnam to try to make Local Hero, despite the latter’s “very stupid decision” to turn down director Gregory’s hit comedy Girl.

As the finishing touches were being put on Puttnam’s new film, Chariots of Fire, and Gregory’s Girl, the producer invited Forsyth to a private screening of the classic Ealing comedy Whiskey Galore!

Puttnam suggested to Forsyth that there could be a contemporary tale inspired by Shetland’s oil boom in the early 1970s and the financial benefits that were negotiated for the islanders.

Actors Denis Lawson and Peter Riegert with director Bill Forsyth during the filming of Local Hero. Photo: Enigma/Goldcrest/Kobal/Shutterstock

The director has produced a two-page ‘treatment’ of a story following a Texas oil executive sent to Scotland to seal a deal to acquire a small village and its beach for a new refinery.

Crucial funding from Goldcrest Films, which had also backed Chariots of Fire, was promised at the BAFTAs, where the film won three awards, with Warner Brothers later on.

Lancaster, who was also at the BAFTAs to collect an award for his role in Atlantic City, received the script for Local Hero. Forsyth had long had the actor in mind for the role of oil company boss Felix Happer.

Forsyth said, “When I was writing it, I was imagining him saying the words, and I guess once you have that in your head, you start writing for that voice. I wrote a little for him, but it was just for me.

Actors Peter Riegert (Mac) and Chris Rozycki (Viktor) star in Bill Forsyth’s classic comedy Local Hero, which was partly filmed in Pennan, Aberdeenshire. Photo: Moviestore/Shutterstock

The rest of the Local Hero cast was a mix of established Scottish actors such as Fulton Mackay and Rikki Fulton, familiar faces from previous Forsyth films including Gregory’s Girl star John Gordon Sinclair, newcomers like Peter Capaldi , Jenny Seagrove and Tam Dean Burn, and Peter Riegert, who was cast as ambitious oil executive Mac despite pressure on Forsyth to consider better-known actors including Henry Winkler and Michael Douglas.

Riegert said: “At breakfast, lunch and dinner, if I wasn’t working, I would see them, and they had such interesting faces and such distinctive voices. Not only were the beach and the sunsets interesting , but all the people were exotic.”

The book recalls the enormous logistical challenges of making a film deploying key locations on either side of the country to portray the fictional fishing village and beach of Ferness.

Production designer Roger Murray-Leach traveled across Scotland on a hunt that would eventually take the cast and crew to the village of Pennan in Aberdeenshire and Camusdarach Beach near Mallaig in Lochaber.

Burt Lancaster during the filming of Local Hero. Photo: Moviestore/Shutterstock

He remembers: “It was me and one of those tiny tape recorders. I started at 10 a.m. when it was getting light and finished at 3 p.m. when it wasn’t light, I found a pub and went to transcribe the notes I had taken, I spent the rest of the evening at the bar, and I started again the next day. It took about two weeks.

Local Hero stage manager David Brown, who would go on to produce Outlander over 30 years later, said: “To a lot of us it was nonsense, the idea that you can film on the east coast and the west coast and connect the two things. For a lot of Scots it was like, ‘How can that work?’, but it works in the film.”

Recalling filming in Pennan, Brown said, “I don’t remember huge opposition to it. People were more accepting of it and also more prepared to live their lives without feeling the desperate need to photograph everything in some sort of Instagram-like world.

The production team had to create key locations for the film, including the church overlooking the beach and a shack that housed beachcomber Ben, who resists Mac’s overtures to sell.

Tasked with finding washed up trash for Ben’s cabin, real estate master Arthur Wicks had to recruit a local boater for a week to find enough.

He said: ‘We spent about a week scouring the west coast of Scotland and couldn’t find a match on a beach. They were spotless until Mallaig.

Peter Riegert inside the famous phone booth used for Local Hero.

Forsyth wanted Local Hero to end with Mac returning to his apartment in Houston and examining the beach seashells he had kept in his pocket, but was forced to add an additional scene, which shows Ferness’ red phone booth ringing. , after executives funded the film insisted on a happier ending.

Riegert recalls, “’Bill and I were in Los Angeles meeting with one of the Warner Brothers executives. The executive said, “We love the movie, but the ending is so sad.” “And Bill said, ‘Oh, that’s great. Thank you very much, I really appreciate that. I didn’t know you were going to see it that way. ‘”

The village of Pennan, put on the map by Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film Local Hero, starring Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert, Fulton Mackay and Denis Lawson, part of which was filmed here.