The international filmmaker helping to put Portsmouth on the world stage

International filmmaker James Sharp has travelled the globe working on promotions for some of the world’s biggest brands. But the former aircraft engineer realised his home city had been missing a trick.

Tuesday, 24th September 2019, 1:22 pm
Updated Saturday, 28th September 2019, 5:18 pm
Top local film-maker behind new Portsmouth promo video, James Sharp

Despite its wealth of history, unique attractions and being an international transport hub, Portsmouth has been slow in promoting itself to the world.

So slow in fact, that the last time a promotional video of the city was aired was way back in 1980 – by none other than Hollywood actor Telly Savalas.

But that has all changed now thanks to James. He is the man behind a new tourist video commissioned by Portsmouth City Council. It is the centrepiece of an autumn advertising campaign by the authority, using Facebook and YouTube.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

HMS Warrior in a still from Porsmouth City Council tourism video by James Sharp

‘The last promotional video is now very dated’, says James, 35. ‘I felt it was embarrassing that nothing had been done to promote the city so I approached the council and asked them if they would be interested in making a film.

‘We discussed the project before they asked me to make the film. Everything in the film is local to Portsmouth. Everyone who features in the video was from the city.

‘It’s good to show what we have – there are a lot of great people and things here in the city. There is so much history – ranging from Roman to the Bronze Age, right through to the world wars and the military.’

Using the latest techniques, including drone footage, the two-minute movie took a year to make and gives a whistle-stop tour of all the exciting and unique things to do in and around the city.

Harold Baim's 1981 film, Telly Savalas Looks at Portsmouth, shown in cinemas at the time to promote tourism in Portsmouth. This is Charlotte's Street market.

It includes stunning visuals of the main seafront attractions and iconic locations such as Gunwharf Quays and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, as well as stopping off at places like Fratton Park and Portchester Castle.

It features a voice-over from local actress Denise Black, who has appeared in Eastenders, Coronation Street and Benidorm.

James says he wanted to celebrate all that is good about Portsmouth, to showcase it. All the top tourist attractions are in the video, but Gunwharf and the dockyard make up the nucleus of the film.

He particularly enjoyed filming at the Mary Rose, where the historical actors got involved.

A still from the latest Portsmouth City Council tourism video

James used footage collected from across the city over recent years. Video clips from key city organisations such as INEOS, Wightlink and Hovertravel were also used.

He was assisted by Jamie Hancock and Michael Woods – who also provided footage – while Christian Smith produced the music.

It was not without its challenges. ‘I wanted to make something a bit off the cuff and arty, like I would normally do, but this was a different kind of project,’ he says.

‘I found there were a few places that were reluctant to let me in or provide us with footage.’

But Jane Singh, the visitor services and development manager at the council, was instrumental in opening doors for James to work his magic. ‘She was great about everything and right from the start was saying “let’s do this”. When some places were reluctant to let me in she would get me in,’ he said.

‘The logistics of arranging it all was probably the hardest bit. At times it was a nightmare but Jane made things easier for us.’

The weather made filming difficult on occasions. They would prepare for a day’s shooting and rain was put paid to it.

He continues: ‘There is a lot of general footage we had from across the city from things like Record Day in Castle Road but we made sure it was stuff that people would be interested in coming to the city for.

‘In the end it was a real joint effort and I hope it makes people want to come to our great city.’

The last time Portsmouth City Council commissioned a film to boost the city’s tourism industry was 1980.

In a somewhat unusual step, Hollywood actor Telly Savalas, famous for playing the lollipop-chewing cop, Kojak, was asked to narrate the film, which was directed by Howard Baim.

The seven minute journey through the city cost £36,000 to make. The shaky camera work of the sepia coloured film is certainly of its time.

In an interview with The News back in 1981, confident Mr Baim said: ‘I fly to Los Angeles on Saturday and I will not have any difficulty placing the film with one of the big companies.

‘With my company track record – spanning more than 300 films – this one about your city will soon be distributed worldwide, definitely linked with a picture.’

James’s take is very different. Councillor Steve Pitt, the council's cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport, said: ‘This is a great piece of work by a talented local filmmaker.

‘It will be a powerful tool for us in promoting the city.

‘It's designed to appeal to a broad audience, whether it's British holidaymakers, international visitors, younger people or older people, and whether they're on a budget or big spenders.

‘Tourism is crucial to the city's economy and supports 13,000 jobs. By showing off Portsmouth as it is today, the video will help us attract even more visitors.’

The video will also be used at trade shows in western Europe, one of the main sources of international visitors to the city.

There are also plans to show it in French ferry terminals.

Other footage shot by James will be used to create short videos designed to sell specific aspects of Portsmouth – such as its nightlife or leisure activities on the Solent.