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Screen Suffolk finds local film maker to assist Ralph Fiennes on shoot of The Dig

Screen Suffolk had the pleasure in finding Ralph Fiennes his assistant for the film The Dig. Fiennes plays Basil Brown, the archaeologist who helps discover Sutton Hoo. The Dig, which stars Carey Mulligan and Lily James and was directed by Simon Stone, and is based on the 2007 novel of the same name, it reimagines the events of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo. Screen Suffolk locations used in the film include Thorpeness Beach, Shingle Street, a footpath in Snape on Suffolk Wildlife Trust land and an RSPB site called Boyton Marsh. The unit base was set up in the Snape Maltings.

Fiennes was determined to nail down a true Suffolk accent so contacted Screen Suffolk to help find not only an assistant but crucially someone who also had an ear for the true Suffolk dialect.

Film maker and musician Jay Ducker saw the shout out on Facebook which simply read: An actor requires an on-set assistant from mid-September to mid-November based in Suffolk and then Surrey area. Ideal opportunity for an entry level crew member. Must have a Suffolk accent.

THE DIG: JAY DUCKR. Cr. LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021

Jay had been making short films and promos to compliment his music but had little experience on a film set but when he saw the advert a friend encouraged him to apply. 

‘I remember being relatively relaxed because I honestly wasn’t expecting to get the job. I don’t have the strongest Suffolk accent and again, I had very little experience in the feature film industry. What really put me at ease was that Ralph was already using the Suffolk accent. It kind of disarmed me and made me feel as if I was speaking to a local or someone I knew really well. But what helped me get the job, I think, was that I immediately heard when and where he was going wrong with the dialect and without thinking I started correcting him in the interview. He seemed to respond well to that, and I told him my background, which was in the music industry, so I believe it was my good ear that got me the job.’

Jay’s first day was at Snape Maltings where the crew were filming their first landscape scenes of the famous Suffolk sky, reeds and beaches.  The crew filmed in and around Suffolk for a week. ‘My role was to assist Ralph in getting the best possible performance. Everything from making sure he was fed and watered to perfecting and correcting his Suffolk dialect.’ Jay would listen to Ralph reading scripts and suggest other ways for him to perfect the Suffolk accent. 

THE DIG: RALPH FIENNES as BASIL BROWN. Cr. LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021

‘There was a three-pronged approach when it came to dialect coaching with Jamie Matthewman being the overall guidance for all the actors, Charlie Haylock specifically zooming in on the Suffolk dialects, particularly with Ralph and myself being the everyday reference point. I think all our differing approaches really complemented each other.’

Jay is still in touch with Ralph as well as many other crew members. ‘The camaraderie amongst the crew, was the best thing about being on set, for sure. There’s a real sense of togetherness when you’re cold, tired and in the mud together. You really pull on that to get you through.’

He certainly made the most of the opportunity and gained praise from Ralph himself who said of him. ‘Jay Ducker gave me a lot of support and help during the shoot of The Dig. I requested from Screen Suffolk an assistant on set who was from Suffolk – someone I could practice my Suffolk accent with.  Jay adapted very quickly to the grueling filming hours and really impressed me with his spirit of commitment and dedication. He worked really hard.’

Since the film wrapped at the end of 2019 Jay has been continuing to make music under the name of ‘Skinny Rodgers’ and has also had film-making commissions under his Middle Sea Media business.  With regards to the future, as with everyone 2020 has been a strange one and Covid-19 has kept Jay away from film sets but he’s been left with a ‘deep appreciation’ of the experience.

THE DIG: RALPH FIENNES as BASIL BROWN. Cr. LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021

‘It was definitely character-building, and I know a lot of people would have killed for my position so I’m very grateful for the opportunity. A friend of mine has written this fantastic script which is based in Suffolk and it happens to be about my great ancestor John Ducker who was the last man to be publicly hung in Ipswich. Our hopes are to turn it into a feature film and help bring more film making to Suffolk.

Screen Suffolk are looking forward to helping find locations for that film at some point in the not-too-distant future!

Photos © LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021