Global success for councillor who directed and starred in award winning comedy
Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter
A new award-winning comedy series directed by and starring a councillor hopes to raise the profile of Ferndale and the Rhondda.
Bryn Coombes follows the life of his community in the Rhondda Fach village and was the brainchild of councillor Phil Howe, who created it with his son, friends and with the help of a host of Welsh acting talent.
The show has already entered and gained success in awards all over the world including Hollywood, New York, Sweden, Germany, Milan, Rome, India and Toronto as well as others.
The show has got into 55 film festivals, won 18, have had five finalists, a semi finalist and two nominees and was up against productions that had budgets a lot larger than the £100,000 Bryn Coombes cost to make.
He said that there’d usually be a crew of 40 or people on a show like this but they didn’t have any of that for this.
He said it was just him, his friend Wyndham Price, photographer Rob Summerhill and his son controlling the camera work, directing, locations and lighting among other things.
Cllr Howe said the idea came about around 10 years ago with just a voice but he hadn’t thought of the character itself.
When he went down to the Elvis festivals and he’d be sharing a caravan he’d be creating the Bryn Coombes character with the voice he created and people thought it was funny.
He said: “The only reason it was filmed was my son started making small films on an iPhone and he filmed them well. They were edited really good, good music.
“And so I though well he’s a really good film maker and I’ve always wanted to do things so I started to invest in him and before I knew it we bought two Canon cameras, lenses, tracks, sound gear, lights and everything else.
“Before I knew it I’d spent about £28,000 I think.”
He filmed two documentaries, one with his cousin on Blaenllechau and one on the Pitstop garage because of their success before contacting his friend Wyndham who suggested they shoot the Bryn Coombes idea.
Cllr Howe wrote the first scene and this was then directed by Wyndham and filmed by his son/
They looked back at it and thought it looked good and then a month later he wrote another few scenes and he was told other actors want to come into it.
“I couldn’t believe it so I started writing more scenes and before I knew it I had 44 actors in it and we had over two hours of filming,” said Cllr Howe.
“We thought we can either make this into a film or a series but we needed a link.”
They then auditioned in Cardiff for someone to play Bryn Coombes’ son and once they had got it edited they had a four part series.
Photographer Rob Summerhill then got involved Cllr Howe said he was a “God send” because he helped with the sound and he said he wants to give Mr Summerhill a lot of credit for what he did.
Cllr Howe said that there was to be no silly voices and he wanted people to play it natural as he wanted them to be real characters not caricatures with improvisation encouraged.
He said: “It took me three and a half years to finish it. I paid for this personally myself. I didn’t ask anyone for any money.”
It was finished in November last year partly due to the pandemic
Cllr Howe said it would have been easy for his character Bryn to have all the best lines but he didn’t want to do that as he wanted his brother who plays a worrying window cleaner and the other characters to play their part.
He said: “The performances are absolutely fantastic. We had fun doing it. There were no egos.”
They had a test showing in London with FilmFreeway and had an honourable mention before they won their first award in a Hollywood comedy awards.
“Of course I got excited and I thought right let’s see if this comedy travels,” Cllr Howe said.
He said he used a lot of businesses in the area and kept the name Ferndale.
He said they’ve found it difficult getting the show on to television but the plan is to put episode one out there on YouTube.
Cllr Howe pointed out that it is a 15 rating as it does have strong language but the hope is that if they get a really good following on episode one then maybe a broadcaster will pick up episodes two, three and four but if they don’t the rest will go online.
He’s also putting out the call to any investors who might want to back the show as he attempts to get it on to Amazon Prime and is also working with a company in Cardiff on the possibility of cinema screenings of the show when possible.
He said: “I can’t believe, starting out shooting that short little scene which was about three minutes long that we would have the amount of success that we have.
Episode five is in the pipeline and he said it would be great for the Rhondda because they’ve used the landmarks of Ferndale and they’ve used the businesses.
He said that if it really took off they could draw a map of places where they filmed and put a plaque on those locations.
He also thanked Rhondda Cynon Taf Council for letting them film in Darran Park and Aberdare Park.
He said: “Basically we haven’t taken the mickey out of the Valleys because I am from here.
“I know there’s language in it and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I understand this. But I wanted to make it real.”
Cllr Howe said it was great to film in the community and he filmed it there because he wanted to show it off and he added that it was sunny every day apart from one that they filmed on.
He said: “I am proud to come from the Valleys. It was just such an honour. It’s the start of a new beginning.”
Cllr Howe said he’d like to thank all of the local people who he said have been fantastic and local businesses and he plans to use more of them.
On the awards he said: “It’s just incredible to win and be recognised like this.”
He said his hope is that it’s a success not just for him but for Ferndale in terms of tourism and said that they have lots more ideas in the pipeline.
The first episode of Bryn Coombes, shot before the pandemic, is available to watch here https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=w1fbD5gSzxs&feature=youtu.be