I almost forgot to mention us A-Teaming the trolley. You know things are desperate when, in order to move scrap wood from your workshop to your studio, you have to build a trolley from some of that scrap wood first. Not from scratch, mind. We had a trolley already – it just wasn’t big enough and needed extending. Anyway, this was on Saturday and we dragged our new creation all the way around the outside of the building in the rain to find that the skip which we thought was there had been taken away, so then we had to wheel it all back.
And on Monday we were still clearing the last of our stuff out of the workshop when the next production moved in – not a production at all, in fact, but an art installation for the Victoria & Albert Museum. Presumably thinking I was a runner or other minion, one of their staff offered me
Alright, let’s crank up the flux capacitor and fire-trail back to last Monday. I can barely remember it now, but there was an enjoyable period spent in an empty room with just myself and the actors working on the material. I also recall the unfinished set being full of lights, lots of sword choreography with Abbi, AJ and Kate, and once more failing to rehearse the puppet as well as we should have done because we kept having to solve logistical problems with him.
The first day of the shoot, Tuesday dawned full of promise. And it was still only promising when the sun went down. Due to understaffed and over-worked art and lighting departments (seemingly most of the day revolved around obtaining and fitting up practical lights), it was 4:30pm before the camera rolled. By this time the old “I wish I was somewhere else… anywhere else” feeling from Soul Searcher had taken firm root within me. Even the obscenely high quality of the material that was eventually shot couldn’t stop my stomach from searching for exits.
On Wednesday I overslept. Once again on the clock, we struggled to get all of Benedict’s shots in the can before lunch. The germ suit and the Swordsman proved equally nightmarish to wrangle. Trailing a compressor hose, power for the helmet lights and a line to a hand-pump that operated his breathing bulb, not to mention the functional fan on his back, poor Benedict was sweating buckets by the time he got out of his costume.
The puppet’s movements were likewise hampered. Hanging from the studio ceiling was a black device of wood, bungees and pulleys designed to support the Swordsman’s ropes which, in the fiction of the movie, control the robot. The device was promptly christened Dante’s Disc as AJ took charge of dealing with it and the movement of the puppet. The disc interfered with Ollie’s overhead lighting rig and vice versa. We would have foreseen this and planned around it, but Monday’s rehearsals indicated that the Disc wasn’t going to work. Two alternatives had been considered and built by the art department over the intervening 48 hours, but neither improved upon the Disc so we just had to struggle on with it.
As Isabelle, the only character not encumbered by rods and ropes and cables, Kate’s close-ups were marginally easier to get through. Ollie and his one sparks Dave worked like demons, but by the end of Wednesday we still hadn’t finished scene three.
Ollie and some of the art department stuck around after hours in an attempt to knock off some inserts. “Guerilla filmmaking on 35mm anamorphic,” Ollie remarked as he set up the massive camera and its comically large lenses by himself, before setting all the lights too. But a dodgy power cable prevented us from shooting anything that evening.
Thursday got off to a much better start, with a staggering three shots in the can before lunch, but we couldn’t maintain the momentum and we officially wrapped at 8pm with scene three reasonably covered and three shots from scene two on film. Some of the crew stayed on longer to shoot more dialogue with Kate, then it was time for Indian food and beer. Once again we tried to shoot inserts with a skeleton crew, but the roll of film ran out and we didn’t have a changing tent to reload in.
On Friday morning, severely knackered, Ollie and Katie and I, along with the ever-faithful art department and puppeteer Sheila, convened to shoot the inserts before Panavision and Panalux came and took their equipment away. The less that is said about the big ladder and the smouldering drape, the better.
Late in the afternoon came my favourite part of the whole process so far: destroying the set. Don’t get me wrong – it was a tragedy to have to wreck something so beautiful, but there is nothing quite as satisfying as beating the crap out of wooden stuff with an axe.
And then came the never-ending clean-up. By Sunday we were down to three: myself, Ian and Col, laboriously sweeping and stacking and hoovering and skipping (that’s putting stuff in skips, not jumping in a girly fashion). We still have another half day to go before everything is out of the studio. Saturday in particular was downright miserable, dragging trolleys full of wood to the skip in the dark and the rain.
The exposed cans of film are sitting worryingly in my loft waiting to be developed. I can’t wait to see what they contain and to get on with editing it, to finally see if I actually have a complete scene that works.
Huge thanks to everyone on the cast and crew for working so hard under very difficult conditions. A special mention must go to the art department, who had already been working flat-out for four weeks before the shoot, but who continued to give their all and forego sleep in order to get more of my vision on film, not to mention performing the duties of sparks, riggers and runners at various points when there was no-one else around.
Excuse me now; I must sleep.
Two days down out of three. What we have so far looks amazing – we just don’t have anywhere near enough of it! Hopefully we’ll get enough tomorrow to allow one of the three scenes to be edited…
Tomorrow feels like it will be the first day of the shoot, even though it’s only a rehearsal day. Most of the cast and crew will be present and all the attendant logistical problems will occur. There’s a hell of a lot to figure out tomorrow, but there’s no stopping it now!
A stressful day. A couple of things almost didn’t get sorted out before close of business, either of which could have left us seriously screwed. But everything’s okay now.
All the pieces of the set are in place, the 35mm stock has been delivered and Ian’s crew only have 101 things left to do before the cameras roll on Tuesday. The Swordsman watches wryly through his monocle, patiently awaiting his screen debut.
Yesterday Kate Burdette (Isabelle) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Max) had costume fittings and it was great for me to see the characters finally rise from the pages of the script. It was also exciting to go through the shots on set with Ollie and his director’s viewfinder, choosing the best lens for each angle.
How is it that my to do list gets longer as the shoot approaches, not shorter? Surely that it is contrary to all established laws of the universe.
Most of the set is now in place on the stage, although some of it is still laid flat for painting. The amount of work left to do is quite daunting, but I know Ian and his crew will get it done if it kills them.
Yesterday I was able to do some basic rehearsal of the Swordsman with two of the puppeteers, Sheila and Lois, trying out the overhead ceiling rig and the trolley which replaces the puppet’s lower portions for waist-up shots. Again the technicalities proved daunting.
My confidence was signficantly restored by the production meeting last night. The quality of crew that Ian’s artwork has attracted is very impressive. Andrew McEwan as 1st AD is the newest recruit, and along with Abbi (stunts), Ian and Ollie (DOP) we discussed some of the challenges we’re going to face next week getting sixteen set-ups every day.
I can officially confirm that Panavision is hiring us the camera kit used to shoot The Dark Knight – a ridiculously lovely 35mm package with anamorphic lenses, which will make the pilot look very slick and expensive indeed.
And Isabelle’s sword, thanks to Abbi’s efforts with a friend at Pinewood, will be none other than the rapier used by Robert Deniro in Stardust.
Production of the insanely ambitious British fantasy adventure movie The Dark Side of the Earth begins with a single pilot scene, set aboard an airship travelling to The Dark Side of the Earth. Construction Manager Gus Wookey discusses the challenges of making a metal airship out of timber.