Thanks to everyone who’s sponsored Stop/Eject so far, and also to everyone who’s shared and forwarded the call for sponsors. It’s been a great start to the crowd funding campaign.
The BBC’s Flog It! programme came to Hereford Cathedral yesterday, and since they were looking for stewards I decided to sign up. I’ve been a filmmaker for twelve years but I have almost no experience of broadcast TV, so this was a good opportunity to dip my toe into a different section of the industry.
If, like me, you’ve never seen Flog It! it seems to be exactly the same as Antiques Roadshow only they take your stuff to an auction at the end and sell it. Yesterday was a valuation day, meaning members of the public show up with the tat from their attic and a few will discover they were sitting on a nice little nest egg. Any items whose owners wished them to be sold would then be packaged up and sent off to auction at a later date.
The day kicked off around 7am with the usual rearranging of chairs and tables, unloading of vans and setting-up of the green room. Representing the cathedral was Dominic Harbour, who I last worked with back in 2003 when we filmed a couple of scenes from Soul Searcher in the Chained Library. (Veteran blog followers may wonder at his ever letting me back into the building.)
Filming was meant to begin at 9am with shots of the huge crowd waiting outside, but only about fifteen Herefordians had shown up so things were delayed for a while as we waited for people to get up. It actually wasn’t long before the queue was quite impressive – almost as impressive as the jib which was being used to film it and the speed with which this jib’s two man crew could move it and set it up. At this point my job was to stop passers-by from wandering into shot. The very first person I stopped and asked to walk around the back of the jib turned out to be one of the presenters – well done, Neil.
When the doors opened, us stewards had to lead the throng into an elaborate snaking queue which, at its peak, would represent a three hour wait for the dollar-eyed hopefuls. Once that was up and running, my job was to stand at the door and ask people entering if they were here for Flog It! (since the cathedral was still open to the public as normal) and if they were then to hand them an information sheet and apologetically point them towards the very back of the queue. It made me weep for the soul of humanity how many people were dull-witted enough to answer the question “Are you here for Flog It?” with “How much can I get for my wife?” Anyway, this job wasn’t very demanding and I was able to observe the shooting MO.
The crew had obviously done this many times and they had their system down pat. The front part of the queue formed a horseshoe around three sides of the main open space which was evenly lit with four 1.2K HMIs bounced off large polyboards. (Flog It! banners hid all the stands from the cameras.) This area was treated like a three-walled studio set. The cameras always stayed at the “fourth wall” end, where two or three kinoflos provided extra kick for the foreground tables. At these tables the show’s resident experts were filmed discussing items with their owners. This meant no re-lighting, apart from a bit of moveable fill which was provided by handheld or camera-mounted LED lights. In the background, two further 1.2K HMIs were angled up at the roof and attractive gubbins of probable religious significance around the altar. Job’s a good ‘un.
I was surprised at the number of cameras in use – five or six split into three units each with its own director and support crew. Two units were constantly shooting valuations at the aforementioned tables, while the third was at the other end of the cathedral shooting other valuations which had been picked out by the production team as particularly interesting.
At lunchtime I got a bit of a shock by how civilised the arrangements were. On low budget films I’m used to half a slice of pizza out the back of someone’s car, but this being a BBC production we were treated to hot cottage pie with steamed veg and bread at proper tables with real plates and cutlery and nicely folded napkins.
At 4:15pm we derigged in the cathedral to make way for evensong and moved everything into the narrow museum area leading to the Mappa Mundi exhibit and Chained Library. Here several more valuations were filmed and I was called upon to sit in the background of shot to fill up the frame. I was also put on tea and coffee duty around this time. To deliver the drinks to the unit at the back of the museum area I first had to get past the other two units, which involved a wait of several minutes at each one for a break in recording, like city traffic lights.
Filming wrapped a little after 6pm and after helping carry stuff back to the vans and put the cathedral’s furniture back where it had come from I bade goodnight to all and sundry and headed home.
It’s a long time since I’ve been right at the bottom of the crew structure, but it was a great experience – everyone was really friendly – and I was reminded of a few things I learnt earlier in my career about how to make a good impression as a runner. So here are my top tips:
- Get the tea and coffee orders right. Write it all down, including names, and then transfer that info to the polystyrene cup when you’re making the drinks so they’re easy to distribute. If there’s any chocolate around distribute that too. It’s always good for people to associate you with receiving tasty snacks.
- Your tasks will invariably be boring but complaining about this is a definite no-no. Make use of the time to observe what the crew are doing – but not to the detriment of carrying out your task.
- Make sure you’re projecting “keen and eager” at all times. Don’t dawdle eating your lunch and get back to the action as soon as your plate’s clear.
- If you have to walk in front of a camera (not while it’s rolling of course) remember to say “crossing” as a courtesy to the camera op.
- If there’s an opportunity to stay a bit later than most other people and help load those last few cases into the van when everyone’s knackered, do it and you’ll be remembered with warm feelings.