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I made the journey once again to Friar’s Ford, early Thursday morning, to do a ‘pick up’. When I arrived, everything seemed oddly quiet. In fact, this indicated quite a lot was going on. Today they were using two teams to shot at the same time, in different parts of the house. I presume this is to maximize the time they have in this attractive location. It was definitely tough at times, as the teams were occasionally so close they were within earshot of each other.
I mostly followed Nick’s little unit. His team were not the regulars on the film but people I believe he had worked with before, so they had a good ‘shorthand’ for what was required. They certainly worked rapidly and completed a lot of setups throughout the day. Nick’s philosophy is ‘Plan what you shot and shot what you plan’ and try not to deviate too much from that, and it seemed to work in spades today.
I hung about and watched Nick and his DoP set up, frame, board and shoot, something like seven shots outside, with Francesca Louise White, (who plays the first character, of quite a number, to get killed), These shots were the exterior driveway scenes (that appear at the beginning of the completed film) and several interior shots of Francesca entering the mansion the door having been opened by Chris Ellison (as the ‘butler’ and general factotum of Claire King).
Most of this was shot, as far as I could see, very efficiently and pretty much as fast as this kind of stuff can be done whilst maintaining the necessary quality. Midway through this process, I got to be directly involved simply because I was there hanging about. I was asked to help out by playing Chris Ellison’s part… well, his hand to be more exact! At the start of the week, they’d shot the interior of the scene, inside the hallway of the house, where Chris had let Francesca into the house. Now they wanted an extra shot, of his hand closing the door with a slam, but from the exterior. So I donned Chris’s suit and helped out by slamming the door. Being a man whose hands have played many great roles, I thought I could carry this off without rehearsal!
It was fun to get involved and more so because we had to squeeze this pick-up shot, in-between Rachel Bright running from the kitchen into the hallway screaming. The other unit, with Matt Gambell, the director were filling the hall and kitchen with smoke, as she ran through. The moment they called ‘Cut!’ we got a quick shot of my hand closing the door. We only did two shots either side of Rachel’s dramatic screaming run! (As far as I can tell, they never used my hand in the completed film. I was rather disappointed, as I was looking forward to being able to say I’d been a stand-in for Chris Ellison!)
Apparently, Matt and Linda (our writer-producer) and the others, had looked at the ‘rushes’ (they are not called that anymore!) of a scene I’d done with Steve, my fellow ‘heavy’, a few days ago and been dissatisfied with the result. This was a scene where, at the behest of Marcus King, our characters had been instructed to torch his mansion (towards the end of the film, everything has gone pear-shaped, and he’s getting out of Dodge). We had originally been filmed, inside one of the rooms, dousing it and the furniture with petrol. Looking at the results the ‘team’ had decided it didn’t look quite right and needed to be reshot. Originally, we’d been ‘framed’ through an open doorway that led into the lounge, by Matt and Tom (the DoP), with Steve and I crossing from opposite sides past the doorway. This had looked a bit odd, and so here we were doing it again (which wasn’t a very regular occurrence on this film I don’t think).
Of course for the filmmakers, this was an inconvenience and they’d rather not of had to reshoot. For me it was the reverse, it was more experience and time in front of the camera, which I was more than happy to be experiencing. This time around it was Nick and a smaller unit, who re-shot much of the scene, from outside of the room itself, through one of the windows of the mansion. A point of interest, and more pertinently difficulty for me was that the petrol can I was using actually had a small amount of residual petrol in it!
This time around, Steve hadn’t yet arrived on set for the day, and so he wasn’t actually in the room whilst I was shooting. Both the dousing of petrol and Steve’s presence then were going to be ‘cheated in’ later. Nick said the plan was to use a ‘wipe’ and make it look as if Steve and I crossed past the window in opposite directions. Steve’s presence in the room was to be shot later in the day after I’d left.
Dousing the room, in non-existent petrol, required quite a lot of physical ‘cheating’ on my part, for several reasons. Every time I had the petrol can facing toward the camera, the lid had to be open but when I vigorously doused the couches and the curtains etc. actually I had to find points at which to turn away from camera and close the can again. This was because the residue of petrol might accidentally come out of the can and really douse the furniture! This required a rather tricky set of manoeuvres which I had to rehearse a number of times to get right. My first take was probably the best, as the more I performed the operation, the more staccato and self-conscious I got. Nick also set up inside the room, and we did a mid-shot, with me approaching the camera, ‘pouring out’ the petrol. Again this was achieved by me ‘cheating’ the shot by keeping the petrol can lid below the camera’s eye line as I moved toward the lens.
On the day, I got to see the playback on the monitor and was impressed. I also thought, for the first time, ‘Wow, I’m in a movie’. At the time I’d thought, I may end up on the proverbial ‘cutting room floor’ (old school language again!) but it was fun to see the results of our work. (When I finally saw the completed film, it looked like they’d ended possibly up using a combination of the two different shoots).
Had another great chat with Greg Tanner (who plays Jimmy Tate in King of Crime). This time we traded impressions and memories about ‘Jaws’, of which he’s an uber-fan, and on which, he’s very knowledgeable. We also discussed ‘great movie posters’ and those that had failed. He told of how Michael Caine insists, that The Italian Job’ failed in America on its release because its main poster had him posing in a big chair with a trilby and machine gun. The American public apparently had become tired of that kind of thing (and it probably didn’t help that the ‘The Italian Job’ wasn’t even that genre of movie!).
Greg also loves movie music, and we had a long talk about that, with Roger the sound man, overhearing our opinions and adding a few of his own. I talked too, with Zed Josef (who plays James King, one half of the sibling rivalry, in the film) about the difference between theatre acting and film acting. At a certain point in the conversation, Zed came out with something that I very much liked, saying, ‘Theatre is and actor’s medium, Film is the audience’s medium’ and I think that’s very true. One is not better than the other, and both require skill and dedication to get right, but in theatre the attention somehow is focussed more on the skill of the actor, in film it is the whole ‘caboodle’, the total mise en scène if you like. As Matt Damon said, in one of his interviews, film actors are the junior partner to the director, and in theatre that’s perhaps reversed a bit.
All this passionate talk of film, on set during the day between takes, made me realise that most of the cast and crew would happily shoot the breeze with one about their favourite films and so on. This is a job for people who love film, and it’s always a privilege and a delight, to work with people that are passionate about the work they do.