July 30, 2009

It has been some time since I have written a post on the Musings Cafe so I wanted to take the opportunity to write a few film related musings.

Those of you who are following me on Twitter will realise that I have been doing quite a lot of work recently on film sets. It sounds glamorous - and sometimes it can be - but generally it is a lot of boredom and waiting around. The whole mantra of filming is "Hurry up.. and wait!'. The days usually start early -I left the house at 5.30 the other morning to travel to the shooting location - and involve rushing around getting costume and make-up on or having your hair done (I spent 1 hour 45 minutes in the make-up chair having a full wig, beard, mustache, skin colouring and ancillary mud 'n' stuff applied a couple of weeks back)only to sit there for three hours waiting to be called. Indeed a week or so later I was marched out into a forest in the middle of Surrey to wait - along with 210 other background actors, 60 horses and riders, a full film crew and 8 principal actors - for 7 hours while the scene we were shooting was re-written. This was while wearing 6 layers of costume (including chain mail) during that recent heatwave. We all came back the following day to shoot the re-written scene.

I like doing background work when you are one of a handful of people in the shot. Being part of 210 background and 60 horses reduces you to a 'commodity' and the film unit will generally treat you as such. However being a member of a shoot where there is just you, a couple of principals and a 2 other background can result in a more fulfilling experience. And before you start shouting about 'being a diva' and 'wanting screen time' I shall have to correct you and say that it isn't about that at all. It's about feeling as if you are contributing to the scene in question rather than being somebody who is just 'filling in the gaps' at the back of a shot. As an example: I spent a day recently on board The Concorde at Brooklands filming a scene for a new movie coming out next year. Altogether there were 4 principals, 2 'press guys', myself and 8 other background. We were all sitting on the Concorde. We were all contributing to the scene in some way - and what's more for most of the shooting I wasn't actually visible on camera. But it felt as if there was a reason to be on the shot rather than being 'just a body'. The director took us through the shot, he explained our role in the scene and what his expectations were. These comments were addressed directly to us as a small group rather than being relayed to us through an assistant director and broadcast to the masses. It was a far more satisfying experience than sitting with 210 other folks waiting for a scene to be re-written!

In other news: For those of you who are film buffs or nascent film-makers, I can recommend two DVD's to watch. The first is the Extended Special edition DVD of the Lord of The Rings movies (all three of them). Watch the films if you want, but I would recommend focusing on the bonus features which are on the supplemental discs. These show - in detail - what it takes to make a big budget, multi-film shoot and they also show how little of a set needs to physically be built to allow filming. The second movie is John Carpenter's 'The Fog'. Regardless of how much you like this movie or not it is an excellent example of how a film maker on a low budget (he made the whole movie for around $1 million) can get as much production value as possible out of the money he has. His tales of shooting pick-up shots over a period of a month and adding them into the final mix are a testament to this. Both are highly recommended.


  1. don't know if you've seen The Mist (the Frank Darabont movie) it's really good, and while on a highER budget than the fog it is very much a maximising the budget thing too.

    Check it out if you get the chance. Butdon't expect to be cheered up - it's pretty bleak.


  2. Saw 'The Mist' quite recently. Enjoyed it. Better than your average run-of-the-mill horror story. Loved the ending - which apparently was different (and bleaker) than the book it was based on.

    Incidentally I'm working with Alexa Davalos (Who played the check-out girl who comes to a sticky end half way through) in 'Clash of the Titans' at the moment.