August 01, 2010

General Musings for the week 1st August 2010

Once again the year has crept up on us and it is now August. Where the hell do the days go???

Anyway I promised you last week more information about 'My day in World War I'. I have to be careful here as I have signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) which prohibits what I can discuss which is deemed to be 'confidential information'.

What I can tell you is that I will be doing some major work on a Hollywood film set in World War I. It is directed by a top Hollywood A-list director who has worked with the likes of Tom Cruise, Liam Neeson, Harrison Ford and Tom Hanks. It is based on a popular book written by a former Children's Laureate.

The set-up is simple: As it is a war based film a lot of scenes will involve soldiers. They are looking to get a key group of guys to appear as soldiers in all the scenes. When they do some of the larger battle scenes they will call in additional background folks but the 'core soldiers' will be the main pool of guys. I put my name down and was selected as a 'Core soldier'. The fitting day for the film was this week.

It is based quite near to my home - which is a bonus!

The fitting itself was actually a misnomer. Generally, film fittings involve going in and having an outfit/costume/uniform assigned to you along with a quick trip to hair and make-up for the additional of facial hair if needed. This was a full day event which involved three costumes, a full hair cut (short back and sides), weapons training, drill training, military history and stunt training.

Pretty awesome.

Rupert, my wardrobe man fitted me with two German uniforms (one from the start of the war and one from the end), and a British soldiers uniform from the end of the war. Obviously this movie is going to cover the full first world war from start to end. All the uniforms are hot, heavy and very itchy (apart from the newer German uniform which is merely hot and heavy) and each has a full complement of accessories such as rations, digging tools, mess kit, first aid kit, bayonet and grenades - about 30 pounds in all. The German kit has - in addition - a leather backpack with blanket attached. It is certainly easy to get into character once this sort of uniform is worn. In fact guys who were walking from wardrobe to have their pictures taken were instinctively starting to march as they did so. It was quite amusing to watch.

After wardrobe and lunch we went though 'boot camp' this was a set of sessions for each background artiste meant to help them understand more about the background to the war, the equipment and such like. We were given a really interesting talk by a military historian who I think was called Nick (but I could be wrong) who has studied World War I intensively and has also done battle field archeology where he has dug up bodies at the Somme and Ypres. I have next to no knowledge of the Great War and his hour long session was both fascinating and informative. Did you know, for example, that most of the European Nations were military in ethos? Every male member of their society over the age of twenty was a trained soldier. For a given individual male, all his friends were soldiers, his father would have been a soldier, his girlfriends brothers and father would have been soldiers and all his male relatives would have been soldiers. In England there was a warrior class which was formed of a small number of men. Nobody else was a soldier. This meant that during WWI we were infinitely worse off than they were in terms of our army strength and experience. However we did have - by all accounts - better equipment. Our Lee Enfield rifles were designed to allow multiple shots without losing a target through the sights - their Mausers weren't. Our kit had 150 rounds of ammunition and a 2 pint water bottle. Theirs had 110 rounds and a 1 pint water bottle. We had two bandages (as rounds at the time tended to pass through the body and create both entrance and exit wounds), they had single bandages. Even our uniforms were better designed being Kahki (or drab) in colour and thus able to camouflage easier than the German grey with red piping.

Nick went through all the kitting up procedure so we knew how to wear the costume and where everything went. He showed us the difference between the German and British kit as well as little tricks. (Keeping a spoon in your sock rather than in your kit bag to make it easier to eat before someone else had taken your food).

After that we had weapons training. The armourer came in and showed us loading, unloading and firing drills for both the Lee Enfield and the Mauser rifles. We were using genuine 100 year old equipment from just before WWI and these will be loaded with genuine blanks of the time to simulate gunfire. The armourer demonstrated to us how dangerous blanks are by firing one at a piece of A4 paper attached to a square of foam rubber 2 inches thick. The blast from the blank destroyed the paper and penetrated through to the back of the two inch thick foam. Pretty scary.

After that Reg from the stunt team took us through a session on drill - my old Air Training Corps drill training kicked in and I was able to cope with that much easier than a lot of the others. We did static turns, marching, marching with weapons etc. It was fun.

Finally Reg showed us some stunt falls as a result of bullet hits. He told us the director doesn't like seeing these acrobatic, balletic double-twist style movements when people are shot. In reality there is a reaction at the point of impact (such as a jerk on the shoulder) and then the individual usually drops straight down. We spent half an hour going through a number of these types of falls before starting to choreograph a bayonet fight amongst the group such as that which would occur in close quarter battle.

For a full day this was a lot of stuff to take in. I am concerned about the rifle shooting - which could be potentially very dangerous when we get on set - but other than that and the hot, itchy uniforms I am very much looking forward to working on this movie. The added advantage is that 50% of my scenes are being shot within a fifteen minute drive from my house and the rest are within thirty minutes.

I will try and keep you updated on what's happening with the film within the confines of the NDA I have signed.

In other news I am due to spend a day on a film being directed  by Madonna next week - which should be 'interesting'. It will be enlightening to see how she directs compared to her ex-husband Guy Ritchie.

Thought for the day: What do cats do when they're not in your house? My cat heads out in the morning and disappears. He comes back late in the afternoon and I have no idea where he has been or what he's done. Is there something akin to 'alcoholics anonymous' for cats where they all meet up during the day in a wood somewhere and have wild parties? Surely he can't just wander around all day or go to sleep under a tree for 8 hours? Surely! One of life's great mysteries.

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