“We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
Prospero, William Shakespeare’s The Tempest
This is meant to be the last day of the shoot. The coast of Pembrokeshire is 250 miles west of us and I miss it already. We are at an industrial estate in Essex at a specialised diving tank trying to get the shots of what happens below the surface with Benedict Cumberbatch and JJ Feild. The tank is 7m deep (easily deep enough to drown a face-puller or two). It’s also surprisingly warm and VERY chlorinated. The little old guy that runs it is sort of an East End Jacques Cousteau – bobbing about the place helping our underwater Camera team. The first thing we do is try to match the colour of the water in the tank to the colour of the water in the sea off Barafundle Bay.
One cold blustery day, way back before the beginning of the shoot, our chief underwater cameraman came on a recce with us to Barafundle Bay. While I was counting the steps up the cliff with very little glee, he took a stroll with his DVcam. When we watched his footage later it was quite startling. The grey sky and grey surface of the water quiet suddenly switched to an almost fluorescent PEA GREEN as the lens dipped under the surface – it was hard to believe. This colour change was extant while filming the boys at sea, right through the shoot.
So here we are, back in the tank, and I’m watching as the divers pour in large cans of food colouring (used in the manufacture mushy peas and baked beans) in just the right amount, stirring it by swimming with their large flippers, to try and match the colour of the tank to picture on a monitor.
[This turns out to be a TOTAL waste of time. In the edit we discover that making the colours so real just didn’t look… well … REAL. Every time we cut to an underwater shot the difference in colour looked more like it was shot in a tank than the tank actually did in the first place. Luckily we use very little of the underwater footage and end up digitally greying the water to match it closer to the look of the surface. Inaccurate, but better. This is one of those great little lessons in filmmaking that I tuck away in my mind for the future.]
While Benedict and JJ get ready, we watch the assembled rushes of the scenes above the water in the Atlantic to try and match performance too. All our minds went back to those days shooting…
Sunday 27th September 2009
Today we’re going to get in boats, take our four stars out into the bay and film them as they try to give their best friend the ultimate gift they can. His freedom. Today we are going to drown Benedict Cumberbatch.
Usually the days I liked best are those where something else (like a stunt, or special effect) takes the pressure to be the ball-breaker out of my hands. But even though the divers will be in charge of how safe the boys are, and therefore what we can or can’t shoot and for how long, I have a knot in my stomach. This is my first film in charge and my stars are about to float around freely in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s cold. It’s bound to be time consuming. Too much can go wrong… And yet it is perhaps the most important sequence of the film.
So, with wetsuits under their costumes, and wearing flippers to make treading water easier, the boys (Adam Robertson, JJ Field, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Burke) head off. They look nervous for the first time.
The dive cameraman has told me that our actors will not be able to last more than fifteen minutes in the ocean before being plucked out to dry off and warm up. This is the Atlantic and we are nearly in October. Then they’ll then need at least an hour before they can go in again. We light a fire on the beach and have tents and soup and towels and clothes ready for this process revolving. But he also tells me that as the day goes on the fifteen minutes shooting-time will get shorter and shorter. When he thinks they are too cold he is pulling them out though. No argument.
This is why there is a knot in my stomach. Though there isn’t much dialogue, filming on and in water is incredibly difficult. Basically EVERYTHING is moving. All the normal stuff like changing a lens, even moving to another angle, just eats away at the time. Fifteen minutes can vanish in a blink – and suddenly the boys will be too cold and have to come out.
The boats are loaded and gun their engines to get around the headland into the deep water off Barafundle Bay. The sea is whipping up into the faces of the actors. I am wondering if we have bitten off more than we can chew. What if one can’t take it and the others can? What if one gets sick? What if we can’t get the right shots to tell the story anyway? This is the ending of the film? It’s possibly the end of my career. Why didn’t I write a film set in a car park? With their usual humour the boys take off their coats. Adam leads them – and jumps into the sea. They follow one by one.
Back in the tank in Essex we are looking at the rushes from that day, roughly assembled into the above surface drowning sequence. The shots really do speak for themselves. We’re all remembering that is really was a remarkable day. Treading water in that kind of cold, in the currents of sea, while concentrating on what they are trying to do was exhausting. And of course that exhaustion worked so well to convey the truth of what the characters had come through to get there. Even some of the hardened crew found it quite effecting to film.
[With all four boys still alive and kicking – I hope it’s ok to reveal that in fact they stayed in for longer than 15 minutes every time they got in the water. In one shot they stayed in the water for over 40 minutes. They never complained. They just wanted to get it done and get it done right. Though they lost quite a few pairs of flippers that I had to pay for… ]
Seeing them drag Benedict back to shore, forming the end tableau, the result of the journey was every bit as striking as I had hoped it would be.
The tank is a different challenge for JJ and Benedict. The temperature of the water being the biggest different of course. The tank has windows at the bottom so I can watch the boys as they take breaths from the diver’s aqualung to stay underwater as Miles (JJ) holds James (Benedict) until he gives up the fight for a life he no longer wants.
By the end of the day the chlorine has taken its toll on them. Their eyes are red and burning. They look like rabbits that have had makeup tested on them. After surviving the Atlantic without a mutter of discontent, they are now whimpering in agony.
With some time left on the clock though, we decide to capture some scenes of the boys swimming on the surface from beneath the water. Except we only have two of them. Luckily, we do have the costumes and the young, rather bemused, diving tank assistant agrees to don Davy’s outfit as a swimming double. We just need someone to be Bill.
It is fitting as a final addition to my CV of jobs on this film that it is me. I delight in telling the ‘making of’ camera that the waist on Adam’s trousers is way too roomy for me and I dive in. As I swim across the tank with Benedict and JJ I’m thrilled to be one of them for a moment. They are laughing and endlessly willing, but they really do look pretty fucked.
Finally it’s a WRAP. “Barafundle Bay” is in the can.
I will see the lads again of course, when we get in to the sound studio at the latest, with a finished cut of the film. But – there’s a whole lot of editing to do first. It’s an emotional farewell.
I get home at last. I have some beers. I feel empty.
Every film maker I know says that a schedule must include getting ill after a shoot, as the body is allowed to shut down. But, having become a challenge-junkie I decide not to give in to this and and go out and play rugby the next day. And break my collar bone.
Only after this does it all hit me. The morning after, I can’t get out of bed. I lie there letting the whole film wash over me. Dozing, I let myself drown in it all.
I get up at 2pm. At 2.30pm I realise that I have been upright for 30 minutes without people asking me questions, without the need for decisions – I seem to be in slow motion.
Perhaps it is just to do something, or perhaps it’s some weird subconscious metaphysical need to cleanse, but I decide that I should get the Land Rover cleaned. The mud and manure are not right for North London. I drive to the local car jet-wash place where the nice Greek bloke walks slowly around my vehicle with total astonishment.
“My God! Where you been?!”
“Wales. I’ve been in Wales. West… As far as you can go. ”
As I wait for him and FOUR other Greeks to find my car under the allotment on wheels, Kelly calls me.
“OK, the insurance claim came through for the damaged footage. We can re-shoot the beach scenes on Barafundle Bay. When do you want to do it?”
Brody: What day is this?
Hooper: It’s Wednesday… eh, it’s Tuesday, I think.
Brody: Think the tide’s with us?
Hooper: Keep kicking.
Brody: I used to hate the water…
Hooper: I can’t imagine why.
Today is the last day of the shoot in West Wales. (There’s one more day’s filming, at a special underwater tank in East London ). It’s an irony fitting of the finale to such an “incident” filled shoot that around mid morning Kelly Broad comes on set to whisper in my ear that she’d had the call we’ve been waiting for. We have now finally ‘closed the finance’. In other words we can now go ahead and shoot the film. Kelly and I laugh
Luckily the crew have only needed to concentrate on the job in hand. But while we are all fitter, stronger, very tanned (unbelievably) and have found a great rhythm, I can also see that everyone is tired.
The cast in particular have been amazing, uncomplaining and have lead the effort with their talent and resolve. But being together as these four characters in EVERY shot has taken its toll. A couple of nights ago, in a scene where they discuss the after-life while stoned, we all politely waited as Tom Burke gave a particularly long dramatic pause before saying his next line. The camera rolled on and on before JJ finally looked round at him and realised he had fallen asleep in the middle of a take. He awoke at the sound of our laughter and calmly said “Oh. Is it me?”
Last night we shot the last scenes on beach itself. Benedict crying out in pain was truly disturbing. The chilling sound echoed out into the night across the bay.
Not since I finished writing it have I been really alone. I love being part of a crew. But the day after Wales Wrap it’s just Kelly Broad and I left to clean ‘the Manor House’ at Stackpole – our unit base. I found it nearly four years earlier and now while packing it up the sadness really hits me. We dismantle the phones and pack up our numbered mugs. We empty the costume rooms, the make-up rooms, the Greenroom where the boys ate so many odd breakfasts and empty the fridge in the kitchen where we ended so many long, hot days with cold beers. The rare horseshoe bats that live in the attic will have it to themselves again.
Every so often one of the crew stops by to pick up something or leave something with us before they head back east and to their next job. We thank them for all their hard work and hope I’ll have them on a film-set again soon.
I hand the keys back to the guys from the National Trust. “Well, you were lucky with the weather anyway…” Yes. Yes. Yes. We were.
At last – I take down the banner that hangs over the door. I roll it up and toss in the back of my mud and manure-caked Land Rover. It reads “Welcome to Barafundle Bay”.
I pick up Benedict from his cottage and we leave the green and blue of the West behind us. As we drive I start to face the battles ahead – to turn our footage into a film and then get that film released… Fuck. There is so far to go. Then my phone rings.
One of our assistants, back in London already, tells me that Tom Burke was dropped at a train station in Carmarthen and then found that he’d lost his wallet. He has no ticket and therefore no way home. (Over the next two years I will discover on my travels with Tom that this not an unusual event.) Forty-five minutes later I pull off the road and collect him from the roadside. Another companion for my return to the Big Smoke.
“So Tom, we didn’t get to talk much during filming. I’m sorry. I was so busy. How was it for you? …Tom? “
Benedict looks into the back. “He’s asleep…”
“Oh… So what about you, mate? You got anything else lined up?… Hm… Well, lets chat about it. We have plenty of time now…”
“Having ideas is like having chessmen moving forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Some people have asked “why Mug 7?”
In setting up Western Edge Pictures (and producing Third Star) I wanted us to be as environmentally friendly as possible. I have always hated the waste on film sets. I think we are a particularly wasteful industry, because of the speed at which we have to produce our product. One tiny way to do this, and try and make a difference, was to ban polystyrene cups. You may think it’s filmstock, light and electricity that make films, but I’m fairly sure it’s caffeine. Millions of cups a day – made one second before a cast or crewmember is called to do his duty and so disgarded, or else drunk out of sheer boredom, the cup tossed away, and a fresh one taken to replace it. In over a decade on sets I never saw a polystyrene cup refilled.
In the week before shooting I sent the runners out into the locality to buy 50 mugs from charity shops. I told them to buy a few base-white mugs in each one. Spread the word that a local had come back to make a film, WITHOUT the money that Harry Potter and Robin Hood had had to throw at every problem… maybe they’ll cut us some slack when we ask them to wait with a hoard of other walkers while Benedict, JJ, Tom and Adam trudge past a seemingly empty vista.
Back at our production office in Stackpole, the runners painted numbers on them all, so each crewmember could choose a lucky number, or shape, or picture they liked. We took photos of them to archive our lovely crew with ‘Mugshots’. One attempt at cutting our waste. And NO chance of our endless coffee cups blowing along the shore into baby dolphins… blow holes… anyway you get the picture. Did it work?
We were so rushed, so understaffed, and so busy. Caring for the mugs went by the way side. Most ended up in unit base (still loved – but not on set) and recycled paper cups found their way on to the shoot. BUT – heartbroken though I was – many of the crew took their mugs home with their crew t-shirts. I learned what I needed to do next time to make this work, AND I have so many more ideas of how to make our film making credibly friendlier for the planet, whichever bit of it we’re shooting in. We’d love to hear from anyone out there who has ideas to do that. If we can – we’ll try them.
So – Mug 7, was mine. The 7th is my birthday. And there’s a rather blurred photo of someone’s much loved Jack Russell on the other side. I love making films, but it IS hard, and you have to be a bit of a terrier to try and get things done RIGHT. You just have to stay focused.
“The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.” Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless
Despite nearing the end of the shoot it seems I am still the only one who can draw out cash for the film’s daily expenses. With alarming regularity the production office tell me to go and withdraw about seven grand… sometimes ten!
This is annoying as it forces me to leave the set for half an hour or so, which I dare not do, or it means I race off during lunch – which means I don’t get to check-in with people and our daily problems… and I don’t get to eat! (Our caterers are amazing and I love and NEED lunch.)
Today the call for cash was urgent so I raced into the nearest town to get the money. The first time I did this, a few weeks ago I learned that withdrawing seven thousand pounds on a normal Wednesday afternoon from the Barclays Bank in Pembroke is not possible.
The teller laughed and called other staff over to laugh at me as well. I stood there, dusty and tired, missing lunch, holding open a cotton sack and glancing furtively at my watch.
“Seven thousand!? Here?! We don’t have that, Love!”
“Oh… I assumed, being a bank and all… Uh, how much CAN I have… ?”
At this point it was starting to sound more like a hold up than a legal withdrawal, but with less satisfactory results. After much debate they worked out that if I raided another two branches I would be able to make up the seven grand. They phoned ahead to warn them of my arrival… from another world. Film world.
Anyway – we have learned to order cash in advance, but it still annoys me that I have to leave set today to go into the bank.
While on my way there I suddenly come over the brow of a hill and a rare sounds echoes through the Land Rover. My phone is ringing. I have barely had a signal for nearly five weeks so this is an event. But it’s not good news.
“Vaughan – you need to come on set. The council have turned up and shut us down.”
We are filming at Freshwater West today. A stunning beach where filming for Robin Hood and Harry Potter also occurred. But to be exact – at the moment we are doubling up the location and using the interior of the toilets in the car park (where JJ Feild is meant to have his Rolex stolen by the Angel Boy). Apparently a cleaner arrived. Didn’t know anything about us and called his boss, who called his boss, who sent a man in a van with an order to cease and desist or the police would be called.
I won’t bore you again with the ‘time vs money’ problems of this shoot but suffice to say THIS. CANNOT. HAPPEN.
I skid to a halt. The crew are sunbathing around the dunes besides the car park above the beach. Benedict is in costume playing frisbee with some of them. In the centre of the car park is a Pembrokeshire County Council van. A tall man who is “just doing his job” is leaning against it.
My arrival causes some stirring in the crew. Whatever I am about to do I’d rather it didn’t have the audience, but it can’t be helped.
I walk towards the man, let’s call him Steve… I actually think he was called Steve… So let’s call him Dave, and as I do I try to work out something, if possible, about him, to help formulate a plan for my approach. I am no Sherlock it seems – and I’m getting closer – so, for some reason, with tone that suggests I’ve missed him terribly – I say “Hi there! How are you?”
Though as a desperate producer I am prepared to bend my morals in this encounter I decide the moral high ground is one I’ll try first and I begin with the most abject apology for wasting his valuable time. His expression softens, but I realise he is also now considering how valuable his time that morning actually is, and that perhaps, hanging about in this car park is… well… a fairly normal use of it.
Nevertheless – that I value it more highly than Pembrokeshire District Council intrigues him if not endears me to him.
I shepherd him to our catering truck and soon a coffee is in his hand. I have made the necessary call to our location manager Tom from the car on the way and Tom assured me the suitable permissions will be in place asap. The problem is that there is no evidence at all of this and this ‘Dave’ – not only the guardian of the toilet, but currently holds the completion of the entire film in his hands.
I can’t recall exactly what I said, but I know it was in the vain of Ford Prefect in the beginning of The Hitchhikers Guide’ convincing the council Rep’ to lie down in front of his own bulldozer so Arthur Dent could take a break from protecting his house.
I basically managed to confuse the timing of the necessary phone call he would get with the message that we can recommence filming, with the act of our actually recommencing the filming. I was verbally back-dating the former with the latter to make the latter possible immediately, as the former was of course ‘a forgone conclusion’, which therefore made his staying here only a further waste of his time, as we would be already be filming anyway, ‘though of course he is welcome to stay and watch! Love to have him there!” – but it would of course mean that he was unable to drive away to get a signal that would definitely mean he could receive the phone message that gave us permission to recommence the filming, which we were already doing…
He scratched his head. I made fast circling motions with my hand behind his back – the signal to the crew to recommence filming.
A short while later, as Dave drove away with some cake, our breathless location manager (dear Tom Jenkins) turned up with news that we now had the permission to use the toilet and explained how the error had occurred (not his fault at all for the record.) It didn’t matter. We had dropped a few minutes, no more. And the scene was being completed.
As the First called lunch I sighed and got back in my car. Co-Producer Kelly stroked my head. “Well done. Where are you going? “
“The fucking bank!”
“Oh… I’ll save you some lunch.”
As I drove out of the car park again I remembered the words of Douglas Adams, one of my favourite writers; “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
“It’s not your fault. It’s just really, really, really, really, really, really, really unlucky” The Beachcomber
Hugh Bonneville is here to help us do the impossible.
In the film James, Miles, Davy and Bill stop for coffee at a cove littered with flotsam and jetsam. Amongst it they are surprised to meet ‘The Beachchomber’. This eccentric man is one of the characters that make the trip something of an odyssey. He tells the boys a strange story about how he spends his days looking for a lost consignment of faulty, brown Darth Vader action figures. They were swept off a container ship nearby some years earlier and he believes this cove will eventually be the place that they are all washed ashore by the rolling tides. It’s a nod towards the part in so many of us that are searching for something that we may never find.
It’s been a favourite part of the story for most people who have been involved in the development. I love that The Beachcomber gets interpreted in so many different ways. It is meant to throw up questions about what makes life worthwhile. And it’s lovely that the Beachcomber instinctively sees the gentle kindness of Davy, having spent too many years alone with his thoughts, suddenly remembering the value of community, and friendship; in needing people, and in being needed… But OH MY GOD… this little episode is running at well over ten pages and we only have a day with Hugh to shoot it. I brace myself for a day of fighting to get things shooting faster than ever. (The bit of my job that I hate.)
It’s 6am. I’ve been running around a while already trying to sort out the day’s fresh load of compromise when I’m told that Hugh has asked to talk to me. Immediately I think something must have gone wrong. I know his hotel is nice and we haven’t forgotten his breakfast – he can’t have been here long enough for us to fail him in any other way surely? I look around the morning mayhem – maybe he has.
I knock on the door of the green room where he is changing and preparing.
I’m thrilled that he has taken time out to come do this roll. I have been a fan of Hugh for so long. He seems the most ‘natural’ sort of actor on stage and screen with a gift for gravitas and exquisite comic timing – and here he is – staring seriously at the pages of the script. He looks up with an equally stern expression and I am ready for the complaint, in fact I almost apologise involuntarily. Of course the complaint never comes. He breaks into a broad smile, assures me that he is comfortable, happy to be here and looking forward to hanging out with Benedict, JJ, Tom and Adam. Then his stern expression flicks on again and he tells me he wants to talk about the script.
“Oh!” I exclaim. Rather taken aback. I have sort of forgotten that’s my job as well.
I sit down opposite him as he launches in to a detailed question about the meaning of one of his early speeches. Only now do I notice that he is wearing alarmingly small, denim hotpants.
Thankfully the shock subsides when I realise these are half of his ludicrous costume. But I don’t have the time or inclination to over-examine this as Hugh rattles through the ten pages asking if he can move the odd line. Cut a bit here. Add a bit there… He even says that he remembers a line from an EARLIER DRAFT that had a phrase he thinks was important. He’s so right. It IS important. I tell him that he should put it back if he’d like to. A few minutes later, he’s done and I leave him pawing over the words. I walk down the stairs with a spring in my step. It lasted five minutes, but it was the an insight into the incredible talent, skill and knowledge of a REAL PRO. A no-nonsense, business-like, approach to the job of bringing the Beachchomer to life the very best way he knows how. I am so proud to have been the writer (and producer) that will benefit from it and it is again proof that actors are horribly underused in the development of films.
I am determined that any film that Western Edge Pictures makes will have this input from as early as possible and that the writer is always in the room to hear it. And we’ll make damn sure that this all happens long before the actor in question is wearing his denim hotpants.
I tell a runner to “take more tea to Mr. Bonneville straight away!” – she looks at me confused as it’s only been a few minutes since she did exactly that – I just want to give him SOMETHING – and it’s all we have. “And make it hot… or strong or something!”
A while later. We are on the rocky cove. Hugh looks hilarious but the women on set seem suitably pleased to gaze at him. His performance is breathtakingly good. He makes catchphrases of some the smallest lines – wistfully opening the door to the pain and confusion in the soul of this lost man with just the subtlest of gestures and intonation. It’s a masterclass.
But as ever I’m worried about the time. We cannot waste a second today. And Hugh is getting progressively colder and more uncomfortable as a light rain starts to fall and dampen his hotpants. Then something rather wonderful occurs to me. Today nature is on my side and in a way that couldn’t be more apt, she is on the side of our Beachcomber. We CAN’T run over time and it isn’t ME that has to hurry the proceedings at all today – because the tide is coming in.
I notice that the sea is now lapping at the feet of Moritz, our young lighting apprentice, who is holding a reflector at the edge of our ‘set’. He is Bavarian and made of too stout a stuff to even acknowledge it, but nevertheless the Atlantic has decided we should move on and it won’t take no for an answer. I sit back and watch Hugh. He must be tired, but doesn’t complain.
‘Time and tide wait for no man’ and at last we are done. Hugh is taken to meet a train. I won’t get to see quite how good his scene is for some weeks yet. His day on set seems like it’s been at least two.
At this point I’m told that we don’t have a night security guard and someone has to stay there all night to watch the vehicles, make sure the pig is roasting properly for the next day’s carnival scene, then turn on the kitchen truck at 3 am to power the freezers and heat everything in time for the crew’s breakfast. I sigh.
The last of the crew leave. I sit alone with a beer in one hand and my ‘Night Security Torch’ in the other. I sit on the bonnet of the Land Rover looking at the cove. The pig is rotating slowly on the spit – looking at me every 37 seconds as if to say “You think you’ve got problems!”, the seagulls are settling on the cliffs and the tide is starting its endless turn again.
“These are for thinking – these are for dancing.” Harry Sivell, most days…
We’ve moved from the coast to a farm/hotel, Giltar Grove, which is owned by old family friends. (I say that we’ve moved from the coast– we are in fact about 500 meters from the cliffs even now, but for a change not actually ON a cliff).
The Joseph’s have been custodians of Giltar Grove all my life. Old Joe Joseph had been a friend of my Dad. I think of my Dad, who died a few years ago, so often of course, but something about being back in Wales and specifically about being my own boss for the first time has made him all the more present in my mind. He was in PR, but would have made a good producer. A confident smile and an acute sense of the ridiculous are key skills for producing.
I used to come to Giltar Grove with him when Joe was alive too. We’d fill sacks of manure with Dad and then stay for drinks and cake in the house. And now, in my many hours of need on this film, Joe’s daughter, Sarah Diment and her husband have turned their home and grounds over to THIRD STAR and adopted me (and the loud and messy crew of 50 who follow me about at the moment.) The extended Joseph clan all live on the farm in various houses or in other farms in the hills around us. It’s special. They are special. And every time Sarah mentions my Dad I can’t help but think he’d be overjoyed that I was here with my circus and them.
The house is doubling as the home of James (Benedict Cumberbatch) and today we are shooting the opening scenes of the film where James is enjoying a birthday, his last, and the arrival of his companions for the coming adventure. The designers have a lot to do to make the party look real… come to think of it… where ARE the designers?
As Benedict relaxes in the sunshine, in his 40’s suit and wide brimmed hat, ready for the first shot, news reaches me that the set designers are sick and can’t work.
Most days this wouldn’t be too bad. They make sure we have the right cart and kit, and they make sure the campfires are lit and sustained, but the coastline does the rest… It’s not too ‘design heavy’. Today however is one of the two BIG set ups. Today they have to design a party and all its trappings. They have to bring a family home to life.
It’s not normal for crew to go sick. It’s not really possible. Everything is too specialised, too dependent on each crew-member being the cog of the rolling wheel that CANNOT stop. So crews are used to being hardy and carrying on. And the designers – the Campling brothers – are tough as old boots and so this is particularly unlucky.
Mild panic sets in. We are working too slowly as it is. I’m at a loss as to know how to fix this and now we have no set! I know we cannot stop, or slow down any more than we have…
As ever Kelly Broad (co-producer in this venture) laughs with me and then sets off to do what she needs to do. She rallies the runners to become the designers. Richard Campling appears from his deathbed to give some pointers and relevant info. I’ve never seen a man look so ill who wasn’t actually in the wing of a hospital where normal people shouldn’t go. To make things worse for him all the info’ he needs to impart is about what ‘party food’ they have a bought already or suggestions for what we should get. He visibly heaves with every mention of cocktail sausages.
We’re going to waste time, but there’s nothing else to do… And then, as Kelly sets about transforming the dining room I hear there is another problem.
James’s sister is played by the beautiful Nia Roberts, dressed by Welsh designers TOAST, and she is standing by, but her boring husband – from whose arms she has strayed in to the embrace of Miles (JJ Feild) is a no-show. It’s not a big role of course, but his appearance as part of the ‘normal’ happy family life is vital.
We cast our eye around the male members of the crew or any passing male from the Joseph clan… He’s got to be a bland, generic, banker type… All agree it should be me.
(I’d like to think this is based on my previous acting experience…)
So – a runner is dispatched to pick up new clothes for me. I run from beside the camera to the makeup department where I shave the producer’s stubble. My hair is given a side parting and I put on some glasses. With the help of the “smart casual” look I am suddenly “Mike… Banker”. It’s horrible.
Eventually the party has been thrown together and I find myself, after a long time away from it, ON CAMERA again.
The scene involves Bill being bored to tears by Mike at the party, with Davy looking on sympathetically. Then Miles arrives…
So we end up doing loooonnggg takes, WITH SOUND, where I am having to ad-lib to Bill (Adam Robertson) about nothing in particular but in character. Being as boring as possible, with only the odd prompt from him if I run out of steam. (While I do this I am aware that the party set design delay has eaten more time than Tom Burke has eaten prop food.)
Now- it’s also relevant to say here that Adam has been one of my best friends since we met as young actors, fresh from drama school. He was my first business partner in Western Edge Pictures and therefore we know each other pretty well.
Take One: I set off rambling about buying wine online. As we make eye contact I see the slightest tweak of a face muscle that denotes Adam’s attempts not to corpse – and I’m gone. We both break into raucous laughter and the camera has to be reset. (Time and film wasted by me.)
Take Two:… I ramble about wine buying and the internet and again Adam is grimacing, looking away from me as he tries not to laugh and again I crack…. and so on…
Take SIX: I feel the giggles coming first and take a sip of juice to try and control it. It works. But this gives Adam the chance to speak. (Adam is a huge talent but ad-libbing, I’m sure he’ll agree is not his strong point.) “And you also collect… shoes?”
I collapse. This time we’re laughing so hard we can’t remain on the chairs and Tom Burke is helpless also.
No-one is saying anything or complaining. I am of course ‘the boss’, (in fact there is apparently a crowd around the monitor) but I am all too aware that if this were not me I’d be getting fucking impatient and trying to get this moving faster.
As the takes roll by the agony increases…
TAKE TEN: Now I can’t look at Adam at all. I am focusing on a point on the table and just trying to speak as dully as possible, trying to actually listen to myself, but without fail I either hear Adam snort, or catch Tom’s face out of the corner of my eye and I’m gone again. It’s humiliating to be exposed as having a total lack of control!
By the afternoon we have moved to the scenes after the party and ‘boring Mike’ is blessedly consigned to history. I am back in work gear and myself again – and trying to get us shooting faster. There’s an Exec from our finance partner’s (Nigel Thomas from Matador) on set for a visit and he can see the problems we’re having getting this film shot on schedule. I’m so glad he wasn’t there for my ‘performance’.
In the evening I have dinner with him in the beautiful, ancient Plantagenet Restaurant in Tenby. Nigel is good fun, but tough. He’s a veteran of many films and talks me through my options. I have tried them all already. “Ah well, he says…”, calm and benign as ever. “You’ll finish the film on time.”
He smiles knowingly, remembering perhaps what it was like to be in my shoes once and glad that he is no longer there…“Yes.” He says. “ You just… will.”
I’ll be on set by 5 a.m. again, solving problems, but we order another drink. I realise there is a producer’s club, and I’m in it.
I think of my Dad again… He’d often tap his head and point to his feet and say “These are for thinking these are for dancing.”…
Davy (Tom Burke) “That could have been bad”
Today the crew are assembled to film a tricky leg of the boy’s journey. In the story, having found the going a bit slow, they decide to cut out what may be a day’s walking at their current pace, by lowering themselves and the fully laden cart, down the cliff face on ropes. So we are in the quarry near Barafundle Bay, which has a vertical cliff face that’s used for teaching rock climbing, and a mains power source in a hut that also has plumbing.
The Face-pullers – JJ, Benedict, Adam and Tom – are milling around in costume in a clearing at the top of the cliff. There’s a qualified team of rock climbers playing with bits of rope that will lower them down. I don’t know exactly what they’re doing with the rope but they’re experts and they seem cheerful. There’s our jolly paramedic standing by for this, our biggest ‘stunt’, with his seventh cuppa of the morning, served from the giant kitchen truck, which is within feet of us for the first time in two weeks. And the rest of the trucks are here too and parked on concrete not sand or cow shit. And there’s a real loo! It flushes and everything!
And so – sure – the rope-fiddling seems to be taking a tiny bit longer than normal – but today is already shaping up to be a good day.
No cows. No sea birds. No tide coming in. No boats moored in frame. No walkers sitting in shot painting infantile keepsakes, before going home, having pissed me off on purpose, to eat boil-in-the-bag-cod in front of Songs of Praise! Anyway. You get the picture – TODAY – is a GOOD day.
I go about my business, making sure we are ready for various other things that are coming up. I have a chat with our new Key Grip, the theatrically named, Warwick Drucker, about laying track (that man can LAY –TRACK – by the way. Neat van too. Brilliant. I make a mental note.)
Oh – did I mention the sun is still shining?
So then I go up to the top of the cliff for a gentle investigation into the time. The Face-pullers are still relaxed. And there is some amusement amongst the Rope-pullers. One of them wants to tell me something. He’s a local guy, part-time fireman. Typically handy looking. He has concerns about the paramedic.
“The paramedic?” I say.
“But he’s great, he’s been really helpful… and he loaned us a quad bike.”
“Well he’s not a paramedic.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. He treated one of the crew a few days ago when his hand was sliced open!”
“Well he’s not a paramedic.”
“But… he’s got a uniform and an ambulance!”
“Well he’s not a paramedic.”
I look down that the tubby and affable ‘Paremedic’. The rose tinted view fades and I see that his uniform is a tatty green fleece with a badge sewn on. His ambulance is an old Vauxhall Carlton with the word ‘Ambulance’ stuck on the side, and the whole thing looks like it’s been carrying fish bait for a bit too long. It turns out that this is because it’s been carrying fish bait for a bit too long.
I turn back to the fireman-Rope-puller. “….But…But he… What?”
The fireman tells me that the ‘Paramedic’ is well known to the local emergency crews. He allegedly has his own radio scanner and listens-in to emergency calls. He then likes to turn up first to accidents, especially those involving pregnant women, to lend a hand… He also runs a sex shop on the side… Apparantly the BBC made a documentary about him.
“Sorry. Could you say all of that again?”
The colour drains from my face. Behind the fireman-Rope-puller his colleagues are tying Benedict Cumberbatch to a rope that looks thinner than ever and they are about to dangle him of a cliff edge that is suddenly higher and steeper. I tell them to hold on a moment and go for a chat with the ‘Paramedic’.
I ask him if he is qualified as a Paramdic. He tells me he is not, but he IS qualified as an Special Emergency First Aid Assistant or some balls…. I ask if he is insured. He says he is. I ask if he can prove that. Now. He says the paperwork would take some time to find… I ask if he has ANY kind of credential on him. He takes out his wallet. It looks like it has been used to shovel the fishing bait into the ‘ambulance’. Inside it he finds a business card of considerable age and usage. It has the name of a private medical training company and a phone number so old that its London dialling code places it at least two decades back into history. He asks if someone has said something… I don’t answer.
I take it away and race to the office. We phone the number – it doesn’t exist. We look into how we found him. He had added himself to the Welsh Screen Commision database. We took this as a credential enough it seems. We were wrong. I ask Kelly Broad to find a new medic because the current one is going to need medical assistance himself in about five minutes.
I go back to set. He is still there though a little sheepish now.
“If this is a company that provides medical training that you paid for I should be able to call them.”
He thinks about this rather too long and says. “See, they aren’t so much a company, but an… organisation I started in order to-“
GET OFF MY SET. NOW.
I am shaking with rage. He drives away quietly. I get a bit shaky. I realise rage has been joined by fear. Fear of what happened there, because of what nearly happened – because of what could so easily have happened.
At the office the amazing Ms. Broad has been on the phone.
35 minutes later Adam Robertson is tied to Benedict. They are half way down the cliff because the new paramedic has arrived. He is tall and clean shaven. He is quiet. He has a big shiny Ambulance and a fluorescent uniform. He has an oxygen tank and foil blankets. He has the benign expression of a man who has just washed his hands and can resuscitate a dying woman without getting an erection. He has more qualifications to be there watching no one get hurt than I will ever have for running the whole shebang.
But he doesn’t have a quad bike he can lend us.
But hey – the sun is shining on the Face-Pullers, Rope-Pullers and on Warwick’s track. The smells of cooking from the kitchen fill the quarry and maybe… just maybe we’ll catch up the hour we lost. Maybe.
Miles (JJ Feild): “Well, you really showed that tree.”
It’s another sunny afternoon. Tom, Benedict, JJ and Adam are lying on the grassy cliff top above me for a scene where Adam (as Bill) hurls the tree that he has lovingly carried throughout the trip, over the edge into the sea.
Some 12 feet below where they are acting is a ledge, a small ‘golf green’ of grass sloping towards the drop. This is where I am standing with Tom Rogers our lovely assistant location Manager (known as T’other because his boss is called Tom as well.) Our job here this afternoon, out of sight of the camera, is to catch the tree before it descends into the rolling Atlantic.
The night before filming (because somehow they had been forgotten) we actually bought four trees that are identical. Any biologist will tell you that this last statement is impossible, but they similar enough. The problem is that they were expensive and they are already taking a battering in the natural course of filming for three days.
It’s important that Adam throws the tree, which he swings like an Olympic hammer thrower, with all the pent up anger of a man who sees the freedoms of his younger life slipping away. So we don’t want to be too constrictive in urging him to aim for a safe landing.
It’s an emotional scene and as usual we are pushed for time. The first effort lands easily near us. The second seems to be heading out of reach, but drops short on the rocks above us. The next few takes don’t get as far as the throw and T’other and I get lulled into a sense of false security.
While I wait patiently for the slight adjustments in performance, new lenses, and film reloads I fiddle with my phone as if doing so will make it find a signal (I know it won’t). So I stand there and again I am aware that for the five weeks of filming this – cliff path above the sparking sea – is my office.
ACTION! There’s the emotional rant from Adam and – knowing that every take may be his last chance – he gives this throw some serious welly. Suddenly there is a tree sailing through the air over me and towards the edge. Without really thinking about the consequences of losing the tree verses losing the tree AND me, I run after it. Its plastic covered root-bag hits the glossy grass and it shoots towards the edge. I dive for it and tackle it a couple of feet before it goes over. Only T’other has witnessed this foolishness I think, and I’m rather glad. (Even though I’m comfortable with the “Don’t do as I do – do as I say” school of producing.) My daily safety concerns for the crew should also apply to me. BUT only my co-producer Kelly Broad really understands the constraints of our budget as I do, and I realise that, though she may have done it in heels with far more style and grace, she would probably have gone after that tree too.
Grazed but in tact I return the tree to the film’s designers (the brothers Campling). The tree has been injured and as we set up for another scene I see that Johnny Campling is super gluing fallen leaves on to the tree’s wounded twigs. The magic of cinema.
“One day, in a week, a month, a year, on that day when God willing, we all return to our homes again, you’re going to feel very proud of what you have achieved here in the face of great adversity.”
The sun is baking. I thought my problem would be keeping the poorly paid crew with me in the rain and mud… so I budgeted for beer at night. I never budgeted for the bottled water and sun screen we would need in West Wales in mid September… (it can’t last can it?) But James’ lines about going to the his “favourite place on earth – to Barafundle Bay” make more sense when it looks like this – and today is our first day shooting on the actual beach.
Some of the crew haven’t seen the beach that at the moment gives the film its title and they are all suitably awestuck by its beauty… This joy lasts a few moments only as they soon realise that we have to carry ALL our kit down the steep steps to the sand. It’s the only way down there. And we have to carry it up again everyday we’re here.
I grab some sand bags that are used as weights for the camera legs and lighting stands and even on my first trip down the cliff I realise what a physical task this film is going to be – and how fucking mental it seems to be carrying sandbags onto a beach.
Eventually we get everything down on to the shoreline and start shooting. The scene involves Adam’s character trying to comfort James, who has had a rough night. Jo Evans’ make-up is great Benedict looks really, really ill. We roll camera… there is something almost ethereal about Benedict sometimes. And as he lies in Adam’s arms near the high water mark, it’s obvious that there are going to be some very special moments in this very special cove.
It’s just as well… having had the best of the early light we have to move all the gear to the top again for the next scenes in the schedule.
The steps are steeper and longer when you’re going up… as I get to the top for the first time I look down and I can see that the crew are all mucking-in, carrying not just their stuff, but whatever needs to be taken from any other department. Benedict, JJ, Tom and Adam are amongst them carrying gear as well. This is the team spirit I always hoped for and it’s the only way we will get this film made.
I head down the steps again. Every crew member I pass has a good natured jibe at me. From the fitter members of the crew I get stuff along the lines of “Couldn’t you write about a beach with a fucking car park?!” from the rest – this physical challenge is now hitting home. They just about manage to grunt swear words at me. It takes several trips for most of us to get all the kit back to the trucks on the cliff top.
I daren’t think about how many times we will have to do this… I think of The River Kwai and start whistling.
“DAVY: If the cart breaks…”
On a cliff top. (The novelty has yet to wear off – but then the sun is still shining.)
The First AD and I are worried by the pace we shooting. I’d like to be cracking the whip here, but even though there isn’t much dialogue in this scene I am very aware that this little moment could be one of the most important in the film.
If they scratch my car I’ll be livid.
Adam who plays Bill (and has been one of my best friend’s for years) has suggested taping a DV cam to the Cart too. (This is one of his good ideas.)
The shot is still being prepared… The coast path here looks perfect. It strikes us that it looks too perfect! In fact it looks like the fucking 6th fairway at St Andrews! The grass is smooth and even and green. Uniformly trimmed by the fierce hand of mother-nature into this perfect lawn that stretches a hundred miles. I hope we have enough wilderness shots ahead of us to give the film texture.
I think there’s something funny about our paramedic. Firstly his ambulance is a rusty banger with the word ‘Ambulance’ stuck on the side. Secondly his med-kit box looks like he sometimes keeps live fishing bait in it and has done for thirty years. Still – he comes from an official data base and seems a nice chap so I pay it no heed…
Just as the Ist AD is getting we are ready.
It’s a scene where ALL the boys climb on James’ the cart and ride it down a hill. It seems a meaningless little stunt, but if it looks like I hoped it would when I sat alone writing the script, it will be an instantly recognisable image of freedom and ‘boyhood’ and friendship.
We’ve tested the speed and route for the descent. Benedict must steer the unstable three-wheeled cart with Adam hanging on the back, JJ on one side, and Tom Burke on the other. It’s liable to be very bumpy and fast and near the cliff edge…. but the stuntman is happy and therefore so am I. And the minutes tick by and I’m more concerned about time now than ever… (If we drop a scene we may never get it back.)All cameras are ready including, Jamie Stoker’s stills camera. Matt the 1st the first calls ACTION.
The cart rolls forwards the boys jump on… it slowly gathers pace and jolts down the hill along the cliff edge faster and faster…
It looks amazing. Adam roars with delight! They look they’re having the time of their lives. They are.
The shot is in the can. And it’s good, but there isn’t time to enjoy it. We move on…
(Little did I know at that moment that it would become one of the iconic shots of the film and that one of Jamie’s snaps would be used by designer Franki Goodwin to create the poster…)
“LUNDY : South westerly – calm. Fair to good and falling. Squalls later.”
My alarm goes at 4am.
I haven’t slept much… but then I haven’t slept much in days.
I get my work boots on and get in the Land Rover. As I drive to the unit base on the National Trust’s Stackpole Estate, I am kept awake by a desire to avoid smearing the myriad of wildlife that use the road as their own at this time in the morning. (I have no grievance against them and I have to drive the actors in this car later. I fear the cull-splatter may disturb the thespianic preparation.) I am listening to the shipping forecast on the radio. For the first time ever I have a really good reason to want to know how the weather on this particular area of our waters – the patch of the Atlantic off the Pembrokeshire coast known to seafarers as Lundy – will effect my day.
For the first time I am about to have my own crew making ‘a real movie’. It’s exciting. But I can’t help but also think about all the millions of things that could easily go wrong between now and the end of the shoot in five weeks time… if we get there at all.
The schedule and budget are tighter than my amazing set photographer’s skinny jeans…. I wonder, if we do derail, what it will be that finally ends the ride.
I haven’t even started yet and I know already that at least two key members of the crew are camped on the boarders of insanity – primed to invade that land of lunacy if there is the slightest increase in pressure… and pressure is the one thing I have in abundance for both…
But then as I pull up at the old farm Manor House I see the giant Kitchen truck. We are a small film compared to Nottingham and Harry Potter that have both filmed in Pembrokeshire this summer and yet somehow we’ve managed to afford a catering truck that may have room for Knight Rider in the back, as well as the kitchen. It glows and steams in the dawn light and excitement swells like a wave inside me. I smell the bacon and the coffee that will fuel the nearly fifty crew.
I greet the location manager who arrives seconds later, and then my partner in production, Kelly Broad who looks like she’s arrived for London Fashion week. As the rest of them rock up I greet them with overly gung-ho slaps of encouragement. Knowing that I haven’t even closed the finance on the film that I am now DEFINITELY shooting, I wonder if one of the crazy people is me. In fact maybe no one would try what we are about to do if they aren’t a few rashers short of a fry up. Its sobering…
But – here’s the thing… This is the last moment I have time to consider it.
Before I know it the four actors, Benedict Cumberbatch, JJ Feild, Tom Burke and Adam Robertson are in costume and we’re heading to the first shot… The boys are loading the cart that will carry Benedict’s character, James, on his journey to Barafundle Bay… and already I’m putting out fires… Telling the designers to find more kit to weigh down the cart (it’s a problem because we need it all duplicated for the second unit version of the cart that will be filmed with doubles). I’m also cutting lines from the script, still trying to shrink the scenes… And we’re choosing the tree Bill will carry and we’re wondering if we actually have permission to use the local cows as background artists… and onwards…
And in the blink of an eye… with some disasters narrowly averted we’re on the last shot of the day. Literally as quick as that! With the sun setting behind the headland to the west I tell a white lie to the director about a bi-law (I just invented) that prevents Adam Robertson from strolling naked as the script dictates, in the area we had chosen for the shot initially (which is now too far away). We swing the camera round and shoot in a hurry and with failing light that does wonders to shield his manhood, Adam strides naked across the hillside in front of two extras… (played by an old teacher of mine from the school I had attended just down the road)… And suddenly we wrap Day 1.
And we’re ferrying the crew back to unit base for a cold beer and to give them the call sheet for day 2. Matt Hanson, the 1st Ad, slaps me on the back. I’m exhausted… We all are, but I can’t show it. It was amazing and hilarious and fun and terrifying…
The boys did the magic trick that only great actors know how to do. They have conveyed the freedom of the trip they’re on – alongside the love and antagonisms of real friendship in just a few moments of film passing behind a lens. We have one day in the can and they look like they’ve been pushing Benedict in that fucking cart forever already.
I check the last shoot site for rubbish (we will leave everywhere we go on this breathtaking landscape untouched) and head back to unit base…
Along the farm track I pass a farm worker bringing the cows in. I stop to wait for them to pass and he nods and says “Well, you had a nice day for it, boy! “
I nod and drive on and remember how my day started “Calm. Fair to good and falling. Squalls later.…”. And I realise I don’t have enough time to sleep before tomorrow.