The Production Show

This is the UK’s main annual trade show for the film and television industry. I haven’t gone for a couple of years but I decided to pay it a visit this Thursday having got a free ticket through the post and despite the fact that the hidden cost of that ticket will be junk mail for the next three years.

Arriving at 12.45, I went straight to the free seminar on The Role of the Director in Pre-Production which was being run by the Director’s Guild up on the gallery level. I was about thirty minutes late but listening from the back of the room–actually just a partitioned off section of the floor area–I don’t think I missed anything. Main things I gleaned were that a TV soap director is expected to get through 50-70 pages a day (gulp) and scripts contain far too much stage direction (which we knew).

I went over to the Director’s Guild stand at the end of the talk and Herbie Wise (one of the speakers) came over. He ran a Masterclass on Working with Actors which I attended about six weeks ago so I wanted to say hi to him and thank him for that. I asked him along to the screening of Fate & Fortune even though that’s a bit of cheek. This is the guy who directed I, Claudius and Breaking The Code and so on and so forth.

Someone put a glass of wine in my hand at this point, which was kind of sort of the beginning of the end. The base fell off the plastic glass and I asked another director how they started doing what they do now. He berated me for not using and abusing my position in the industry more and said I should have an agent. I’m working on it. My wine glass was refilled and I foolishly drank some more of a vintage best reserved for deterring vermin.

Suitably pest controlled I made my way to the stand next door, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, where I recognised the chap talking to the hapless stallminders. Well, I recognised the name on the badge. I actually thought he (Stephen) was someone else until after we’d stopped talking and I recalled he was a script editor turned film drama producer. Doh. Anyway, he now works in interactive and internet so maybe not quite as big a faux pas and not one that he noticed.

Stephen wanders off, one of my Fate & Fortune postcards tucked in his pocket. Hey, I may sound daft but I the opportunity to make contacts is never missed. The Bafta stallminders top up my glass, which now has the base reattached and I politely enquire about joining Bafta and politely listen to their schpiel. I politely look at the fees and politely put the brochure in my bag. I’ll impolitely trash it later as I’ve no intention of giving up that much of my hard-earned cash for the privelege of being a Bafta member at my tender young age.

As I look up, a voice calls out my name. Someone else I recognise. Someone else I mistake for another person. However, their badge swiftly identifies them for me as a journalist from Screen International and the conversation rapidly establishes who they are. A friend of a friend. He introduces me to the guy who compiles the international grosses for Screen’s film listings and I crack an exceedingly funny joke (no really) about how that’s all about measuring manhood (or something) and nothing to do with art. They smile the way you would at a juggling leper who accidently throws in a hand while keeping the act going.

So far this show is a great success. I’m making a tiny amount of headway, careerwise, in terms of information gathering and I feel slightly befuddled on cheap nasty red wine which is disolving the enamel on my teeth. I’ve met some old friends who will hopefully come to my screening and I move on to see what else is on the gallery level.

Next stop has to be the Bulgarian film commission. Of course, I’ve no intention of ever filming in Bulgaria but they have a nice merlot to wash away the memory of whatever was in those other bottles. The Bulgarians seem jolly and promise English-speaking crews as they recharge my plastic goblet. Maybe I should think about filming in Bulgaria after all.

Almost the entire upper gallery is full of people touting their town, village, racetrack, railway system, country, whatever, as the perfection location for filming. The United States has taken over a large-ish corner across from the Bulgarians. New Zealand has a lot of pretty pictures up opposite a major racetrack and various others are vying to provide everything a film maker could ever wish for in one place. They’ve obviously never seen State & Main.

London Underground is asking 200 an hour for a crew on the platform and I negotiate for a free permit. No reason for this; I just feel compelled to get something for nothing. They give me a bag which includes a mouse mat, two pens and a tin of breath mints which I wisely consume before moving down to the main exhibition on the ground floor.

Downstairs is not that fabulous. The best I can do is to grab free martinis from a company whose name I don’t even bother to glance at as I dive in on their free bar. The martini is sweet and salty, straight from a bottle and the olive looks less than happy at the bottom of the perspex cup.

I find Peter, my rerecording mixer, manning a stall for the Association of Motion Picture Sound technicians and Anela the sound editor from Last Train appears. Peter gives me the gloomy news that deferred payments are no longer possible on sale and leaseback and I move on to hassle some guy from West Herts Media who looks totally fed up, hidden on a tiny stand at the back of the show. Then I go back to the place with the free martinis. By this time, I am no longer interested in the Production Show generally.

Somehow I find myself back at the West Herts Media stand and the fed up guy suggests we swap ID badges. At this point, swapping ID with a complete stranger and manning a stall I know nothing about strikes me as an absolutely brilliant idea so I do it. I become Drew and Drew wanders off, lured away by the promise of free alcohol and candy. Okay, just free alcohol.

I give out leaflets to some poor producer looking for a freebie and suggest to the girl on the scriptwriters guild stand opposite that she should swap badges too and become Drew. For some reason unfathomable to me, she is reluctant to do this. Several other passers-by are also reluctant to become Drew before the real Drew returns. A pity, I think.

We bump into Anela again and we all chat. It turns out that Drew is really a film maker, Anela is really a costume designer and the scriptwriter on the stand opposite is really a producer. Really. As in, that’s how they really see themselves. I hand out more film invites and pencil them in as line producer (Drew), production designer (Anela) and script editor (Drew wannabe) for my next project.

The Production Show has actually ended about thirty minutes earlier so it’s time to head for the train. I reflect that when I first went, about ten years ago, it was full of cutting edge digital editing equipment as well as cameras, lights and grip equipment. This week there was far less film kit on show, no sign of Kodak or Fuji, and in fact fewer stands all round. And the editing kit seems to have been replaced totally with location specialists.

Location location location. Why so many locations? Not every place is a film location, yet you wouldn’t think so to hang around at the Olympia exhibition centre in May 2002. Oh, well. Mine is not to reason why. I have achieved some crewing, some schmoozing, a free filming permit, much freeloading and best of all, some mayhem. The day is complete although I’m going to have to drink a lot of water and have ttwo aspirins fairly swiftly to avoid the plonk headache which is already threatening. Still, that’s showbiz.