F minus 13


Location recces are among the most creative parts of the film making process. You go out to visit the location with a member/members of the crew and start deciding what the actual shots will be. Today I went to visit the village green in Sarratt with Joyce, one of my assistant directors.

First stop, the village shop. I know the shot I want to open the film–car winds up the road, parks outside the shop, driver goes in, pan/jib down to reveal title written on poster, pan/jib up as driver exits shop, pan to reveal car has vanished. Then there’s two or three more close ups to get.

We go into the shop and I ask if they have any objections to us filming the front of the shop while an actor walks in and out. No, they haven’t. But they warn us that it gets extremely busy outside because there is a school at the end of the lane and also a toddlers group so parents block the road with cars for much of the day. This means the optimal time for getting the sequence is 9am-12noon. Once again, talking to people pays dividends.

Having achieved this small piece of research, the shopkeeper also mentions that a film crew was there recently and closed off the road, disrupting the whole place. We won’t be disruptive will we? Hmm. Well, we don’t plan on it. But film crews are *always* disruptive. It’s how it is. I tell the nice lady we don’t plan on doing anything complex and won’t be closing roads or blocking access ways, so it should be very straightforward. It probably won’t be though. It never is.

Discovering problems

Also in the village, I need four other locations. The first one we find by walking up the road to a nearby phone box, an old red one. Perfect. Behind it is the church. I can start a shot on the church, have the actor walk into shot, pull focus to him as he approaches the phone box, stops and looks around. At that point his stolen car will pass behind him, unseen except by the audience.

Problems–once the car has passed, the actor swears in frustration apropos of nothing and an old lady appears. My problems are: why does he swear? How do I make this appear reasonable? And why didn’t he see the old lady who is suddenly shocked by his swearing? I need to block this through with the actors in rehearsal to figure out a way to make the shots and script work.

I make a few sketches then Joyce and I move on to discover a lovely photogenic wooden bus shelter and an even more photogenic petrol station. These are perfect for the scenes where the actor is asking people in the village if they’ve seen his car. The garage owner doesn’t have any objections as I don’t plan to be on his forecourt but will film from across the road.

Then there’s a nice village hall where we can film Charlie finding his lost car and we go through the shots we should get there. Jib up from shiny headlamp to Charlie approaching from behind hall, then dolly/jib to side as he approaches car. It all looks very very good. Sarratt is great. We head for Bushey.


Bushey is where we have permission to film the outside of the local police station. We arrive to discover it’s on a busy road with no parking except opposite in a pub car park. There’s nowhere to put an equipment van or crew cars and barely anywhere to leave the star car overnight for my timelapse sequence. I snap some shots on my webcam but can’t see any way to make this location work, so we leave.

London Colney

This is another small village, not to be confused with London, which is a big city and metropolitan area. London Colney has an ideally located police station, set back from the road, with parking outside where we could leave the car for a night and plenty of angles to shoot from. The trouble is, London Colney Police Station is criminally ugly. A seventies pre-fab throwback, it is not an attractive building in any way shape or form.

Bottom line: we need a new police station, somewhere photogenic with parking outside and nearby which can feature our actors going in and out of the door. We have less than two weeks to find it.


Sisyphus’ snowball

So far, so good, I think. Return home and call the actors to confirm tomorrow’s rehearsal then call some of the crew.

Dave should be Best Boy and it’s weeks since I spoke to him. The best boy is first assistant to the chief electrician (the gaffer). Dave tells me a tale of woe and marital strife. It doesn’t sound like he’s the best boy at home which means he doesn’t think he can be best boy on set. Swear word. I remain calm and jolly and say if he can make the Sunday, that’s when I really could use him, so he says okay, he’ll try. He’ll let me know.

Then I call Sandhya, my clapper loader who’s worked on the other two Ascalon Films productions. Her role is crucial as she loads the film magazines, effectively blindfold using a changing bag to stop the film becoming exposed. She marks each shot with the clapperboard (“Slate one, take one!”) providing a sync point for sound during editing and she fills in the lab reports to make sure the film is processed correctly. Sandhya (pronounced ‘Sandy’) is sweet and hardworking and good to have around.

“I was going to call you,” says Sandhya. Uh oh, I think. “I might actually be working on those dates you gave me…” Uh oh! “…I definitely can’t do the Friday.” That’s not so good. Uh oh uh oh uh… well, you get the idea. So Sandhya will call me back tomorrow evening when she’ll be able to confirm if she can make it for the Saturday and Sunday. I figure if she can do that, Jon could load up three magazines for Friday on Thursday evening and we’ll be ahead.

Finally, I call the stills photographer, Pete, who was also supposed to be working elsewhere on the shooting dates. Good news: he’s got all three days off as leave. So it’s not all bad. I do a quick trip to the supermarket and buy some staples–ice cream, chocolate biscuits and merlot. On the way back it hits me that I’m actually going to make another film and I’m completely crazy given the number of obstacles which crop up. It’s insane. I laugh out loud.

To round off the day, I join the shootingpeople list and advertise for a sound recordist. Another day, another set of problems and solutions. I keep pushing the snowball up the hill and the sun keeps blasting away at it. Bits drop off but then I roll it through some fresh snow and we’re away again. The point of no return may already have passed but the crest of the hill will really be when I spend hard cash on film stock. That will be next week.