It’s five in the morning, the equipment is packed, tea in a flask and Pete and I are driving on over to Alex (co-director/writer) and Lynne’s (producer) to pick up the C-stands, flags and HMI lights.
It’s insane – the process you go through when bringing together a film. Weeks of writing, storyboarding, planning, casting and arranging have brought us to this point and it’s now make or break. Today we’ll either create a film that everyone can be proud of, or we’ll make a string of mistakes and realise that our many weeks of planning were one week too short. What did we miss? What didn’t we pack? What have we forgotten? Can we do this? The thoughts that you have on the drive to the set may be negative or they may be positive – don’t fight them, they’ll be your last chance to really think before the seat belts go on, the safety bars come down, and you crest the first hill of that wild roller coaster thats known as the first day of principal photography.
We arrive with plenty of time and begin to transport all our gear to the unit base. From there, we’ll take the production gear that we may need onto the shoot location. Luckily for today and tomorrow we’re shooting in a single spot - an amazing overgrown network of chalk pits in the heart of the Buckinghamshire countryside. Many times as an independent filmmaker you’re faced with difficult choices. One major one is do I…
a) Seek permission to shoot in a location only to be told no, or possibly be charged such a large amount that it renders that location an impossibility or…
b) shoot anyway and hope you dont get caught.
Although B may seem tempting, especially as we were in the middle of nowhere, if we had used the location without permission and were caught and sent packing, we had 15 cast and crew that wouldn’t be best pleased. Seeking permissiom and getting it meant that everyone could relax and concentrate on doing a good job. Plus we’d be able to put up a location marquee, provide refreshments and would have better access for equipment.
Equipment is unpacked, lighting set up, actors collected/put through make-up and costume, and we’re ready to go. There are already a few challenges which we know are going to be tough to deal with:
1) A moving sun (casting hardtree shadows all over our background and no access to a 30ft x 30ft diffuser)
2) No real tree cover until around 4pm when we’d be completely in shadow
3) Not a single cloud in the sky
4) Leaves on the floor (sound) and the occasional aeroplane above
5) Dogwalkers and ramblers
6) We are surrounded by thickest angriest nettles I’ve seen in years. (we’ve cut them all back, and we’re 100% sure the location is safe, but I’m extra grateful that we’re insured!)
During the research for today I thought I’d read up on what other cinematographers have said about shooting outdoors in harsh sunlight. The answer was terrifyingly short: don’t. I’d hoped for the predicted bright but cloudy weather – but with a cast and crew that’d set off in the early hours from London, and no possibility of shooting in the shade, we decided to push on, doing what we could with diffusers and flags.
We are without our lead actress on this first day (as she’s already booked) meaning that although we’re shooting pretty chronologically, we are missing vast chunks of action and cheating what we can. The actors, though, are dealing with it extremely well. Today we’re working with Tom Bennet (Phoneshop/Eastenders) and Robert Atiko (Lock Stock/Sexy Beast) – two of the kindest, most patient and generous actors I’ve had the pleasure of working with. We’re working very quickly, and moving from setup to setup at speed, and they’re totally on the ball.
We were joined on set by Jeremy Pelzer, our stills photographer – all the images that you see from behind the scenes are shot by him and we’re really pleased with how they’ve turned out. Jeremy has worked on some amazing productions, from Golden Eye to Starwars, and was the former Head of Studios for both Elstree and Ealing. He was amazing to work with and really understood the needs of the actors and crew. If you need an on set photographer Jeremy is definitely your man and well worth the investment. On set photographs are so important, and so easily forgotten. These things will be like gold dust if you ever hope to promote your film.
The shoot itself went well and we actually finished ahead of schedule. We had a few minor issues – namely the external monitor suddenly not switching on (yes we checked the batteries!!lol) but although this slowed us down, we’ve still managed to capture what we needed. The light has been really tough to keep balanced. Although we’ve been manually white balancing every few shots and flagging/diffusing and reflecting where we can, the light is so hard and shadows so harsh that its almost impossible to deal with without big expensive 1/2K+ lights and generators (which wasn’t an option). All light scultping equipment was kindly provided by the guys at Panavision – they’ve been really kind and supportive so a massive thanks to them !!
Overall a great day – very tired but MUST MUST MUST backup and check all the files. Roll on tomorrow !