Monday, October 24, 2011

an army marches on its stomach

We’ve just started our fourth week of shooting and things are pretty much going to plan. It’s hard to know until you’ve done a bunch of movies exactly what’s normal for the situation, but we dropped a bit of time early on which we should be able to make up this week.

We’re shooting at ‘H’ stage a Shepperton studios - one of the UK film industry’s great institutions. Notable projects to make use of H’s lavish accommodations include: Star Wars Episode IV, 2001: A Space Oddyssey and Alien. I say ‘lavish’ with my tongue pressed so firmly in my cheek that I am slightly worried it will not resume its original shape. H Stage is a gigantic shed. It is not heated and its amenities run up to, and including a floor, four walls and a ceiling. The toilets appear to have been production-designed to resemble a place where someone has been caught cottaging on an episode of The Bill.

As soon as the temperature dropped below 20C the cast and crew revolted, and started demanding heating on stage. Despite my counter-suggestions which were, variously, to ‘man-up’ and ‘buy some thermal pants’, eventually we were forced to capitulate to their demands and we erected an eZ-up tent village to protect their delicate constitutions. We are therefore currently spending hundreds of pounds a day to heat a tent in a shed.

This was indeed not the first mutiny of the shoot. As anyone who has ever tried to mount a large scale production will testify, food is always a problem. We tried to feed our crew from the canteen at Shepperton (which is run by another company rather than the studio itself) and disaster ensued. For what it’s worth, my advice to any producer is sort out the catering properly, up front, and mostly do not trust any caterers that tell you that, despite the fact that what you’re currently eating resembles tepid yak vomit, when it comes to the shoot they will be providing a smorgasboard of locally-sourced delights. (The definition of ‘Locally sourced’ in this instance appears to have been extended to include Iceland in Staines town centre).

When the great luncheon revolt of 2011 happened I felt pretty upset. I’d been on this subject from the start, and had received all sorts of promises from the caterers etc. that this was in hand. We couldn’t bring in outside caterers (as you normally would) as we’re such a small crew - no-one would do it for the money. In the end as a last desperate throw of the dice I tried to piggy-back on another (Studio) movie which is also shooting at Shepperton (produced by a friend of mine) and feed our crew from their kitchen. But when that didn’t work out we were forced to admit defeat and hand over cash in the form of per diems to the crew and let them sort it out. This is really the last thing we wanted. crews work hard and deserve to be fed properly, and despite being a relatively small film with all the limitations that implies, if a production can’t feed its crew, it feels like we’re not doing our job.

I am now trying to bribe them with cake.