I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

This is the account of a two day shoot conducted on the south coast near the village of Beer in late March 2017.

A lot of things happened on this shoot and I shall tell them as fairly as possible without drifting too much into opinion.

I was contacted five days before the shoot as to whether or not I would be interested in helping out. I was hesitant at first, for five days was a very short amount of time for me to make my decision and prepare for an intensive two days of filming. I reluctantly said yes, however, for three reasons; first I did not want to disappoint the person hiring me (for they had explicitly came to me for help), second, I was greedy – I still wanted more experience in the field, and third, I was promised many great things from this shoot which was a factor many of the other crew members came on-board for.

I was weary. I was given no information about this shoot other than “it’s a whooper” and “we’d be working on an interesting piece, set in 400AD with a bloke who kicks about with A-Lister’s like Paramount, Universal, and Virgin Entertainment”. In retrospect, I should have demanded more information and researched who I would have been working with, with further caution going into it sounding too good to be true. But I accept my mistake and have learned immensely from it.

I was requested to come onto this project as a Spark (Electrician) and to be confident in using Cine or LED lights – to which they also wanted me to book my own from uni. I was fine with that and pretty excited to be given a role of this calibre on this film.

Friday came round and I was still in the dark with information on this project and I had to be at The Anchor Inn for dinner and debriefing at 8:30pm. I had received no call sheet, shot list, or even a script. I didn’t even know what the story was we would be filming! What was more concerning, the person who had brought me on-board was the Assistant Producer / Production Manager and had not received this basic information either. The more time would pass, the more cracks in this production one would see.

We arrived at the Inn and met the cast and crew, who to my surprise were university students like me. They had been waiting well over an hour to meet with the people in charge of this project (Director, Producer, Lead Actor) and had the same information as us. It got to 9pm and still no sign and everyone was getting hungry. According to an email “You will be given a meal and drinks (paid for) with a pre-production brief from the Director and Producers.” The meal turned out to be a buffet of crisps, sausage rolls, and tomato soup. We had our food and then had an unnecessarily long briefing about the film.

Further issues rose from this meeting. No one had been formally introduced so the Director did not know who anyone was or what their role was. Had a Call Sheet been made, he (along with everyone else) would have had names, numbers and positions. Instead, we spent an hour discussing what people were doing and who felt comfortable with what – exposing what experience people have had on set.

“R2 says that the chances of survival are 725 to 1. Actually R2 has been known to make mistakes… from time to time… Oh dear…”

Finally the Director revealed what the story was all about. I may be wrong, but there was nothing special about this film and its plot. To be fair, I did sign a non-disclosure agreement form, so I shall not spoil the plot, however, he was ‘bigging’ this up so much. For all I know, it could skyrocket and become a great independent short, but the Director was comparing his project to Game of Thrones and stating his competition was Guy Ritchie and his upcoming film Arthur. Props to the Director for having such faith and passion in his project, but to be so protective of it to not even disclose it to his cast and crew until the briefing before the shoot is idealistic and unacceptable.

The meeting continued to 11pm with him discussing minute details about the film such as the actors beard whilst the entire cast and crew just wanted to get to their accommodation and sleep – ready for the early morning call time of 6am the following day. But everyone was held back for even more time – No one knew the location of the camp we would be staying in, the chalet number they would be assigned, nor did they know who they would be staying with. Tensions had worn thin, people just wanted to sleep (especially knowing that now they would be getting less than seven hours rest). The majority of the cast and crew got to their cabins just before midnight, however, the Assistant Directors, Assistant Producers, Production Managers, and Producers, continued their meeting until 2am figuring out how this film was going to be made.

It was very dark when we arrived at the caravan park – the only light apart from our phones and torches were the security lights on the sides of the cabins – so visibility was low. This made everyone wonder where we actually were and what views would be there to treat us in the morning. Sun rose, and we were all greeted with a beautiful vista of sea and hills.

“This is where the fun begins”

Saturday morning came and we all trekked with equipment to the cliff top. We were told that “the journey to the filming location is only a short walk”. This was a lie. Firstly, we walked 1km with boxes of heavy equipment to an old lookout tower with no signs of an easy walk down. We would then be told we would have to use the other path. So we backtracked 200m to then walk an additional 1.2km down a treacherous cliff-face path to the set location. There was no concern for anyone’s safety. Anyone of us could have been injured traversing this terrain. The path was steep with no railing, guide ropes or barrier to prevent the public from falling off the cliff-face. There were loose rocks underfoot as the path became narrow. It must have rained previously too as the ground was muddy and slippery. And what obviously made it worse was the fact everyone was slowly walking down this cliff-face with heavy pelicases, flightcases or just plain boxes of equipment. It is a miracle no one was hurt. It was a blatant disregard for our health and safety.

I feel sorry for the young members of the crew who had to lug the 40kg petrol generator down the cliff-face. That was not fair. That was not safe.

This could have all be avoided if the cast and crew had known what they were getting themselves in for. Instead, the Director kept his arrogance about him and refused to disclose information about his precious film. A simple recce could have informed the people that the journey was one of length and danger. Transparency. Even if a recce had not been conducted (which was most likely the case) then go early to assess the location and find a solution.

We are trained as early as college (sixth-form for some) the importance of a recce. A recce comes from the military as ‘reconnaissance’ – you go to a location prior to your shoot to assess its suitability. You assess it on its appropriateness to the films potential visuals, and its safety. How accessible is it, does it have phone signal, does it have wifi, what is its proximity to emergency services? All these issues are supposed to be found out through a recce.

I asked the question, had something happened whilst carrying equipment on that cliff-face, how fast and how easy would aid have been provided. Most probably, the air ambulance would have had to have been called out. And even then, how fast would they have got to the cliff-face path? I only discovered that one person of the crew of 20 was trained in first aid and that the first aid kit was that borrowed off another student.

I love film and wholeheartedly support independent film, and it saddens me when I read stories of people being injured or killed on film sets due to ignorance or arrogance. Let us not forget the tragic loss of Camera Assistant Sarah Jones on the set of Midnight Rider. This all cycles back to the respect for your crew. You are responsible for these people. Do not put them in danger to satisfy your vanity project.

The equipment is down the hill and on the seafront being set up and organised for the shoot. This takes a long time for the film to get up and running. In that time I was just guarding the equipment. More time passed and I was sent to do a recce of my own whilst collecting the actor. The actor had arrived and parked in a lot on the seafront which was much more accessible than the cliff-face walk – all that was needed to be done was walk along the shoreline. We walked back along the shoreline where I explained the new route to get equipment to set for the next day. Later on, The Production Manager, a Production Assistant, and I would then walk back up the cliff-face, to grab the car, collect food and coffee, drive to that lot, and walk the shoreline (with food and coffee) to the set. This was fun… The tea and coffee we collected was not in a thermos, but in twenty individual coffee cups lined in two trays which the Production Assistant and I had to precariously hold on our laps whilst the Production Manager as hard as he could carefully drive us to that lot. This tea and coffee spilled on both our laps burning our hands, wrists, thighs and crotch. Then to walk the shoreline with soaked trousers and heavy, awkward to carry trays of food and drink for them to go cold without even a hint of thanks removed all motivation or hope to continue on this project.

After that ordeal it is hard for me to recount what else happened that day. But be assured, as the day came closer to an end more cracks started to appear and the cast and crew became more worried. Discussions arose about people wanting to bail, who would be paid, what we would have for dinner and so forth. Our only saving grace for that day was that a local tractor owner kindly drove up to set to transport the equipment back to the car park. We had pizza for dinner.

Hooken Cliffs Sunrise

Day two and the clocks went forward. Technically, this put the production behind an hour as a sunrise timelapse was to be conducted at 6am, but did not happen until 7am? It was very pretty.

Sunday was a much better day – probably because everyone not only wanted this film to be finished, but that everyone had learnt from yesterday, including the director. This day was efficient and well organised. Equipment was delivered via tractor from the lot and the assistant directors were stern in not allowing the director to shoot or add unnecessary shots. I actually did stuff this day too and my help was actually required! Yesterday I had been wasted and kept on the bench, as soon as I was called on-board they noticed a significant difference! I’m good – don’t leave me on the side-lines, coach. Sure it was just a glorified runner’s role I did, but I still managed to be active on this set. I played interference with the production manager so he would not further agitate the film, kept on top of the batteries, provided clips for the 2nd AC, and was the only one with super glue and clear tape to fix the prop sward. I still laugh, brought on as a ‘Spark’ but really what I did on this film was provide the 2nd AC with my clapperboard, pens and clips, hold a reflector, and did runner responsibilities and a bit of ushering.

We wrapped early and returned to the camp to pack and go home. But before we could, we had to have a meeting to tell the director what went wrong, and what should be avoided in the future. We are all better for it. And we have a good story from it to boot.

Apart from the obvious, I also took away with me some interesting thoughts for my future…

The truth of the matter is…hell, we are not ready. We knew they were coming for over a year. We’ve thrown every resource we have into this, but still…

Even though this film was poorly organised, and poorly directed, and had very little transparency and communication, the film crew which consisted of first and second year film students were more trained and knowledgeable of their craft than any second or third year student of Bournemouth Uni’s Media Production. These students were reliable, knew their stuff, fun to talk with, and had passion. In short, those on my course who dream to be in film, are not ready. We are not ready. We are not trained or given the resources to even compare ourselves to these students. This is partly because Media Production is so broad and covers all areas of the media (website production, audio production, scriptwriting, filmmaking, art installations, and theory) but also because this course is more tailored for a career in marketing and public relations. Only those who take the initiative and learn what they want to focus in may have a better chance at getting to where they want to.

I leave this post as a message to myself and a warning to others. Please respect your cast and crew in all areas of the project, and start training now if you know what your endgame is; for the future could bring you anything, and you need to be prepared for whatever it brings.

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