DAY ONE – Man from U.N.C.L.E – Chatham 28th October

As I foreshadowed, my journey down to Chatham was indeed stressful and much lengthened, having to travel further into central to reach open stations with running lines. I made it well in time, as I started my journey early, and walked up to the docks.

There were security guards located all about the premises, asking if I was with the crew before letting me pass through certain areas, and making sure it was safe to enter, so there were no moving vehicles or equipment.

Upon arrival I headed to the production office to check in with Terry, with friendly crew members saying hello along the way and making sure I knew where I was going. This immediately gave me a positive optimism for the day, and less daunting to meet people.

Terry  briefed me for the day, telling me about not being able to start filming until half six due to the docks being a public place with pedestrians and cars having access. In the mean time, I was given the script to read, so I could get an idea of what we were filming today and the shooting style. From what I understand, not all crew members are given the opportunity to read the script, so I was grateful for this, with Terry helping me in giving as many opportunities to understand the process of film making.

The script was well written, at around 106 pages, but with some extended pages titles 51a or 76b. Reading an action movie leaves a lot to the imagination as you have to visualize the action, and the dialogue isn’t always too plot heavy. The dialogue felt similar to that of Sherlock Holmes (also written/dir by Guy Ritchie) with witty, fast paced conversations and tongue in cheek humour. The main thing that stood out to me, was the amount of subtitles due to the amount of German dialogue. It is normally unusual to have this much subtitled in such a big film, but it does bring about authenticity.

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I was sent down to the tech base to meet Charlie Oakden, an on-set PA, who took me down to the set. Talking to Charlie was very informative, as he answered a lot of questions and offered a lot of insight and opinion. He has worked in props, as an extra, a stand-in, a Runner and now an AD, which is his preferred role.  He mentioned how it does often come down to the pay when looking for jobs, as being freelance can mean being out of work for some time, and you have to be pushy.  Having worked in documentary, he noted how it is very different filming than Film or TV. TV is a faster shooting pace and for example when he worked on top gear they had to do many, many takes in order to get all the shots during the races and on documentary it often isn’t all true but set up by the studio or company.

He also said about the AD role that they are only involved about a week before the shooting just to go over preparations, where as the 1st AD is involved before as they have to schedule, hire extras etc.

One thing he told me was that it is important to arrange travel for the cast and stunts. to ensure they get to set on time as they often arrive late. And that some often walk around and off set in between takes, so you need to appoint a runner or AD to shadow them. It is important that you don’t tell them what to do too often as it may stress them out to the point they cant perform, so stepping back and keeping an eye on them is the best approach.

Some important tips he gave were that you only give the call sheet out at the very end when they call rap, otherwise people lose focus and just want to go home. He also told me about their camera vehicle the Pursuit Arm, which is basically a Russian Arm they had built themselves to meet the needs of the production. He told me about the Location Managers and who is present n set, being a coordinator who liaises with the location owners and reminds crews of limitations, and sorts out anything they need, such as moving things etc.

Charlie told of how different companies work differently with the public. Warner bros don’t allow any public photos or questions, whereas Dream Works, for example, allow people on set just behind a barrier to watch and even take photos. This shows the different marketing approaches and policies. It can be argued that having people on set will encourage them to go watch the film as they feel involved, or that by blocking people off you are controlling leaked material, keeping the production more mysterious.

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I was then locking off with Luc Gavigan by the stunt drivers, queuing them to start and making sure all the checks for the car, props, make up, camera and all safety measured were in place. Once there was a slight miscommunication and they starting shooting a little too early whilst the clapper guy was still marking off. Afterwards the error was addressed and Terry apologized and had to check that everyone was safe and OK. I didn’t see this as a terrible error as the car engines where so loud and I felt it was handled well.

Luc was working as a Runner, and was telling me how he prefers to work on larger sets as he finds it more fun, and your role is more focused, whereas on a smaller budget film you have to take on a lot more, even things such as setting up the tea tent.

One thing I personally noted about attitude and communication was when Luc was checking if the lead Stunt driver, Marl, was ready to go for a take. Mark replied with a blunt ‘No’, then laughed insisting that he was joking  and we all need to keep up our morale as ‘it’s going to be a long night’. I felt that it was a good opportunity to relate with the stunt actor and establish a friendly rapport, but Luc nervously replied OK and that if he wasn’t ready it would be ‘absolutely fine’ and we would all wait. The reply felt too formal and impersonal considering the joke, and just too polite, obviously wanting to show his respect toward him and a professional attitude, but I think it is important to relate with other people, was they will probably remember you better and enjoy their working experience with you more.

Luc informed me of filming penalties, and how if actors don’t get their breaks (or what ever else has been arranged) as scheduled per their contracts, they get payments, which can often build up, showing how important scheduling is and working the deadlines.

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Paul, the 2nd AD, was very nice, and I felt always kept calm in stressful moments. He also ensured that I was OK throughout the night, making sure that even when stressed I didn’t run too much, for health and safety reasons, and that I ensure I get myself a drink or dinner when I was catering for everyone else.  I really appreciated his inputs throughout the night, and I feel he is good to work with as he is considerable, friendly, hard working, and funny; ‘the most important thing in film? How to make a good cup of tea!’

Terry sent me on a lot of running duties, running back and forth between the base offices and set, and extended more responsibility than her did on Skyfall, which I appreciated.

Terry is working as 2nd UPM and 1st AD for this film, which, as I’ve seen, has taken a larger toll on him, as there is a lot of responsibility. There wasn’t much time to ask further about this, but I will try to next time, as I’m interested in how he is managing the work load, and how it effects other things.

Filing had to finish by 9:30pm, due to one of the local residents being unwell. That meant that the 2nd unit had finished, and was then to assist the 1st unit, either with them just using their equipment, or if the crew were to help out at all. From what Charlie aid about this, I see that they would have to take a step back on set and just follow in step.

I noted there were not many females on set; 2 PA’s. another 1 on set, hair and make-up, then catering.

One thing I noted unprofessional was Terry asking Luc if he was OK, not too stressed and feeling OK, and he looked ‘a little pale and thing’. I understand he was being kind and considerate toward a college, but it was done over the radio system, which everyone can hear, putting Luc on the spot and possibly making him uncomfortable.

The film industry is very close knit, and ‘clique-y’ (as put by Charlie) and everyone gets along like family, but obviously in a professional working manner. Everyone is very friendly and will always ask your name, offer their hand, and say thank you – even to a Runner. One thing I need to improve upon is my confidence to say hello first, rather than waiting the other person to say it, although I did make the effort a lot of the time.

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What I expect to be doing tomorrow as Crowd PA is to be looking after the crowd and extras, moving them from base to set, getting dinners and making surethey are where they need to be and looked after.

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