So, Al the actor has now done his 3 days of filming on Still Life, my first foray in real acting and film. I mean, all us comics regularly video ourselves, and I’ve several videos of speeches I’ve done at Toastmasters, so is the big camera, being operated by a crew of people, with other people all around controlling things like light and sound and tea (and biscuits, never forget the biscuits), really that different? And I now realise that I have also done acting to a certain degree before, even notwithstanding the improv and stand up I do, so was this vastly unlike that?
Well, yes, and yes. And I’ll tell you why (not least because it would be a little frustrating to reach this point and be deposited. You clearly want to know or you’d already have stopped reading. I wonder how many have now stopped reading. Well, to the stalwarts who are still with me, you are in for a treat. I’d better deliver…)
Johnny Lynch, the guy who put me forward for the role, kindly phoned me up a couple of days before I was first due on set and chatted few a few things through, a gentle preparation for the day. I don’t know if this is standard, it appears to be, that I didn’t get sent the details of location and time I was due to arrive there until after 5pm the day before. As you might imagine, I was slightly worried until that text message arrived, a part of me thinking that maybe the message had gone astray, another part of me worrying that I’d quietly been dropped. When it did arrive, it required my presence on location at 7.40am, which, to my mind is quite damned early!
Now, as a comedian, I normally go to bed about 1am, then read, write and surf the internet for an hour or two, so, given I was going to have to get up at 5.30 to get to the cemetery where we were filming, clearly this is incentive to go to bed early. You’d think. Late to bed, I then couldn’t sleep. Which meant that I worried, always a great way to get to sleep. Luckily I had rested relatively well over the weekend, so the following morning, despite the hour, I leapt out of bed like the 10 lords that chase the 9 milkmaids every Christmas. Which I always reckon is a recipe for a duel especially as, after 10 days of Christmas, family tensions are bound to be ready to boil over, even without such a sexy game of musical chairs.
At this point I made my first error of the day. Boiled eggs on toast. Not a grave error, I always eat a couple of boiled eggs on toast for my breakfast if I can, however I hadn’t realised that they always lay on food on a film set. In fact though, two breakfasts of a morning turns out to be quite a pleasant way of doing things. I jumped on my bike and headed to the station. The film set was next to Honour Oak Park, which turns out to be a tricky destination from Battersea, but I made it to a nearby station and walked the final mile and a half, wishing I’d brought my bike with me.
Upon arrival, I was immediately ferried to my second breakfast, where a small crowd of the rest of the crew were already tucking in. Bacon and eggs, black pudding and sausages, I kept my focus on the high protein value foods, and there is nothing better than to have three different types of pork based product buried in your belly at the start of the day, against a backdrop of several hundred graves. If even vegetarians are swayed by bacon, that breakfast was a cruel temptation to the hungry spirits there. I’d not be surprised if that’s how zombies are first drawn out of their coffins.
Not really knowing protocol and not really being bothered by it, I was friendly to everyone there, introducing myself and chatting. I had been told that that is not the done thing and that the different jobs on set keep to themselves, but I wasn’t going to start being an arse just because protocol that I didn’t even understand demanded it. And everyone that I met was very friendly anyway. Let’s shake this shit up! Then Eddie Marsan, the lead actor, arrived, so I introduced myself to him. He had a firm handshake and a very broad smile, a friendly guy. Who was after his breakfast, so I let him get on with that as I was ferried back to my trailer.
A trailer on set sounds very glamourous. Yeah. In reality, it is just a place in which to get changed with the other priests. Eddie’s room was on one end of it, and all of us priests were in the middle room. I threw on the shirt and gown I was due to wear, however the clothing they’d ordered hadn’t actually arrived, and the dog collar I’d been given was a good couple of inches too big (see picture). Luckily an alternative that fit me was found, and so I started to look very priestly very quickly.
The weather was nice, and the next few hours were spent in kit, waiting while the early parts of the shoot were shot. Today was clearly the day that the majority of funeral scenes were being shot, so there were a total of 4 of us priests. I got chatting to the others, and one of them, a chap called Colin McFarlane, had a very interesting story.
Colin is an actor with a long and varied history of roles, including Batman: Dark Knight as well as lots of children’s TV (one role he has played is the wonderfully named evil Dr Muhahahaha!). He has a project called Making History, which he has been doing for a few years, helping children find out about their ancestors and then making short films about the experience. He regaled us with stories of how much it had meant to some of these kids to connect with their past, putting them in touch with relatives that they didn’t know and showing them the heroes in their own families, allowing them to see grander horizons for themselves than they might otherwise have felt limited to. It sounds an amazing project and he’s getting some wonderful interest from some big players, so very good luck to him.
The day carried on but I was still not required, so drinking water, tea, chatting and doing very little was the order of the day as I was the last to be called shortly before lunch. I walked down to the church and had a new place to hang around while further scenes were shot, chatting to various crew down there. I was starting to feel quite excited, but kept calm, I’m a performer, I knew what to do. The day was quite hot by now and, in my vicar kit, I needed more water, washed down with danish pastry, better even than biscuit…
Eventually, it was my time. Makeup came over and attacked my hair (nothing else required, clearly I looked amazing!) and I headed into the church. There in front of me was the coffin, and Uberto tells me what he requires of me. Mainly he talks to me to think about what I’m feeling, very Stanislavski. I’m very glad in fact that I did the course in Stanislavski technique acting as it gave me the vocabulary to understand what Uberto was saying. Then there was some technical maneuvering, I do as demanded, we reshoot, then a third time, then I’m to do a different take, which again we shoot 3 times, and then that was it, tea and biscuit time. Well, lunchtime actually.
Lunch is laid on back at where I changed this time, and there seems to be an on set protocol of letting the crew eat first. Makes sense I suppose, got to keep the engine people happy. I had the fish cakes and the crumble, probably a bigger lunch than I would have had at home. Anyway, I get chatting to Uberto and mention that I myself make a mean crumble (well, I do! The key is to start with the butter frozen, to put a good pinch of cinnamon in the crumple mix, and to use peaches or mango along with another flavour of fruit as they are sweet enough to not require extra sugar. See the stuff you learn from reading here!). Uberto say “Ah, well, you’ll have to make one for next time!”. Oh dear, I’ve set myself up! Oh well, I wasn’t due to come in again for a month, I’ll put together something delicious.
After lunch, the sequence of filming is reversed, so I am therefore the first to be filmed, this time doing the same thing but with the camera at the other end of the church. At this stage I slightly wished I hadn’t eaten as I could feel the food in the pit of my stomach, but I tried to ignore it and stepped into role. I was brilliant, of course. (!)
Anyway, after that, that was me, so I say goodbye to everyone and head off to the train station to go home, Uberto reminding me about the crumble again. Yes, he definitely wanted me to bring in crumble. It felt really weird to leave the set with everyone still working and knowing I wasn’t due back there for a month, like end of term or leaving a party in mid flow. But I handled it, and went for the train, and here I discovered how remote this place was, it took me twice as long, over and hour, to get 6 miles down the line. But I was buzzing, my first ever day of filming, I am now officially a film star (well…)
But that is not the end of the story, because the following morning I get a call from Joe, saying can I come in again, the director wanted me in another scene..! I felt thrilled, I mean that meant that I can’t have done too bad a job, a real accolade given that I had absolutely no idea how I’d done. So back to the cemetery I headed at speed.
Well, a certain amount of speed. It was the hottest day of the year yet, and so, obviously, all the trains were up the creek. It took me an hour to go from Battersea Park station all the way to… Battersea Park station, via Victoria. I tried to keep calm, but so annoying. I eventually got there, two hours later, with regular calls from Joe. I really felt for him, but there was nothing I could do. Luckily however, by the time I arrived there was plenty of time for everything – in fact, the first thing that happened was I was given lunch. Ah, more food, excellent.
I had a great conversation with Eddie and Colin, and they both said how they thought stand up was scary, which I did think strange, they are actors, surely much scarier, I mean, you’ve lines to remember. I suppose that it is doing something different that is the scary thing though. The thing about stand up is that although we talk about dieing on stage, the reality is that it’s quite rare that it happens. Although I do know of a comic whose jokes were so objectionable to his audience a few months ago, that someone pulled out a shotgun. The risks of rape jokes in a clay pigeon shooting club!
Anyway, I soon had to robe up and get in front of that camera. This time I was following the coffin out of the church and there was a good wind up, so I had to cling to my surplus. Just a short bit of filming, and the funeral director and his staff were all the genuine article, decent guys. Again, three takes and done. Satisfied, I headed home.
So, here I am, now a successful “actor” – first ever film casting and I get the role, I must keep up this 100% success rate. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I had one final day of shooting, but not for another month. I will tell all in a further entry.