Posted: 2020-06-03 12:00:00
Today pretty much summed up the ‘making Birdsong at home’ experience. It started at 7am and ended at 10pm- but whilst making for a long day is not perhaps distinct from normal theatre working hours. What you normally don’t have to deal with is a call at 10am thirty minutes before the start of a key day of filming to say that the leading actress’ phone has ‘blown up’. This phone also doubles as our main camera and furthermore storage unit for all the previous days takes which were uploading overnight. Cue some frantic scenes of online trouble shooting, new contingency plans drawn up over various messaging systems before by 10:25am settling on putting said phone in Maddy’s fridge and hiring a new phone which was being couriered across London.
Thus we started at 10:30 with Maddy appearing remarkably calmly and in full costume on Zoom to read in her part so we could record Tom and Stephen’s sections for a short scene on a steamy boat trip in 1910. Her phone arrived at 12:15 pm and after some quick rescheduling we managed to salvage most of the day. The ensuing hours thus then conspired to continue in a similar vein, inches from this delicate house of cards from collapsing.
Our editor Tristan who is beginning to slowly blanche white at the sheer scale of what he has taken on had a domestic ‘nightmare’ as he is minding his two year old and simultaneously trying to monitor the uploading of hundreds of takes from actors phones and edit the scenes into coherent pieces of film, our sound designer lost both power and his internet connection and nearly missed our key recording session with Sebastian Faulks who is narrating the production and on and on it went.
As it turned out my afternoon with Sebastian was rather exciting, he quietly moulded the first half narration as we narrated. The sound, rhythm and cadence of the sentences cross examined and gently tweaked, cut or rejigged to get the right feel and tone. The words he is reading are an amalgam of his own from the novel he wrote almost 30 years ago and those of our adaptor Rachel written just a few weeks ago. We recorded throughout the afternoon and by 6pm Sebastian had battled successfully with the technology to load all of his files from act one into our dropbox.
Meanwhile Charlotte was in another virtual filming studio with Tom, Maddy and Olivia continuing work on the pre-war scenes including a first pass at our ‘red room’ or ‘sex’ scene. We still have no fixed idea on how this will look- but we are beginning to generate a wider canvas of ideas and are beginning to get bolder in using various filming tools. None of us bar Tristan can make any claims to being seasoned film makers, thus we are learning these tools and a new language almost on the job. One of the upsides of this process is the need to be learning, and learning fast.
After a 7pm production meeting when we all quietly whitened when we realised how much we have to achieve before our release day on 1st July. Although we are nearly half way through filming, we have only begun the journey up the mountain- barely left the foothills…and it’s a long way up from here.
Our first evening filming session with two scenes on the agenda- neither simple- but the second which we began at 8:45pm was one of our big ‘key’ scenes- ‘The Tunnel’ as we call it. We have rehearsed, workshopped and explored this scene more than others. This was the first time we attempted it under night conditions, on costume and with a limited hour window to get it all set up and shot before the actors call ended.
It was of course completely surreal. The actors only have half their costumes- all other scenes are shot from the waist up- this one they lying down on their living room/spare bedroom floors. Max who plays tipper was sporting a lovely bright blue pair of jogging bottoms, Liam looked like he was going al fresco and wearing nothing- but that could have just been a bad dream and Sam was wearing some lovely black leggings- these legs occasionally flailed into shot as we methodically tried to hold it all together as we set lighting levels and attempted to get any sense of continuity and indeed any sense of what the scene might look like. Due to the need to get the camera close to the floor and the actors in front of their camera whilst on their stomachs we couldn’t get the lap tops which effectively offer us our ‘feed’ even close to resembling what the actors were recording on their iphones. Tim who plays Firebrace even managed to block his lap top camera entirely, what with the fading light we were almost literally in the dark.
With actors tiring and families and neighbours heading to bed- we finally got filming just after 9:15pm. Tom has already warned me he couldn’t raise his voice in the scene due to not wanting to upset his new neighbours and Liam that he had to leave on the dot at 9:45pm to attend to his dog. I’m pretty sure Spielberg never had to deal with neighbours and dogs upsetting his big scenes. But it’s all part and parcel of our daily diet of this lockdown film making. You just have to keep calm, accept what you cannot change and tackle what you can. It’s an old adage but a good one. As we finished the final take at 9:43pm Sam’s green screen had collapsed on him, the Zoom had all but completely failed as it’s system failed to pick up the low whispering meaning communication became impossible between actors all this coupled with the high emotion of the scene, the late hour, the long day and the imminent deadline forged a slightly ‘heightened’ atmosphere. The scene we prayed being ‘in the can’, the actors left the zoom room at 9:45pm on the dot, one minute in a war time tunnel beneath no mans land, the next rudely transported back to their families, neighbours, dogs and domestic daily stress of lockdown life.
David, the designer and I were all that was left. David said he was going to bed. I got a glass of wine. There wasn’t much to say beyond this. It had been one of those days.
The good news that came in was at long last Sebastian’s agent had worked a miracle and secured us the rights giving confirmation that it will happen. The worry at the back of my mind that all this work and money sent could come to nothing has been a nagging presence these past weeks. But this means it really is happening now and that time is ticking inexorably down for us to get this mammoth project finished in time.
It is now a race against time.