Posted: 2020-06-08 12:00:00
Today the show had its public launch. I remember we launched the 2014 tour with a big event at The National Army museum complete with talks, interviews and followed by a press Q&A at a London members club. 6 years later and today we launched the show with a simple press release and a cup of home brewed coffee.
Whilst not having the glitz or glamour of previous launches, todays did serve to press-home the undeniable fact that this is now happening and people are buying tickets for what we are creating with hopes high that we deliver up a memorable experience. Up until this point it was all to some extent a more abstract entity, taking place without audience and in fact without anyone else in the room at all, 14 actors, 2 directors and a small creative team all isolated from each other effectively making home videos in their front room.
Yet today I certainly felt a harsh reality that people buying tickets will be wanting us to take these base ingredients and turn them into gold. We are the alchemists but as yet we can’t be hundred percent sure of the method.
That is not to say it wasn’t gratifying to see an excitement generated across the waves of social media and in the press, there has been a huge amount of work from many people that has already gone into this project and to finally see people engaging with it, getting excited by it and now looking forward to it- well, that felt good.
Tristan our editor, onto whose shoulders much of the work now falls, is now flat out in the edit suite (his bedroom) putting scenes togethers. We get occasional emails pinging in with completed scenes which arrive like an unwrapped present with a vimeo link bow for us to watch. Today I finally saw the scene recounted in this diary some days ago set on a boat in the Water-gardens. It’s still without any sound design or music, so just the bare scene but with the actors stitched back together and David’s digital background blended in. But nevertheless, it was really working- and Tristan is showing a great sensitivity to both the play and also to the actors as he blends clips and takes together to create the strongest version of the scene.
Having never worked with an editor before, it strikes me how key the role is to the process. Everything that is created by all departments goes through the filter of the editor, performances can be made, films undone and ultimately success and failure can fall on those square shoulders. Naturally the directors make the final calls- but many decisions big and small have to made before the directors even get a look in. There is no equivalent role in theatre that I can think of.
Today is we hope our penultimate day of filming and also our last night shoot. ‘Night Shoot’. That phrase conjures up images of styrofoam cups and floodlights, late night catering and early morning steaming coffee. Yet our night shoot was probably more accurately called a twilight shoot and took us from 7pm until midnight. People have neighbours and families in adjoining rooms and really don’t want to be heading off to sleep for the night to sound of tunnel warfare and Tim Treloar’s death throes. But in these lockdown days of early nights and early starts- 11pm feels more like 2am.
So what a night shoot looks like in this instance is Sam, Tim and Tom gathering covered in their dirty make up in almost complete darkness in their respective living rooms in Hastings, London and Reading watched from afar from David, Tristan, Charlotte and I. We gather round our lap tops gazing in at darkened rooms and dirty faces.
We did one tunnel scene last week which was similar in the first set up- very dark and not easy to reach a consistency in lighting across all three actors. Tim continues to battle with his internet and anything else in his vicinity meaning loading a 2 second test clip can take 10 minutes across the slow broadband on his little enclave on the south coast.
At one point I asked Sam to take his phone off his ‘halo stand’ and throw himself on the ground trying to effect a Spielberg ‘Saving Private Ryan’ feel. As Sam pointed out from his hard floor, having done his first take, ‘that must have looked really weird’. And yes, It did. Akin to a piece of Basil Fawlty gymnastics- yet as we pointed out- it doesn’t matter what it looks like to us. The camera is now God. And Tristan reported back that it looked good. So we gave Sam a clap as he ‘wrapped’ and sent him back to his family caked in dirty make-up looking like he’d been buried alive.
And then the hard work really began. The next 5 minutes of action takes place in pitch blackness. We wanted to get the lowest possible amount of light to allow us to see the actors eyes and not much more. With one shot at getting this crucial scene done we had to get it right. Yet getting it right took time. Tests were taken and crawled their way across internet connections into our working dropbox. Adjustments made and fed back to actors, all in the dark accompanied by the dulcet tones of Tim swearing at his equipment. The minutes ticked by as we slowly went back and forth trying to find the finest of lines between actual blackout and a sufficiency of light to puncture the darkness. In the end we just had to get on with it and start filming- our time was running out.
Chris our solitary German had arrived beaming in from his South London home- he’d been up since 5am looking after a young baby. He was tired. He filled in his time in the waiting room by recording us a backstage tour and poem which we will be using to promote the production leading up to the release. Then having done that - he waited some more. With great grace and not a word of protest it should be added.
We literally and figuratively crawled our way through the pages of dialogue in all but complete darkness. We looked at black screens, the actors lit only by the glow of their lap tops- fighting for their lives in an alternate sphere 60 feet beneath a German trench in France, 1918. The clock ticked past 11pm. Tim said he wanted to re-shoot scenes as he felt we were rushing. We had no idea what the takes we were getting were looking like. The iPhone camera and Rode Mic sent out picks up a very different quality to Zoom. All we could do was get as many takes as we could muster, give some simple notes and hope for the best with fingers crossed.
As tiredness crept in- the actors lines became harder to find- cues got dropped, takes were cut and still remarkably everyone stayed calm. Nobody is getting paid enough on this to put up with this level of disruption to their days and nights. Yet Tim and Tom offered to keep on going past the call- despite everything, what binds this project together is a love for this story and for these characters and a wish to get it right- or as right as we possibly can given the circumstances. Despite the sense that were in precarious danger of buggering up this crucial scene- we also felt that we might just be doing something really exciting. Creating something maybe- a bit special. At least that was the hope that spurred us on to the witching hour of 11:30pm when Tim gave his last breaths and revived to be told he had wrapped and then before we had a even chance to clap him out he had dissipated back to the blackness of the Hastings night. Firebace done.
I then handed the reins to Charlotte who (finally) welcomed Chris in for his big moment as I poured myself a glass of wine- that abrupt end of the scene was also my last scene on the shoot. It had felt rushed and inadequate but at least we completed it. Charlotte coaxed out lovely performances from Tom and Chris as we all then retired to bed.
Again you miss the ability to properly talk through sessions like that one. Charlotte mentioned over a text message that this was the time she missed being able to go for a drink and debrief. Such moments straddle a line between the professional and the personal. Often taking place in pubs or the only available open establishment, but they serve to allow you to process the work, to unwind and to learn. The abrupt end of a zoom call throwing you back into your home without either a journey or a shared sigh isn’t something I’ll miss.
And now all we can do is sit back and wait for the files to upload, to wait to see whether we managed to pull it all off. The proof of this muddy pudding can only be in its tasting. Tomorrow we wrap (we hope) on the whole shoot with a morning session and then we really are onto the next stage of the process.
Maybe we’ll miss sessions like the one this evening. But then again maybe we won’t.