Day Twenty Five

Posted: 2020-06-15 12:00:00


15th June

Today really was the last day of filming. Charlotte and Tom set up for one final session picking up the remaining shots (this time with stubble regrown over the sunny weekend) which will feed under various moments of Sebastian’s narration. The last clips to arrive were some rather beautifully drawn sketches by Stephen aka Tom who is also a very talented artist (a jolly coincidence for us).

Dom and I spent a portion of the afternoon back in Sebastian’s office (todays picture above) where we recording the interval narration. This will be a short 5-10 minute abridgement of the unforgettable sequence in the novel when Stephen leads his men over the top on the first morning of the Battle of the Somme. 

Anybody who has read Birdsong will likely remember this section. It is written as if Stephen was somehow outside himself looking down- detached as he experienced something that simply could not be put into words. Yet somehow Sebastian found a way find those words and give voice to the almost ineffable experience of that day.

Sebastian is indeed now a veteran of recording in our newly fashioned method and read out his extract in 6 sections with Dom and I sat quietly in the background- needing no direction, the session took less than an hour. 

We have now the more difficult job of deciding what to show on screen for the duration of the reading. We have decided against simply show a black screen for this reading. Equally building a brand new 5-10 minute sequence from scratch is just unthinkable given the already maxed out capacity everyone is working at. So once again we need to be a bit creative. David is looking into some stock film and images which could be edited simply together - simple being the watchword. The words and the reading are already so powerful- we don’t need to do anything spectacular with the visuals beyond supporting them and keeping the viewer engaged in the aural experience of the hearing Sebastian reading his own words.

We managed to all get together at 5:30pm for our creative huddle- being Monday most of us were largely perky. Even Tristan was smiling. Which actually worried me more than his usual pallid demeanour. Scenes and schedules were discussed- but there was no real escape from the fact that many of us are in a strange limbo unable to do very much until we can get some finished sections. Tristan is working all hours to deliver that and thus until then we can talk in the micro sense of moments within scenes but at the same time being acutely aware that the wider work of bringing the production as a wider whole complete with the sound and music worlds can only happen slightly further down the line. So in that sense we remain in that holding pen, the calm before the storm.

To help us speed up the process- we took the decision to - and a new film word alert here- to screen lock Act 1 by the end of this week. This means whilst Tristan gets on and edits Act 2, Dom and James can knuckle down and weave their work into a finished cut of the first half. It also means that after that cut of Act 1 is delivered Charlotte and I will not be able to change any of the timings on Tristan’s edit from that point. It will have been screen locked. Sound and music must be in delicate and precise harmony with the images on the screen- we cannot simply cut out a section without a terrifying butterfly effect rippling and unsettling everything that follows. I however enjoyed getting to say screen lock more times than was needed and felt like a proper film director again.

Over our nightly, now almost solely Birdsong related, dinner which is almost the only time I see James these days- he mentioned the existence of a rare and wonderful thing, the original archive recording of our stage production of Birdsong from 2013. The original so to speak. 

Much about this process is completely different to the process of making that original Birdsong. Firstly it was really cold and our rehearsal room a white concrete photography studio meant we were all habitually dressed in hats, scarves and coats and secondly I remember we played a lot of games -partly to keep warm, partly because I wanted to instil a playful ensemble spirit into the whole endeavour. Despite the often emotional challenging material I tried to make the experience of making that material as fun and creative as possible. This certainly proved challenging for my DSM Lauren and producers Jon and Anne-Marie who saw lots of seemingly irrelevant activities take the place of proper work on the scenes. We played bench ball daily, we held competitions, we improvised and largely avoided any conventional work for at least a couple of weeks. I even drove our original Stephen and Isabelle, Jon and Sarah to France to visit Amiens (where my battered fiesta nearly caused an international incident on the Channel tunnel and in so doing no doubt cursing their idiot director, sparked beginnings of an onstage relationship that led inexorably to an off stage relationship and some years down the line a wedding )… maybe I was doing something right after all?

I recall one evening in mid January when at 6pm in sub freezing temperatures I made the entire company (less Tim Treloar and Arthur Bostrom who politely found sick notes) do a 3 mile run around Peckham in the dark before returning to the rehearsal room to be shouted at by our resident sergeant Major Tony Green and thrust into a military training exercises complete with machine guns and the terrifying sight of Tim and Athur wielding period weaponry. I think I started getting some worried emails from Jon and Anne-Marie about this time.

Where there is a similarity between this experience and that of 2013- is of course with my brand of entertaining slightly over ambitious ides but also in the fact that none of us had any idea it was going to work. I certainly went into the process with only the loosest sense of what the end production would look like. 

Watching back that production 7 years later I marvelled at how on earth we created it, when on earth we found time in rehearsals to do any work on actually staging it and how much I have to thank that whole original company and creative team for- as they no doubt did the lion share of the work. It’s great to have a good number of those Birdsong originals back with us for this, but for those demobbed out in the civilian world who have escaped this process we all owe them a debt of gratitude- not least to my long suffering co-producers Jon and Anne-Marie who had put their faith and investors money into my somewhat maverick approach to their production.

But look- we got there. 

And now it’s happening all over again.