Saturday, 20 February 2016

Clothes maketh the film Extra

Or should that read Costume transforms the supporting actor into an arrogant tyrant..
Well perhaps not, but over the years I have witnessed some amazing transformations and it might be worth a short study at some Human Science College.

I have worked on a number of hospital based dramas and there are always lots of supporting artists, or extras, walk-ons etc.The people who dash past the camera clutching files and looking very important The crippled old lady in the pushchair, the one who would kill you to get in front of you at the tea break, the two very chatty nurses at the Nurses Station, no doubt talking about last nights conquest …   and they do all of this in total silence.

But of course they are not real people at all ..they are film extras.

On one occasion we had a couple of bus loads of these wannabe stars on a hospital location.
They arrived and immediately fell upon the catering wagon for what appeared to be their only meal in three weeks or so. Laden with several sliced pigs and a weeks output from some chickens and a pile of fruit they all sat down together, most of them were acquainted with others, they tend to all come from the same agencies and get sent to the same jobs, over the years they have become good pals..

Until the Wardrobe folk come a calling..

They want ten patients, ten doctors, ten nurses, two bed bounds, two cleaners, two trolley pushers etc, etc…

Still munching their breakfasts our doughty bunch of buddies wander off for their costume fitting…
When they returned…The doctors, in their white coats, scrubs, stethoscopes, all sat at one end of the refectory, the nurses sat at another table, the two porters and the cleaners were completely shunned and the patients were treated as though they had bubonic plague.

This attitude continued for the duration of the shoot..One social group did not interact with any of the others…It was the social grouping and the Uniform.

I had some Americans from NY staying over a couple of weeks ago and during the course of one of many conversations, you all know how Americans can talk, the subject of Hitler’s little helpers came it always does..

At one stage I shocked my guests by saying that if I had been of the right age and a German, at the outset of war or just before it I would have been inclined to join the SS or the Gestapo.

Yep..That brought a few gasps from my guests, until I pointed out that the Uniforms were so bloody snazzy and smart any young lad would have been pulled in by them..In those days a very smart Black and Silver Uniform could transform some local, gormless village lad into the local babe magnet. Old Adolf played a smart card there and it was only a damn is example.

Another film I shot was set in a concentration/extermination camp in Poland where Jewish scientists had to produce a vaccine for a disease that was killing German troops fighting on the Russian front.

Those Jewish lads were clever, under the most arduous of conditions they managed to successfully produce the vaccine, but they did not tell their SS Officers in charge of the unit.

The vaccine was tried out on human guinea pigs in the camp hospital and it worked ..all of the sufferers were cured..The Germans were delighted and sent huge batches out to the front line, except it was all dud stuff..The Jewish Scientists removed a vital ingredient and the front line soldiers continued to die.

If they had been discovered  they would have all been executed..Fortunately the end of the war precluded that event..The camp Commandant was in fact executed by the inmates at the end of the war before he could leg it.

The point of the story is exactly the same as the first story.

The extras who were issued with smart SS uniforms and the camp guards began to strut around and bellow at each other..and this was in the food queues at lunchtime, meanwhile the poor inmates, dressed in those dreadful stripey jimjams began to defer to them, they allowed them to push to the front of the queue and never ever joined them in any social group..the shoot was over a three week period and some of the actors began to have character changes…very odd and very worrying.

It doesn’t have to be the Germans and the SS I have also witnessed the same phenomena among some brit actors. …particularly during Miltary shoots..the officers begin to act differently and the squaddies all seem to start smoking their ciggies in a different way.

It could be argued that they were all getting into character, but the leading actors take off the uniform and become their former selves, the extras’ seemed to carry their roles home with them and hang on to them, maybe it had something to do with a power complex or loss of power complex..for some it might have been the only time in their lives where they actually looked smart and powerful..who knows..

When you have an opportunity to be in  one of the situations described above just watch those film extras..I always wondered where Adolf got his helpers from and now I think I know..
 They were all Fashionistas..!!

Sunday, 14 February 2016


Ok so it’s beach vacation time..lets hit the surf, dunes, bars, parties, guys or girls .. Whatever takes your fancy..
The college vacation time is too long..I know it’s great to be with your buddies, wherever they are and whatever they are doing but why not be ahead of the crowd and organize a beach party to create your next film project.
A scriptathon  beach barby production.  Production team, money raising committee..
Go back to college refreshed from the holiday but with a roaring concept that you can initiate immediately.
Those great fun days on the beach need not just be an opportunity to kill a few million brain cells, they can also be an opportunity to get the best of  the local talent firing on all cylinders. Get the beach barby going, organize an agenda, swill the booze, get some creatives to talk. There is no time scale to consider.  Start at eight and go to bed when the sun comes up, or even later.
Swill some more some meat, chargrilled of course..but who really cares..eye up the chicks and the jocks..more booze..move in for the hit with those killer pulling lines ..
But come away from the beach with a project.. born from the vacation mood, the genetic urgings. . lots of booze..good food…. and the will, desire, to succeed.
This is the moment when your brain is at its most creative…Do not bury it under a wave of alcohol and other fun inducing pastimes.
There is not a moment to spare…All of them to enjoy but it is even better when it produces great ideas…Hit the beach folks and create…..not in the biblical sense. .in the moviegoers sense..
Have a nice day now..


Buried treasure in the Seychelles

Imagine this Idyllic scene, you and your partner are on holiday in that fantastic Indian Ocean paradise called the Seychelles.
The Hotels are wonderful and the beaches are probably the best in the world…I have made a special study of great world beaches and can say this with some authority.
The scuba and snorkeling is fantastic around the reefs.
So, there you are, a beautiful day, a drive to a remote beach, a sunbathe, spreading suntan oil, a little picnic and then a dive. .into the water.. please pay attention.
The crystal clear sea is calm and perfect, the sun glints on the tiny ripples as you move out from the white sandy beach into deeper water.
You reach the point to descend, fix the mask, release the air and begin to drop into an aquatic paradise.
When you reach the sandy bottom you can crack open a couple of sea urchins and watch as hundreds of little fish of all colours dive in for their share. What could be nicer.
Treasure could be nicer.
And then you spot it, the gleam of bright yellow metal, half hidden in the sand, it’s the handle of a dagger, with a large ruby embedded at the top of the hilt.
When you pull the dagger from the sand it dislodges some gold coins, dozens of them, and there is a gold chalice, pearl necklace, a leather ,rotted, bag of diamonds, lots of small silver coins and a wonderfully embossed gold crucifix.
I have told this story before in a past posting , so why am I returning to it. At the moment I have a yearning to go back to that wonderful place and it set me to wondering how amazing it would be to find that treasure.
I know it is there and I know exactly where it is.
I put it there is all fake…Film props that we were unable to rescue at the end of filming on the Island because a storm arrived on the day before we departed after a two month shoot, and we never got back out to that cove.
I often wonder how many holidays have been completely destroyed for anyone finding some of those very realistic props and how they spent their holidays trying to find more, hiding the loot from the authorities, to whom it rightfully belonged if real, and how they struggled to get it through the baggage and customs people at both ends of their flights home.
I do hope they didn’t succumb to spending their ill gotten gains before they found they were fake.
Meanwhile, as I sit here baking in 90 degrees of heat and the nearest sea wave a one hour drive away, I will continue to picture those fabulous beaches.
The location of the cove is at the North West tip of Mahe, just for those among you who might get the treasure fever…remember it is all fake…or is it..


  1. very nicely written :)

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Food for Filmmakers

Food for Filmmakers

A quick zip around the globe and it brings us to Hong Kong.
I love Chinese food.
And HK is the MECCA.
I was there filming a TV movie in the “Cracker” series for UK TV.
The crew was a mixture of locals and some that were flown in from the UK.
The entire grip crew were Chinese and they were brilliant..every one of them.
At the end of the shoot the grip crew invited the Camera crew out for a meal..their choice of venue.. and menu..
The camera crew consisted of myself, the operator Mike Miller, the follow focus..Richard Brierley, the camera assistant /Loader..Mandy..she has since married and I don’t know her married name.
Mandy is a Lancastrian and lives in a beautifully restored barn on the heights overlooking Manchester. She likes to eat….anything..
Richard is from Manchester, lives in London and thinks eating is something to do with the mouth between pouring ale down it..
Mike is built like a bean pole..eats like a horse but always looks as though  he has just spent ten years in solitary in the meat on this fella at all.
The arrangement was that we should all meet up at the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon and the grip team would take us from there..
Kowloon is an old city and is full of dark and mysterious alleyways..places where most folk would not venture on their own..but here we were..diving deeper and deeper into smaller, darker, narrower alleys, getting some strange looks from the locals.
Eventually we stopped at the venue.
It looked OK..full of locals..which is always a good sign’
We were welcomed, seated and the booze began to flow..we ordered from the extensive menu..taking tips from our hosts.
The food was delicious.
And it kept on coming..and coming..Chinese can eat their weight in food it seems.
And all of it was demolished.
One feature if the presentation was that at the end of each large platter of food, the head of the main meat or fish component in the dish was displayed on a small flattened part of the plate..a little off putting at see the head of the chicken, fish, animal, peering at you as you consumed its body, but that seems to be the human way..we quickly got used to it…until..
One dish arrived ..and as it was placed on the table the Chinese crew started muttering among themselves..there was no head..What was it?.
The centre piece was completely unrecognizable to any one at the table, even the waiter had no idea what the creature was..
It sat in the middle of the isolated splendour..It was the size of a small was entirely dark grey in colour and had some short stubby tentacles sticking was seriously off putting and no one made a move to eat it.
Except Mike..
After waiting for what he obviously deemed to be a respectful period of waiting..for our hosts to begin..about one nanosecond..he stabbed the beast/alien with his fork and began chewing at it.
He ate it all…it took about twenty minutes..we all watched with open mouths as this creature was slowly one said anything until Mike had finished.
He picked up his napkin..wiped his mouth..noticed we were all watching him and said “Nice..what was it?”
To this day none of us know..or even want to
One other feature of that shoot was the lunch time catering…great food..lots of it..but nowhere to sit..after six weeks shooting we all became experts at standing up with a plate in one hand and a fork in the other..takes a little time to get used to it but you soon learn what to put on your plate that allows one hand eating..
And now with the flick of the magic wand we are miraculously transported to the desert town of Wittenoom in Western Australia..
Dateline 1970..
We had been filming in the area , making a documentary on the man who found a mountain of Iron Ore..and a vast fortune..Lang Hancock.
Wittenoom was a desert town and had been built around a huge deposit of asbestos..There was at that time a massive demand for this material..until it was discovered that nearly all of the work force were suffering from some form of chest disease through inhaling the fibres.
Asbestosis reared its ugly head and Wittenoom died. .it is rumoured that quite a number of the inhabitants died too..
Anyway here it is..a deserted ghost town..lots of empty properties, proper paved roads, traffic lights, boarded up shops. Not the sort of place one would choose to have a country estate..But Lang was an old time prospector and he was used to being out there in the wilderness, he invited us to join him one weekend, for a barbecue..
Australians enjoy one of the best diets in the world, like Americans, they serve up huge portions and so it was at Lang’s place..
No burgers at this barby..we had a full grown animal on a massive spit roast.
And lots to drink.
We all arranged ourselves around the rather sparse garden and watched the meat being slowly smelt great and we were hungry..
We were not the only ones attracted by the meal..
We all became aware of a noise coming from the unlit bush..lots of unlit bush..several thousand square miles of it..It was a sort of booming noise..we heard it every half minute or so and it was getting closer.
Some of Lang’s staff had rifles and they kept them close, casting wary eyes on the darkness.
Turns out it was a massive Python. Often seen in the area of the farm where it had taken some livestock on previous occasions…attracted by the sounds and smell it had decided to pop in for a snack..anything for a could have been one of us…
A few rounds of buckshot seemed to scare it away but nobody used the toilet facilities which were down a path away from the light
We huddled closer together and moved nearer to the large roasting pit.Then I noticed we were roasting something more than just a lamb or a calf.
Out of the dark night there were hundreds of winged critters screaming through the air to crash land on the slowly turning meat..they must have been hungry because they were instantly incinerated by the flames..and they stayed there..
The spit roast was slowly becoming encased in nighttime critters which were forming a crust. And some of them were about six inches long..
I lost my appetite rather quickly but it was no barrier to the farmhands/estate workers ..they sliced off huge slivers of the animal and wolfed them down..along with the newly arrived casing.
A word of warning..If you are ever in the vicinity of my operator,Mike, from the first tale..dont get too close..he might be hungry..