Considerations on the shooting of a Straight 8 film.

Wednesday. Early. Pre-sunrise. Alarms go off. Dom and I roll groaning out of bed. Hot, brief showers, tea, a snatched bowl of cereal. Low conversation. Wondering what we’ll forget, what vital thing has slipped through the net of our preparations. Clare, soft murmuring from bed. “Good luck.” I nod, and pull the first of many long, held breaths.

On the road as the sky ruddies and glows. The car is full of lights and camera equipment. Hard cases, full of potential. Soft music and quiet talk, booming down the M4 into the day, towards London. The sun is ahead of us, fiery red. A stop sign that we ignore.

The traffic starts to build as we turn into a quiet Hampstead side street. Kiki is outside, waiting. She has yet more baggage, and it’s a squeeze to get everything in. And we still need to fit one more person amongst the gear.

A half hour later. London Bridge. Dom points out a cafe that is a later location. Looks fine. We make an illegal turn into London Bridge station, ignoring angry hoots from cabbies that have the right to do what we cannot. But here’s Hayley, bright as the dawn, and somehow we find room for her.

The first location is five minutes away. A neat little one-bed flat in a quiet situation. It’s full of light, life and clutter, and perfect for what we need. We start to set up as the owner, a friend of Hayley’s, sleepily gets ready for work. We’ve been going for three hours, and it’s still not half past eight.

A little set dressing, finally a coffee. Kiki in a tartan dressing gown and leopard-skin slippers, with socks. Elsie Tanner’s hot younger sister. We load up, shoot the slate, and start to work through the shot list.

Camera troubles. Even with all three lights blazing in the kitchen, and daylight flooding through, the light meter says we’re under-exposed. Dom fiddles with the controls. We all start to sweat a bit, and it’s not just the heat from the lights.

Not sure what Dom's focussed on here...
Not sure what Dom's focussed on here...

Lewis arrives. Quiet, polite, wearing a fine choice in retro Batman attire. We set him up with another camera, which means there are now more people shooting the making of than the actual film.

Crisis. Dom thinks the camera isn’t turning over. We have between-channel radio and TV noise roaring in the kitchen, and he can’t hear the mechanism. His gut feeling is that it’s not putting film through the gate. A nervous five minutes while he reseats the battery. We have no choice but to reshoot the last two shots. We may have doubled them. There’s no way to be sure. There’s no way of knowing. With the sound on the radio and TV down, we go for the two shots again. Success. The rattle of the mechanism is a benediction.

We move on.

Two grabbed shots on a bus. I’m worried that people will take offence, but no-one even seems to notice that we’ve got a camera out. Lewis slops over Kiki. Kiki backs into a guy’s lap by accident. The look on his face says that he doesn’t mind. Ten minutes after we get on the first bus we’re on another one, heading back to the unit car. The sky is flawless Wedgewood blue. It’s warm and bright. At a quarter to twelve, we’re back in the car and driving into Soho, on the best day of the year so far.

Twelve thirty. Kiki’s office space, deep in the heart of Soho. Fourth floor, bustling with life, and glorious light pouring through a wall of windows. We’ve lugged the redheads and tripods up four flights of stairs, and we don’t need them. It’s fine. It doesn’t matter. Not having to rig lights means we’re done that much more quickly. Hayley and Lewis become set dressing, and Kiki corrals some of her work mates into taking one for the cause. Five shots in forty minutes, then we’re back in the car back to London Bridge.

In the car, Kiki regales us with stories from the one-woman show she’s writing. The story about the guy with curvature of the spine, and his weird take on improvisational cinema. How she refused a big offer from Coronation Street. And she frets about Natasha Richardson, critically injured in a silly little ski-ing accident that would claim her life the following day. She and Hayley talk agents, while I scribble on my shooting script, and hope to god the timings hold.

A bit of physical direction
A bit of physical direction

Two o’clock, and we’re back on the street in London Bridge. The cafe location Dom found was almost empty, so we scoot up the road a little to a smaller place where punters are queueing out of the door. Two shots, and we can only fit Kiki and Dom in there. This is where timings start to go awry. I can’t count Dom in or out, and have to take his reports on how long the trigger was going on faith. But it’s exactly what I was seeing as I was writing it, so no complaints.

We have lunch at the original cafe location, and try not to flag. Cheeky Kiki eats the sandwich she bought down the road in there, but no-one seems to mind. Or even notice.

We move on.

We piece together the buildup to the “Time Out”, a nested series of zooms and closeups, in a cut-through at the back of Guy’s hospital. It’s perfect. Quiet, but with enough passing traffic that we get some great passer-by reactions when we finally direct Kiki to go loopy. She does a brilliant job, whooping and hollering, flapping her jacket behind her like a Batman cape. The second shot, grabbed while she runs through a busy courtyard, is absolutely priceless. Kiki is breathless and blushing, but it’s good stuff and we all know it.

She's a star, I tell ya. A STAR.
She's a star, I tell ya. A STAR.

Then to the final location, for the shocking conclusion to the tale. A cut just under a railway bridge hard by London Bridge station. We devise a jittery, single-shot way of making it look like the unit car is heading for Kiki at speed. Hayley, behind the wheel, does a great job of looking scared out of her mind as she accelerates up the alleyway at twenty miles an hour. It looks scary, and I’m viewing it from a very safe position. This one is seriously rehearsed, of course. Killing the lead actress would not make a good end to the day.

One quick shock reaction (helped along by Lewis barking at Kiki at the right moment) and we’re done. There’s a question over the counter on the camera now, which could be reading anything from thirty seconds to a minute.

It’s not even that. We run four seconds of black, and Dom thinks he feels the film run out. Which could be something of an issue, as we have a shot to go. We run the camera anyway, but I don’t think we got it. Maybe a flash. Maybe a couple of frames. There’s no way to be sure. There’s no way of knowing.

And that was it. Pictures done. We quietly de-convene. There are no histrionics, which is always the way with these things. Everyone’s just a bit too tired to make much of a fuss.

Hayley strikes set, and we drop Kiki back to her dogs in Hampstead. Then a quiet beer and a debrief with Dom and Lewis in a pub near Paddington. Turns out Lewis is a major horror buff, which leads to a bit of a geek out, and an internal promise to introduce him to the Sick Puppy crowd. Then home, to Clare. Thinking I might sleep. Knowing I wouldn’t. It had been a day filled with adventure, improvisation, triumph and possible disaster but by god we’d done it. We had a film in the camera.

We have just over a week to deliver the sound, and then the painful part of the process. The long wait while we find out if we’ve made it, if it’s good enough, if it came out. We won’t know until the middle of May. So we wait. And we wonder, and we remember an amazing, inspiring day. From me, Dom, Kiki, Hayley and Lewis, it’s so long, so far.

The story continues in May…

(all pics taken by Lewis Shelbourne. Nice work, that man.)

The full Flickr set of Lewis’ photos taken on the day is up and available here. A truthful document of a crazy day.

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Published by

Rob

Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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