The second filmed interview in a week led docoDom and I to Hackney. This one would be a big deal. As part of the M25 Spin documentation, Dom had somehow snagged a chat with Iain Sinclair, acclaimed author and, for our purposes, writer of probably the best book about the ring around the capital, London Orbital. It would be a long, tense, but massively rewarding day.
The plan was to meet Iain in Victoria Park. It seemed a wise idea to stay close to his home turf, and our suggested meeting place, the Burdett-Coutts Fountain, met with his approval. He passed it every day on his perambulations. All we had to do was find a secluded spot for our cameras and we’d be golden.
It was important to stay out of everyone’s way. We didn’t have permission to shoot. Guerrilla film-making, or the art of not paying extortionate fees to shoot on location if you’re not causing any trouble, is thrilling, but also exhausting. You have to concentrate not only on the minutiae of camera set-up, lighting and direction, but on any potential incursion on your ill-got turf. Eyes in the back of the head don’t quite cut it. A Spidey-sense is also useful.
Mine was tingling like crazy as Dom decided on a spot for the interview. Just a little away from the fountain, in a clump of trees, but still very open and exposed. We could be easily seen from all the paths, and the fountain was a central meeting point. Not good. Not good at all.
Rule one of guerrilla film-making – recce your location properly. We’d arrived at Viccy Park an hour and a half early to scope out the surroundings, have a bite to eat and decompress a little after the long trip into town (although Dom and I both have strong London roots, he’s now based in Newmarket and France, and I’m a Reading boy. The logistics of our meet-ups are therefore always… interesting). The decompression hadn’t worked. I was humming with nerves.
But I’d spotted somewhere on the way up to the Fountain that might suit. A quiet corner, dominated by a tall, over-hanging tree. This was a bit more like it. The branches of the tree formed a little natural room. We could slip inside, set up and couldn’t be seen from the paths. My Spidey-sense eased back. A little.
Rule number one of guerrilla film-making – get set up before your subject arrives. You need your interviewee to feel that they are the centre of attention, and in order to do that it’s a good idea to get all that tedious mucking about with cameras done beforehand. We set up chairs and cameras quickly. It was dim under the canopy of the tree, but we didn’t need any extra lights.
A note on the method. Dom always covers an interview with multiple cameras. Main cam sits behind his shoulder, facing the subject. Second cam is coverage, medium shot. After that we go to prowl mode with smaller formats, miniDV, phone cams, floating around to add texture and interest to cutaways. A new favourite is my £50 Kodak digicam set to VGA mode. We’ve had five cameras out on occasion, including Dom’s beloved Betamax, for smeary 80s analog thrills. Anyway. Three cameras on this one – Sony Z7 and XL1, and my Kodak. Set up took ten minutes. We’ve been doing this for a while.
At ten to two, Dom strode off to meet Iain, and I nervously guarded the kit. A white alsatian nosed under the cover, and looked quizzically at me. Apart from that, I was left alone. A Park Ranger whizzed past on his bike, and didn’t pay our little grotto a blind bit of attention.
Dom and Iain arrived. Mister Sinclair was calm and relaxed in U.S. casual, fleece, cap, trainers. He nodded at the set up. Rule number one of guerrilla film-making – control of the environment means control of the subject. Iain’s seat was ready, and his camera was waiting.
We run for an hour with an interview. That’s the duration of a standard tape, and it’s about the point where the conversation tends to either dry up or repeat itself. A tape running out is a good place to call it a day. The conversation with Iain was free-ranging and wide of scale. The shamanic significance of Gimpo’s work was mused upon at length. The parallels with pagan worship. The trial and the ritual. Beating the bounds. The M25 as time machine, as moat, as criminal aide, as evidence dumping ground.
We were totally ignored. Families wandered past, kids screeching en masse and did not see us. I kept a wary eye on a bunch of teenagers on a nearby pergola. They were too wrapped up in themselves to care about the makeshift studio under their noses.
The cameras clicked to stop, and the hour ran its course. I, fanboi, got Iain to sign my copy of Century: 1910, the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume in which he appears. Or rather, the character Andrew Norton from his book Slow Chocolate Autopsy, who just happens to look like him. He signed his name, and then in capitals highlighted my error: NOT NORTON! I had forgotten that everyone in LOEG has been plucked from other fictional works. Outsmarted again.
First rule of guerrilla film-making: debrief with a pint afterwards. Don’t run off. This is your moment. Enjoy the high, or mourn the lows. We were on a major updraft. Iain had done the business for us. In The Crown (on the Old Ford Road opposite the Grove Road entrance to the park, very nice, we recommend it) we toasted a job well done. I kept thinking I was missing something. As we finished our drinks and readied ourselves to go, I figured what it was. For the first time that day, my Spidey-sense had stopped tingling.
Yuan fen is a Chinese term that, loosely translated, describes a combination of luck, fate and vibe. A day blessed with yuan fen is a day worth treasuring. I’ll treasure our adventure in Victoria Park, in which teamwork born from years of friendship and collaboration, no small level of skill and a good deal of luck led us to a prestigious meeting with a very wise man.