Darker Light: My Weekend As An AD – Day 2

Previously: I have volunteered to be second assistant director on a short film shoot directed by Leading Man Clive. I am desperately inexperienced, getting by on enthusiasm and a puppyish urge to please. We go into day two of the shoot with no illusions as to the size of the task ahead of us…

NOW READ ON, and be mindful that there is a SPOILER ALERT running…

Sunday, 7AM. Stu, Andy, Simon and I emerged blinking into the cold light of a Leyton dawn. A guy with an open can of Foster’s passed us on the High Street. For him, the night wasn’t over. I thought of Keith, who had spent the night on a shoot, and suppressed a shudder. Today was going to get real.

The tube into town was busy, and we stood in a circle, talking about the concept of punk. Not in terms of The Sex Pistols and safety pins through the nose, but the DIY aesthetic. Getting a gang in place and making something with what you could scrape together. Have an idea. Make a film. If it doesn’t work, you’ll know what to avoid next time. In that case, Out Of Hours was punk as fuck.

Back on the 6th floor, bumping into Clive and Adele on the way. Stu had brought breakfast, in the shape of a wheeliecase full of pastries. We fell on them with ravenous glee. Soon after, Maria and Keith arrived. Maria, like us, looked a little weary. Keith looked like a failed sleep-deprivation experiment. Like the insomnia fairy had run him down with her wakey-tank. “Twenty-six hours so far,” he declared, chugging back a Red Bull. Hardcore.

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We were spending the morning in the lobby, filming chases and Maria’s scenes with a lechy security guard. This unsavoury character was played by Xav, the polar opposite to sleazy Tony, a charming gent with his own production company. We had him till 2PM, and we had a lot that had to happen to him before we could let him go.

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Once again, technology was our foe. The automatic doors into the building were on a very sensitive trigger, and whooshed open at the wrong times. Luckily, we could lock them shut, creating a “sin-bin” for misbehaving cameramen. But we were ever conscious of the fact that we were shooting in a big glass box looking out onto Tottenham Court Road. Especially with Maria running around and screaming, and our two hitmen stomping around with their guns out. They had to be constantly reminded to keep the gats out of sight.

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Put it away, Henry.

The lobby was incredibly warm, and we were all soon shedding layers, and becoming quietly fractious. We were getting the shots, but it was taking time. Keith was seriously on point, chivvying everyone along, giving Clive a nudge when he seemed to be dithering. And we were getting the footage, including some prime stuff of Ben and Henry slithering across the polished stone floor for the blooper reel.

Zav was patient throughout, and fascinated with the makeup he wore for his final shot. He kept taking photos of it, lying on his back waving his phone in the air trying to pick up the details.

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Big bada boom.

We were back in the mischievous lifts for the last few shots of the morning, which didn’t help anyone’s frame of mind. Stu wrangled, but the robot in charge still sent our heroes zooming up to the seventh floor just when we didn’t need it. The last shot before lunch packed both cameras, Alex and his big fluffy boom mike, Maria and Clive into the lift-car. Mmmm, cosy.

But yet, somehow, when Keith finally called for lunch, we were dead on schedule. This was a good sign. It had to be a good sign. With everyone together, I snapped the cast and crew photo, and then we all stepped out into the cool sunshine of a February day for pizza.

Clive did a head-count as we trooped down Goodge Street. “That’s everyone”, he said cheerily. “A baker’s dozen.” There were thirteen of us. Of course there were thirteen of us. But that was fine. It’s not like film-makers are a superstitious lot or anything.

An hour later, we were back on the stairwell, picking up the chase shots Clive hadn’t got yesterday. Andy showed off his skills with a nifty little pistol-grip steadicam and Clive was, as ever, testing the boundaries, eager to try new ideas and different angles. But the clock was ticking. Keith and I exchanged worried looks. The light was going, which wasn’t a problem. But that put us at 5pm, and the toughest bit of the shoot yet to do.

Rob Clapper Board
The glamour of film-making. Not pictured: more skips.

As the sun set, after shooting a golden light show into the 6th floor, we went underground, reverse vampires, seeking a crypt. The building’s loading bay, complete with massive turntable. A cold, stark place to film a cold, stark denoument to Clive and Stu’s cold, stark tale.

Did I mention it was cold? After the sub-tropical heat of the lobby, the loading bay was frigid. To make matters worse, we would be throwing stage blood around, which would be sticky and cold on skin and clothing. We were definitely saving the worst till last.

And now, of course, we were tired as well. Which meant we were making little mistakes, mis-steps in communication, tiny problems that caused false starts and resets. The walkie-talkies we had used so successfully for the rest of the shoot to talk to the 6th floor went down, and we had no phone signal. We spent much of our time playing fetch-and-carry between the basement and sixth, all of which had a knock-on effect. It was the most physically, emotionally and technically demanding part of the shoot, and we were doing it at our lowest ebb.

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As ever, all the actors astonished me. Professional, patient, able to switch on and off at a moment’s notice, never complaining (at least, not within my earshot) under conditions that would have had me bitching like a whine connoisseur. I don’t know how they did it–Clive was asking a lot of them, take after take. And that’s before we even think about the nastiest bit of the equation.

Let us consider stage blood. Kensington Gore, if you want to get all Hammer about it. It’s dead easy to make. Two tubs of golden syrup, red and blue food colouring, and a touch of water and you’ll have a bowlful of the stuff that you can slap around to your heart’s content. Or there are blood capsules, filled with a powder that’ll fill your mouth with gore like toxic space dust. Either way, the end product is sweet, sticky as hell and stains like buggery. I still have a pink crust around my nails, and I wasn’t even blood wrangling.

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Applying blood the old-fashioned way!

I did, however, have to try and clear it off the pillar we were using as backdrop. The white pillar. Okay, the increasingly pink pillar that was not responding to the wipes we had with us. Bleach might have worked. But at this point we’d passed our 8pm curfew and no shops were open. It was Sunday night, don’t forget. We just had to live with it.

9pm. Batteries were going, and we were frayed and bleary, snappy and losing focus. Like us, the cameras were losing power and memory. At 9:30, we snagged the last shot on Simon’s emergency SD card. Clive wanted to tweak something, but the cards were all full, and it would take too long to dump the footage off onto drives. There was no other choice. With relief, Keith wrapped us for the night. He’d been awake for 40 hours at this point.

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...and yet he still knew the best ways to motivate his crew.

I left at 10pm, mindful of last trains back home. Most of the rest of the crew were still clearing up, and Clive was attacking the pink pillar with a mop. The place would need to be left as it had been found. I felt like a heel for leaving, and more so when I told Keith I wouldn’t be around for the final day of the shoot, next Sunday. That’s the one problem with punk as fuck film-making. You never know when some geek’s gonna walk out and leave you in the lurch.

I mused on the whole experience on the train home, browsing Twitter and cracking jokes with some of my new friends. I had learnt an awful lot about the way you can shoot a short film here in the 21st century. It’s quicker, easier, cheaper and more mobile than ever. The end results look better and better. Two years ago, if you’d told me you were shooting a film on a stills camera without lights, I would have laughed in your face. Now? It’s becoming the norm for the low-to-no budget community. It was also the healthiest, cheapest weekend I’d had in a long time. Hardly any caffeine or alcohol, tons of exercise (my thighs are still aching) and my expenses were paid.

It’s not something I’d do again in a hurry, but as a change-up from the factual work I do with Dom and DocoB, it was a complete eye-opener. This one deserves to go all the way to Cannes, Readership. I’ll keep you up to date on progress, of course. But for now, from the cast and crew of Out Of Hours, that’s a wrap, people!

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L-R (back row): Ben, Henry, Xav, Stu, Simon, Alex, Clive, Virginia, Adele. (front row): some chancer, Keith, Maria, Andy.
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Rob

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

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