Reflections on | Reflections of a Private Eye
Part 5: Production Block 5 of 5 (July–August 2015)
As our production schedule evolved and expanded, most of the difficult scenes were pushed to the mythic Block #5. Block #5 was like the Grey Havens or the melting of the polar ice caps – we knew it was out there but we never thought we’d actually have to deal with it.
First order of business – find a vintage car.
This was one of the first logistical challenges I raised one year prior. The producers tried car clubs, car enthusiast neighbours, film and TV hire companies, wedding car hire companies. Didn’t find anything we could afford.
More time to solve problems. More wages to boost the budget.
Now there are nearly a hundred names on our cast and crew mailing list. I ask if anyone has any leads. Colin Cunninghame (Miller) tells me about a hire company in Dumfries. I check their website – they have a 1937 Austin 14/6. I email them, ask if they’ll hire me the car for a day or two. The guy offers to drop it off in Glasgow on a Thursday evening and pick it up on Monday morning. We’ll have three full days to shoot.
Scheduling now. Tricky. I’ve burned up my annual leave – we can only shoot weekends and evenings. We need Karl J. Claridge (Dick Nicely) for one evening and two full days. Karl has to give his work four weeks’ notice for time off. The rest of the cast have conflicting availabilities. Our locations have conflicting availabilities.
I attack it like a Rubik’s Cube and find dates that work for the car, the locations, the crew and all of the cast – except Eddy MacKenzie.
Eddy’s supposed to play Ken Musgrove, a journalist. We haven’t shot any of his scenes yet – one involves the car, another involves a party full of extras, a third involves photographs taken at the party.
Back in September 2014 Eddy was in my play, Don’t Wake the Baby. He invited the director of a touring theatre company, who subsequently cast Eddy in a summer production of Wind in the Willows. Now Eddy’s touring England as Toad of Toad Hall.
Recast. I remember auditions for another film I produced. Craig McEwan didn’t get the part but I thought he was great. I offer him Musgrove. He accepts.
The original crew signed on for three weekends in May – our schedule has now expanded into July and August. Some folks have moved on to other projects. Some folks have moved to other countries.
We need to crew up again. New members of the Glasgow Film Crew. People who weren’t available in May and June. People we’ve met since we began.
We need a lot of extras. Producer Myke Hall casts a wide net. We end up with more than 30. We gather contact details and photographs. Costume designer Elizabeth Brown plans their wardrobe. Producer Mandy Shannon builds a new make-up team. Production assistants are promoted to third assistant directors.
Wednesday 29 July. Leave work at 5pm, go straight to Shawlands. Shoot a couple of micro-scenes with Nima Séne (Brigid Astor), wrap at 11pm. Go home. Sleep. Go to work. Liaise with Tom Bearne, a filmmaker friend of Mandy’s and a vintage car enthusiast. Tom is our point-man for the Austin, and it has just arrived from Dumfries.
Leave work at 5pm, go to our final cast and crew meeting. Iron out details for the weekend. Get home around midnight. Sleep. Go to work. Leave at 5pm. Go straight to location.
Karl has arrived. Elizabeth dresses him in a café toilet. We go around the corner to shoot his scene. We’re in an alleyway off one of the busiest streets in Glasgow on a Friday evening. Nobody notices.
Back to Queen’s Crescent. Grab dinner. Tom brings the Austin. It’s fucking beautiful.
Drive to a quiet west end terrace. The scene is, Tim Harley (Levin) arrives home while Karl sits in the car and watches. We pick one of the terraced houses for “home” and set up near the car, across the street.
The film is set in the US. The Austin is English-built. The steering wheel is on the right. We’ll have to flip the car shots in post-production. We check our compositions with a mirror.
We roll. Tim walks along the street, turns up the steps, pretends to unlock the front door. Take #1, #2, #3, #4. Tim comes over and says, The family is watching me through the window.
Queen’s Crescent. Go round the back. An empty car park. Run looong cables through the windows. Set up redhead lights around the Austin. Set up the smoke machine. Set up boards to shape the light and direct the smoke.
We’d planned a traditional rear-projection shot of Karl behind the wheel. This would require a studio. We couldn’t find one on our budget. Here’s our grassroots solution.
Tom hides just off-camera, rocks the car. Every available crew member takes a redhead, turns it around and around to simulate passing streetlights. We blow smoke at the car to simulate fog. It looks better than rear-projection.
Saturday. Bright and early. A guerrilla crew takes the car into the countryside with Nima and Naomi Miller (Skylar). We film the car driving off towards the horizon. The horizon is already busy with contemporary traffic. It takes ages to get a clear stretch.
Tom parks the Austin in a cul-de-sac so we can plan the next sequence – interior shots of Nima and Naomi as they drive. We get ready to head out and shoot. But the fucking car won’t start.
We brainstorm. We call Myke. Myke brings petrol. Doesn’t work. Tom calls the owner. Tom calls the AA. We hemorrhage time.
Aaron finds a couple of angles inside the car. Just blue sky through the windshield – you can’t tell it’s stationary. We get the scene. But we have to drop another. We leave Tom with the car, our best wishes and a sandwich, and head back to base.
We relocate to my parents’ house. Daiva Ivanauskaitė, our art director, has transformed their bedroom into a hotel suite. My mum says the room has never looked so tidy.
Tom calls. The car’s fine. We parked it on the kerb at the wrong angle for the fuel injector. The AA got it back on the road.
Day #16. Sunday 2 August. Another early start, driving around the city centre with Karl behind the wheel of the Austin. Actually, he’s in the front passenger seat holding a rubber steering wheel cover. Aaron and I are in the back, trying to shoot ten seconds of footage that don’t catch anything modern through the window.
Queen’s Crescent could pass for 1940s America. We shoot yesterday’s dropped scene with the Austin parked in the street. It costs us 45 minutes. We already got a version of the scene without the car in Block #4, and were eaten by midges for our trouble. But it turns out to be one of the strongest moments in the film.
Daiva and her team go to city centre hotspot The Griffin to prep the next scene. Queen’s Crescent becomes a make-up, hair and wardrobe production line. Karl, Tim, Miranda Langley, Joe McKenna and Colin Cunninghame are the afternoon’s leads. Ten extras for background. Nima and Naomi are wrapped for the day, but stick around to help out. Tom Bearne takes everybody outside for some publicity stills with the Austin.
The main unit moves to The Griffin for the most populous scene I’ve directed so far. Two third ADs manage the extras. Busy shots first. Then release extras in stages as we punch in for close-ups.
The evening’s location – Govanhill. My gaff.
A gated alleyway leads from the dead-end street to the bin shed in my courtyard. The bins are guarded by a fearless colony of rats. If you shine a torch on them, they just stare into the light.
Garbage is the overarching theme of the courtyard. Six weeks ago one of the 80-or-so tenement flats sharing the courtyard was disembowelled. A huge pile of furniture, furnishings and fittings appeared on a patch of grass beneath my bedroom window. The guilty residents disappeared. The council made no attempt to shift the rubbish.
Forget it, Jake. It’s Govanhill.
Dress the alleyway as a crime scene. Wear gardening gloves. Don’t touch the ground. Shift planks of wood. Kick syringes into a corner. It starts to rain.
In my flat, assistant art director Akvilė Dirmauskaitė fashions our corpse. She wraps cushions and balled-up sheets inside bin bags. Ties off sections with string, shapes it into a body. It’s anatomically accurate. It looks like a dead person wrapped for disposal. We carry it downstairs and along the street to the alleyway, hoping that no one sees us.
Graham Stevenson runs cables through my first-floor window front and back, snaking along the pavement and through the courtyard. Before he turns on the lights, I go online and submit my meter readings.
In the scene, Craig uses an old concertina camera. We have the camera but no flashbulb or reflector. I give Akvilė and Graham a spare bulb, an extension cord, a roll of silver gaff tape and my stainless steel childhood sick bowl. They jerry-rig a solution. It looks great.
Tom brings the car. We block the scene. Myke’s sound kit dies and we look around for batteries. Aaron produces four superpowered AAs from his camera kit and brags about saving the day. Then he drops the batteries in a puddle.
Two drunken locals arrive and tell us to fuck off – we’re filming in their courtyard. I tell them it’s my courtyard too. They don’t budge.
It’s a standoff. We argue. Their real beef, it emerges, is with the council, who will let us film in the alleyway but won’t clear the rubbish from the courtyard or euthanise the bin shed rats. The debate goes in circles for half an hour before Mandy finds a compromise. She suggests I lead a volunteer task force to clean up the shared areas and rebuild a sense of community. She does not give my full name or address.
Pacified, and perhaps by now desperate to urinate, the locals go home. We get back to the shoot.
Day #17. The art department transform La Bodega, a tapas bar and restaurant, into a jazz club. They arrive at 4pm while I’m still at work. I make it there a couple of hours later, along with 20 extras and swing band Radio Pachuco. It’s another costume/make-up production line managed by Elizabeth and Mandy, now with reinforcements. Yesterday prepared us for today.
Daiva’s team finishes at 8pm. It’s still light outside. We shoot away from the windows. First AD Nicholas Sinclair coordinates the extras. We shoot portions of the room and release folk in stages.
We need to wrap Alex Della Ciana (Ricky Russo Jr) by 11.20pm. He lives in Edinburgh and needs to catch a bus. We run late. We get his last shot at 11.19pm. Myke drives him straight to the bus station while Alex changes out of his tuxedo in the back seat.
At midnight, we’re done. Break down the set, tidy up, plan the 1.30am exodus home. We have a four day break until the last day of principal photography.
Eddy asks how everything’s going. His tour just finished and he’s back in Glasgow. Hey Eddy, fancy a cameo?
In Saturday’s scene, Brigid is supposed to steal some negatives while she’s talking to Musgrove in his newspaper office. The script has Musgrove engrossed in his work, but a better distraction occurs to me.
Eddy has a great voice, not unlike Brian Blessed. I make a list of all the words I’d like to hear him say. Build a monologue. Cast him as a sub-editor with a grudge. He bawls out Musgrove during the scene, gives Brigid a chance to tuck the negatives into her bag.
There’s about a minute’s worth of text. I send it to Eddy as a text message and ask him to deliver it in 30 seconds.
Saturday 8 August 2015. A crackling noise wakes me at 6am. Flames lick my bedroom window.
Someone has set fire to the huge pile of furniture in the courtyard. Firefighters arrive and dowse the blaze. Somebody across the courtyard shouts, I seen who done it!
I have my own suspicions.
Back to Film City Glasgow. We shot in the men’s room in May. Today we’re in the ballroom for the film’s parting shot – Nima steps up to a microphone and sings over the credits.
Daiva rents a vintage microphone from Warehouse Sound just around the corner. She and Akvilė cover the back wall with lightbulbs. Aaron and Graham rig a blackout sheet to mask the sun streaming through the skylight.
Tom Hemblade, our sound recordist, arrives with no microphone. Miscommunication – someone else was supposed to bring it. It’ll take at least an hour to go and pick it up. I text Polly Petrova, our other sound recordist, on the off-chance that she can help.
While we wait for a reply someone asks, What if we try the prop microphone?
We plug it in. It works.
We get the shot and move to Queen’s Crescent. The art department transforms the boardroom into a newspaper office while the rest of us shoot pick-ups and inserts around the building.
I get a message back from Polly. “yo yo! Sorry I have not got your number on this phone, who am I sexting?” I show it to Tom. He laughs for two minutes straight.
For most of the crew, this is the home stretch. Eddy arrives like an adrenaline shot. We work our way through the scene. Tick off shots from the list. 4pm, 5pm, 6pm. I call the last slate myself at half past six.
Wrap. Tidy up. Pack our boxes and bags. Load our cars. Say goodbye to the building – it’s been our second home for over three months.
Walk up to Woodlands Road. Spend an inordinate amount of time selecting and purchasing crèpes from the van there. Settle into a pub on the corner. Simon Price joins us. Naomi joins us. We share memories of the shoot. We swap perspectives.
Somebody asks me what happens next.
Originally published 16 August 2016.
Reflections on | Reflections of a Private Eye
Part 1: Script Development (May–December 2014)
Part 2: Pre-Production (January–April 2015)
Part 3: Production Blocks 1-2 of 5 (May 2015)
Part 4: Production Blocks 3-4 of 5 (May–June 2015)
Part 5: Production Block 5 of 5 (July–August 2015)
Part 6: Post-Production (September 2015–January 2018)