Reflections on | Reflections of a Private Eye by Andrew Gunn
Part 3: Production Blocks 1–2 of 5 (May 2015)
Start with something easy. A short exterior scene, one actor, a skeleton crew. Set a fast pace and the rest of the team feel like they’re catching up.
1 May 2015. Day #1, Shot #1. Karl J. Claridge, as private eye Dick Nicely, walks into an alleyway and looks around.
It’s a sunny Friday morning and Glasgow is of good cheer. Passers-by are polite. A guy who usually parks his car in the alleyway agrees to come back in an hour. We’re done in 59 minutes and, I like to think, 59 seconds.
First shot in the can. From left: David McCarrison (production assistant), Graham Stevenson (lighting), Karl, Jo Osborne (continuity), Sally Rylett (production manager), Sean McInally (first assistant director). Picture: Andrew Gunn.
The art department, led by Daiva Ivanauskaitė, is already busy at tonight’s location – a huge flat in the west end. Gut the living room. Go to my parents’ house. Pick up furniture, set dressing, props. Go back to the flat. Dress the room. Fit the 1940s brief. Have it ready for 6pm.
There’s a modern radiator on the wall. Throw a sheet over it. Now it’s period. This becomes the Radiator Protocol.
Producer Myke Hall drives the van back and forth between the flat and Scottish Youth Theatre, our city centre unit base. He ferries equipment, food and set dressing.
Sean McInally, the first assistant director, manages the set. He runs Young Filmmakers Glasgow and knows SYT. He issues walkie-talkies to the crew. I’m not allowed to have one.
Sean with Karl. Picture: Jo Osborne.
From SYT we skip around the corner to Wilson Street to shoot a scene. We need a period-friendly wire mesh bin. I know of a private park in the west end where they have one. I send Myke to borrow it and leave a note saying we’ll return it in a few hours.
Karl drops a newspaper in the bin. We push into a close-up of the headline. This shot precedes the alleyway scene. I remember the mouth of the alleyway is centre-frame and roughly the same square shape as the headline. We compose the close-up for a match cut. One of my favourite improvisations on the film.
Myke returns the bin, as promised. Nobody has called the police. It’s a sunny Friday in Glasgow.
We relocate to the flat. The room looks great. Furniture I’ve seen all my life in my parents’ house, and assumed immobile, is now in the make-believe home of a character I’ve had in my head for ten years.
This fucking thing.
The lighting set-up, inside and outside the flat, is complex. Director of photography Aaron Rivando works with gaffer Graham Stevenson and the camera crew. Scott Mackay sets up the crane – it runs diagonally across most of the room.
We shoot. We burn time. Sean tells me, In five minutes you’ll be an hour behind. This becomes his tagline. If we had the resources we’d put it on a T-shirt.
We simplify the scene a little. We fight the clock. Setting up one sequence, I tell Sean we have two shots to get here. He says, Pick one. So we pick one.
After Sean leaves the room, we get both shots anyway.
Aaron with Andrew Gunn. Picture: Jo Osborne.
Wrap shortly after midnight. Vacate the flat at 1am.
My head is pounding. Drive home. Field phone calls, emails and messages for a couple of hours. The phone wakes me at 6am. My head is pounding and my stomach hurts. I fill it with breakfast, go to unit base, and throw up.
Day #2 is catastrophic. I can’t keep food down. Someone plies me with blue sugar sticks. I throw up blue. My phone rings and pings and rings and pings and rings. I don’t answer unless it’s one of the actors. I ration my water intake to single sips, just enough to keep the bile churning.
We need voiceovers from Karl and Nima Séne, who plays femme fatale Brigid Astor. We record them at SYT, wrapped in a thick stage curtain to insulate the sound.
Sound recordist Polly Petrova. Picture: Jo Osborne.
We drop the morning scene. We get a couple of exterior shots near SYT instead. While the crane is set up, some of us wait in the lobby of the arts centre at 103 Trongate. I sleep for ten minutes on the floor.
Meanwhile Daiva & Co transform my living room into Nicely’s boudoir. The rest of us arrive around 6pm. There are two dozen people in my one-bedroom flat. Karl and Nima puff cigarettes. We have a smoke machine. The atmosphere turns my stomach. I have to queue to puke in the toilet. I worry that I’m not fulfilling my leadership duties. I worry that I smell of sick.
We shoot. Post-coital dialogue. Karl and Nima lying in bed, surrounded by crew and lights. I start to flag. The actors start to flag. I invite them to jump up and down on the bed. We buzz. We shoot.
We wrap. I crash out on the couch and wake up to phone calls. I drink a gallon of water and eat toast. Better.
Make-up and hair designer Emma Leigh Porter with Karl. Picture: Kat Abdullah.
Day #3. Office scene. Femme fatale comes in, tells the private eye a bunch of lies, hires him to follow someone. It’s a film noir staple.
Ryan’s uncle has an office in a furniture store. It’s open nine-to-five, and his uncle doesn’t work Sundays or Mondays. Today is Sunday. Nima isn’t available on Monday. We need all of her shots today.
Get in there. Move the office furniture into corners, cupboards and corridors. It’s a place of business. Don’t break ANYTHING. Don’t lose ANYTHING.
Dress the set. Put the private eye’s name on the door. Gather dust from the window sills and neglected shelves and add it to the props and set dressing. Stand lights outside the windows, run cables through the store.
Shoot the scene and get out of there by 5pm.
Aaron Rivando and Daiva Ivanauskaitė. Picture: Kat Abdullah.
We roll at two o’clock. We fight time. It’s a close thing. We frame our last shot at 4.45pm while everything but the camera and lights are being hauled into the street.
We’re exhausted. We drop the evening’s scene and wrap for the day. Elizabeth’s house is nearby – we regroup there, devour the catering supplies and talk about the schedule.
It was too ambitious. It’s punishing. We can’t do this in three shooting blocks. We’ll need four or five.
Pure knackered. Picture: Kat Abdullah.
Day #4. Let’s fucking redeem ourselves.
8.30am. Art goes to our afternoon location, a church hall. They dress the interior as a blank warehouse-type space where we can stage an interrogation and a fight. Meanwhile the main unit goes back to the office to shoot pick-ups and inserts with Karl.
11am. Inserts are done. We switch. Art restores the office to its former glory. The main unit moves to the church hall to shoot.
Modern radiators on the wall. No problem. Use the Radiator Protocol.
The fight involves a lamp. We choreograph. We rehearse. We shoot the master (an angle covering the whole scene) with a Ronin rig, like a Steadicam. Take #1 is pretty good. So good, I wonder if it’s possible to present the whole fight in an unbroken shot.
At the beginning of Take #2, the lamp explodes. The wires are fried. Take #2 is better than #1 – but we can’t do the unbroken-shot thing again.
We shoot coverage. Break the fight into segments, shoot them one-by-one. If we can’t use the master, we’ll cut the scene conventionally. I hope we don’t have to do this. I hope the one-take thing works.
Brawlers. From left: Colin Cunninghame, Karl J. Claridge, Joseph A. McKenna, Tim Harley. Picture: Kat Abdullah.
Day #5. We start late, around 10.30am. A skeleton crew moves back into my flat. We shoot in the stairwell. The real drama unfolds elsewhere – Ryan’s uncle is back in his office and missing an important file. Saturday evening, it was on his desk. Now it’s gone.
I phone around. We check our boxes. Check the van. Examine continuity and art department photos from the last two days. Sally Rylett, the production manager, supervised the office breakdown. She goes back there to look around and appease the staff. My parents live near the church hall. I send my mum to see if we accidentally took the folder there and left it.
Film the stairwell scenes. Take a break. Lunchtime jubilation – Sally calls from the office. The folder was in a filing cabinet all along. The staff are appeased.
Location move. Swing, a themed nightclub in the city centre, our 1940s wine bar. We cobble together seven extras. We need a couple more. Daiva and I step up. We shoot the master. It feels strange walking through the scene instead of watching it from the perimeter.
Karl in Swing. Picture: Aaron Rivando.
After we cut, I go to the monitor. Aaron and Sean are smiling. They show me the playback. In the middle of the scene, one of the extras takes out their iPhone and reads a text. We go again.
Block 1 wraps. We have two days until Block 2. Myke, Daiva and I spend it in cars and vans. Return props. Return furniture. Pick up props. Pick up furniture. Run inventories. De-intensify the schedule for Blocks 2 and 3. Push problematic scenes to 4 and 5.
Karl travels back back to Northamptonshire. Block 2 will focus on the scenes with Nima, Tim Harley (Brigid’s husband Joe) and Naomi Miller (burlesque dancer Skylar).
Day #6. Convene at Nima’s south side flat. She has Venetian blinds, a glass-brick wall, wooden floorboards and a window that opens on to the roof of the shop below. We light the scene from outside, through the blinds. It’s classic noir stuff.
Nima and Naomi between takes. Picture: Kat Abdullah.
Day #7. Queen’s Crescent. Home turf – this is where I shot the GFC’s 48 Hour Film seven months ago. It’s a four-storey west end terrace converted to offices but with a variety of interior designs. Today we’re in the basement kitchen, which stands in for the apartment owned by Brigid and Joe.
Some modern furnishings around the room. No problem – we have sheets for that. It’s the Radiator Protocol.
From left: Sefa Ucbas (camera assistant), Tom Hemblade (sound recordist), the Radiator Protocol, Camelia Cazan (second assistant director), Colin MacDougall (first assistant director), Graham Stevenson (lighting), Paula Velayos (best boy), Diana Dumitrescu (set decorator), Akvilė Dirmauskaitė (assistant art director), Daiva Ivanauskaitė (art director), Ailsa Lonsdale (assistant art director), Omiros Vazos (script supervisor). Picture: Kat Abdullah.
While the art department dresses the set, a skeleton crew goes out to the Kelvin Walkway for an exterior scene. This is a scheduling trick we use again and again, shooting low-key outdoor stuff guerilla-style while the day’s main sets are prepared.
Return to Queen’s Crescent. Daiva tells me the kitchen counter is too bare. We need apples. I shrug – looks fine to me. She goes out and buys apples. They’re blood-red. They look fantastic on camera. The counter is unthinkable without them.
Them apples. Picture: Kat Abdullah.
Shoot the first scene. Break. The art department redress the set for another scene. The rest of us go upstairs to shoot an insert with Nima.
Daiva tells me the kitchen counter is too bare. We need rolls or something. I shrug – looks fine to me. She goes out and buys a bunch of bakery. It looks great. Trust your art director.
We shoot the scene. An intense exchange between Nima and Tim. I get hungry. Our angles change. The bakery is no longer in shot. I eat one of the rolls. Omiros Vazos, the script supervisor, gives me a dirty look. I don’t care – continuity rolls taste better.
Continuity rolls. Picture: Kat Abdullah.
This is the last thing we’ll film for a couple of weeks. The weight of directing whilst simultaneously producing the next item on the schedule has been lifted. I can just direct. It’s a joy working with the actors. We find nuances that weren’t in the script. Aaron frames the shots simply and lets Nima and Tim carry the scene.
Going by the original schedule, we should have shot 70% of the film by now. It’s more like 45%. My fault – I pushed too hard.
Less than half the film – a little demoralising.
Until we see the footage. It’s worth it. Keep going. But ease off the accelerator.
Originally published 8 July 2016.
Reflections on | Reflections of a Private Eye