‘Tell us the manner of it’ [day 1]

‘Tell us the manner of it’ [day 1]

So… here we go.
05.05: leaving the house to catch the first tube heading north on the Northern Line. At least it’s not raining.

07:35: First AD Kristian Dench gathers everyone for some brief house-keeping notes, including the fire alarm procedures – and then we’re into a first walk-through of Act I Scene 2 with Paterson Joseph (Brutus) and Cyril Nri (Cassius).

07:55: This is the first big performance film for a decade that I’m making without my friend and colleague Seb Grant. He is off working with a.n.other company on a big reality show – and, at more or less the same time, having a baby with his wife Jules. (Congratulations and best wishes for that – especially as the due date is Thursday!) Last night he sent us some welcome advice…

Keep Calm and Caesar On

08:30: Finishing touches to the first set: the windows have some of their masking dirt removed, African electrical plug covers (yes, you can buy them online) are taped over sockets that are otherwise all too obviously English, and ‘Caesar’ graffiti – with an outline face that looks remarkably like Jeffery Kissoon – is stencilled on the walls.

09:33: ‘Action.’ And we’re turning. The start of Act I Scene 2 has Caesar on the way to the Lupercal games, and we’ll film this in the theatre in Stratford. So the location scenes begin with Cassius enquiring of Brutus, ‘Will you go se the order of the course?’ It’s crucial the the opening of this shot, which will jump the audience from the theatre into the world of the film, has an energy and confidence that brings the viewer along. Then Brutus and Cassius speak together for some 150 lines – a long scene, especially on film, and of course a crucial one. We are staging it in a dingy corridor, and the cast and camera crew work on a master take with the dialogue developing over a number of minutes.

06.30: It’s a fresh, sunny morning at the far end of the line – and there’s the inevitable (and very wlcome) bacon roll ready and waiting. Greg arrives to walk round round the various sets. As always, the team is getting to know each other, working out who’s who and what’s where.

11:15: Slate 2. We’ve filmed the master with the camera on a rubber-wheeled dolly, and now it moves onto tracks as the scene is broken down into tighter, more precise shots. For the master, the camera was sitting on a vibration isolator, a nifty piece of kit that smoothes out the inevitable bumps from the move. Now it’s even more solid on the tracks, and the moves from frame to frame can be planned with absolute precision. Paterson and Joseph at first rehearse in top coats (it’s really cold standing around on set) and then begin playing the shot for the first of several takes.

From 12:00 to 14:00: So the main choice is paprika chicken with red cabbage and beetroot, cod with puy lentils and a butternut squash thingy. There are three things that you need to know about lunches on Illuminations’ Shakespeare films: (1) we take the catering very seriously; (2) readers of this blog take the catering very seriously; and (3) I have absolutely no interest in the daily vegetarian option. But this time around there ar two key differences from our work on Hamlet and Macbeth.

We don’t have the great caterers that we had on those two films – for a bunch of reasons, the exceptionally tight budget for Julius Caesar being among them. And we’re not taking an hour’s lunch break as we have before – instead people snatch their lunch from boxes just off set or find fifteen minutes to sit in the area we’ve designated  as our dining area. But the new caterers acquit themselves really well on this first day. That feels like another box we can tick.

15:35: Scene 1/2B complete. 13 slates, around 100 minutes of rushes. We’re maybe an hour behind but the shots are terrific – the dark faces of Brutus and Cassius in bright but broken sunlight from the windows; acting in the eyes; conspiracy, honour, indecision, passion in the words.

16:15: We are moving just round the corner to a space that’s almost adjacent. It’s small and features a BIG mirror, so the new set-up isn’t the easiest. We still have a substantial scene to shoot here, and only around 75 minutes to achieve it. If only we had another hour, we’d be fine. If only we had another hour…

17:33: That’s a wrap. There’s not the coverage on this scene that we achieved on the first, but it’s complete. We’ll assemble it tomorrow and judge whether we need any additional close-ups, which we can always pick up later. Everyone is pleased to have in the can just exactly what we scheduled. But everyone is also pleased to be getting out of this cold and damp location. Greg is off to the first night of his staging of Written on the Heart.

… and, no, I’m not going to blog through each of the next eleven days – but I will be doing round-ups each day, and sometimes more. But it’s interesting that, while there’s definitely an audience for this blog (and I’m very grateful to ach and everyone of you) there’s not the same interest that there was with the Hamlet blog. Partly I think that was to do with novelty, and partly of course with David Tennant.

Previously on the Julius Caesar blog:

‘Their battles are at hand’, 21 April
‘A very pleasing night to  honest men’, 17 April
‘Be patient till the last’, 12 April
‘Now they are almost on him’, 6 April
‘A mourning Rome, a dangerous Rome’, 2 April
‘Tell us what hath chanced today’, 30 March
‘Shakespeare’s Africa play’, 29 February
‘Friends, Romans, countrymen…’, 24 November