If it’s Monday, it must mean there’s a week to go. Seven days from now we start shooting Julius Caesar. At lunchtime, with our First AD Kristian Dench, I head up the Northern Line to the location. As I have indicated before (and, no, I haven’t said where it is) the building in which we are filming is pretty much a ruin (above) – but a resonant one. And now it’s a clean ruin. Or at least, a good deal cleaner, with much of the pigeon poo gone, the floors washed and random debris carted away. We have a generator, working lights and a production office complete with a tiny dachshund. This afternoon’s task is a technical recce – and then tonight we are bringing everyone together for a pre-shoot production meeting.
Twelve of us gather for a walk round the rooms and spaces in which we are going to be filming. This is mostly for the camera crew and the art department to identify problems, come up with solutions and generally worry away at how we’re going to shoot nearly two hours of high quality Shakespeare in just twelve days. Kristian has circulated the current schedule, although this will continue to shift and twist a little right through the shoot. Asked how he feels about it, he describes it as ‘ambitious but not fictitious’. I take this as a good sign.
The other candidate for phrase-of-the-day is ‘two shades darker’. This is Director of Photography Steve Lawes’ request of the art department for each and every wall we look at. He is going to be working with a highly sensitive Alexa camera, and the darker each space is, the more definition he can achieve with his lighting. White walls will spill light everywhere, so everywhere needs to be knocked back, brought down, painted over. Two shades darker.
We are planning three substantial set builds – for Brutus’ orchard, Caesar’s house and the army encampment for the tent scene – and then a succession of spaces that will be dressed as a market, an office, a corridor beneath a stadium. In each spot the camera team work out where the main lights will go, and we talk about door handles (too IKEA for Africa?) and foliage and burning sheep heads. What quickly becomes clear is that this is a great way of coming up with new items for the already straining-at-the-seams budget. But let’s dream a little first and then face the hard choices tomorrow.
After three hours we are on our way back to the office, where much of the rest of the team is gathering. Greg comes on from the Duchess Theatre where he is bringing in his production of David Edgar’s Written on the Heart. That’s in addition to preparing both a stage production and a film of Julius Caesar and getting ready to run the RSC. Nonetheless he is lucid and focussed as we talk through the details of each day of the schedule.
Is Cassius going to be soaking wet in this scene? How much blood do we see when Caesar is stabbed? What time of day is it when Calphurnia tells Caesar of her dream? Are we firing any of the guns? What’s the lamp above the table in the proscriptions scene? How do we achieve Caesar’s ghost? And who exactly will play the dead bodies in the industrial fridges?
At the end, everything is (a little) clearer – or perhaps that’s just the effect of the wine. Something will undoubtedly turn up tomorrow to trip us up, but for the moment most things feel just about under control. Six days from now, let’s hope that the evening before the shoot will similarly feel like ‘a very pleasing night’.
Previously on the Julius Caesar blog:
‘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