‘Peace. Count the clock.’ [day 3]

25th April 2012

In front of camera, it’s a sweltering night in our nameless African city, some time after a thunderstorm has passed. The thunderstorm, however, seems to have taken up residence in the real world just above our location. It’s day 3 on the film shoot for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Julius Caesar – and it’s pouring with rain. Just dropping down. This has a number of consequences. One is that there’s a slight malaise that settles around everyone – no-one is quite as cheerful as they have been at other times (and this includes me). Then it’s an issue for the audio recording, because there is a distant patter of raindrops on the iron roof above where we are filming. But that’s one of those problems to which the time-honoured response can be given: ‘we can fix it in post’. Less easily sorted is the large hole in the ceiling right above where we want to film Caesar’s assassination. That, and the water that is pouring though.

The rain is relentless, coming and going with different degrees of force, but simply not letting up. In the ‘orchard’ the crew focus on Portia’s plea to Brutus after the conspirators have left. This is the key scene that we have to achieve today, and then towards the end of the day we will rehearse Caesar’s assassination. I find myself torn between properly watching the filming and attending to the river of e-mails that seems to pore into my mail box.

When I do get the chance to stand by a monitor listening to sound through earphones, I’m immediately struck by the pathos and love which Adjoa Andoh bring’s to the words Shakespeare wrote for Portia. This is a short scene but a hugely resonant one – and a crucial human counterpoint to the political drama that swirls through the first half of the play. As I watch Adjoa on this small screen and hear her through the headphones I’m ambushed by my eye moistening and a tear rolling down my cheek.

Our first rushes are available via an online server, and so it’s possible to get an initial idea of what it is that we’re filming. Rushes are invariably disappointing – there’s so much ‘dead’ stuff, no structure, no shape – but there’s enough here to suggest that this is going to turn out OK. Perhaps more so. But it’s never good to rais expectations, either for oneself or for people who might one day s this film.

What the rushes once again remind me about is the eccentric nature of what it is we are doing. We are not, despite the crew and the location and all the expenditure, we are not trying to make a Julius Caesar movie. (Not that the budget would allow us too.) Rather, we are setting out to make a filmed stage play – something that is taken out of the theatre, something that draws on a screen language from contemporary television and films, and something that has a precision and a focus that is simply not achievable with multiple camera shooting, but nonetheless something that is still grounded in a theatrical text, and with qualities – hard though they may be to define – that speak of the stage.

I know of no other production set-up that is trying to develop this form of the filmed stage play. And that’s no doubt in part (along with the fact that funding is so hard to achieve) that the idea of ‘theatrical’ has many negative connotations in cinema and television. ‘Theatrical’ has frequently been used, for example, as a dismissive adjective applied to much post-war British cinema. Yet there are important qualities to do in part with speech and performance that are associated with the ‘theatrical’. And the idea does not in any way preclude a focus on the visual and on meanings created by images.

As for the rest of the day… well, the rain eased off; the fishcakes at lunchtime were great (otherwise it was beef lasagne or a risotto); the hole in the ceiling didn’t get any bigger; I did some interviews with the behind-the-scenes crew who were here for the first time today; and once again we completed the scenes we had scheduled – so we’re keeping exacting to time. We even had  an hour at the end of the day (which we had planned) to rehearse the rather special way that Greg is planning to stage the assassination. Which, I have to say, looked rather thrilling.

Previously on the Julius Caesar blog:

‘When it is lighted, come and call me here’, 24 April
‘Tell us the manner of it’, 23 April
‘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


  1. Helene says:

    A “filmed stage play” … so, is this production going to be more like your “Hamlet”? Or your second “Macbeth”? (I’m trying to get the visuals in my head.)

    You speak of multiple camera shootings, so can we assume you’re using only one camera, like you did with “Hamlet,” as opposed to two, with “Macbeth”?

    And yummy on the risotto!

    • John Wyver says:

      Good question, Helene – and I’ll try to pick it up in the day 4 blog. But briefly it’s going to be more like Hamlet, I think, than Macbeth. Much of that is to do with Greg being th dirctor on both Julius Caesar and Hamlet.

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