‘Their battles are at hand’

21st April 2012

The last weekend. On Monday – Shakespeare’s birthday, in case you hadn’t noticed – we turn over on our BBC film of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Julius Caesar. Director Greg Doran finished the fourth week of rehearsals on Friday with a full run-through, and everyone seems to have felt happy at the end. Today and tomorrow the art department is hard at work transforming an abandoned shopping mall in north London into the streets of a post-colonial African city (that’s art director Matilda Wainwright’s location plan above). There are props and costumes and camera gear and much more on site. And something like an uneasy calm before the (controlled) storm that is any major shoot.

Greg estimates that the production will run around 135 minutes in the theatre. The scenes that we are scheduled to shoot in Stratford on the weekend of 1 and 2 Jun will, we believe, run around twenty-five minutes. So that means we have to achieve 110 minutes of finished film during the twelve days of the location shoot. Or around nine minutes each day. Which is, in case you are in any doubt, A LOT. Most standard television drama aims for five to six minutes a day; big movies reckon to geet two to three.

We are helped because we are staying in one place across the two weeks. The cast know their lines (they do, don’t they?) and their roles and relationships. Even so, it is an ambitious schedule – but one that we are confident about, in part because we have achieved this before on both Macbeths and on Hamlet. The scheduling, however, is crucial – and that is what First AD Kristian Dench has been working on across the last fortnight.

Greg is keen that, as much as is feasible, we film the play in the order of the text. To a significant degree we are adhering to this – and we are helped because we have all of the cast available to us across the full fortnight. But there are demands from the art department, concerns about needing to rehearse the assassination early, issues about when and how we can do lighting changes, and much more that mean that we have to group some scenes together and split others apart.

Unlike our previous Shakespeare shoots, when we have started on set at 8am and taken an hour for lunch, this tim we are planning to do ‘continuous days. Breakfast will be available from 6.30am (and for me this will mean leaving the house at around 5.10am) and then we will be on set at 7.30am. Lunch will be staggered, and everyone will be expected to take just 15 minutes or so, and we will work through until 5.30pm. By which time, of course, we will have captured our nine minutes

Many shoots like to start with a comparatively straightforward day – not too many cast, if possible, and a location that does not pose too many problems. This allows the crew to come together – remember, many of the thirty or so involved in making the images and sounds will not have worked with each other before – and to establish a way of operating before the real challenges kick in.

The first, in text terms, of the location scenes is the Act I Scene 2 two-hander btween Brutus and Cassius in which the latter starts to bring the former around to the idea of removing Caesar. The opening scene w will shoot in the theatre, and then the audience will be pulled into a film world for this exchange. The idea is that the pair peel away from the crowds and find a private space to talk. They are, we should imagine, in a space somewhere under the stadium where the Lupercal races are taking place.

Our setting for this is a space we have dubbed the ‘breezeblock corridor’, an anonymous area that has windows one side and space for the conversation to develop as the noble Romans walk along. Outside the windows large lamps have been set to pour bright sunlight through cracks and crannies in the painted panes. Some of the doors have been painted and fluorescent lights have been hung along the length. It feels both very real and like a stage awaiting its actors. Roll on that 5am alarm call on Monday morning.

Previously on the Julius Caesar blog:

‘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:

    If they’re only allowing you 15 minutes to wolf down your lunch, it had be pretty delicious.

    Remember to share with us the menu details, like you did before.

    Thanks, and good luck.

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