‘Well, to our work alive’ [day 10]

3rd May 2012

We are three-quarters of the way through the Julius Caesar shoot, with just three days to go. Paterson Joseph (our wonderful Brutus) reflects that, for all the cold and discomfort of the shoot, we will most definitely miss this when it’s over. It is hard to explain why, but there really is nothing like a film shoot – perhaps it is something to do with a shared sense of purpose (at least when things are going well), with satisfaction at the collective creation of something, and with the smooth playing out of comforting processes and rituals. Against all this, the rain and the temperature and dodgy loos are as nothing.

This morning we are back with Act IV Scene 3 and Brutus’ encounter with Caesar’s ghost (seen in an early nineteenth century version above). One of the frustrations of doing this blog is that I am trying not to give away much (anything?) about how we are shooting these scenes – I don’t want to spoil in any way the film for our eventual audiences. But believe me, as I watched it being filmed just now, it was a true tingle-up-the-spine moment. Instead of any details today’s post continues with the tale of a complaint to the Guardian, after which I’ll try to reflect on quite what it is that a producer does on location.

The ‘other’ Shakespeares

As we make Julius Caesar for the BBC we are acutely aware of four other BBC films that are being made from Shakespeare’s History plays. These too are part of the Shakespeare Unlocked season, but are coming from the Drama department, whereas we are working for Arts. We are very aware too that those have enjoyed substantially bigger budgets, with co-production monies from NBC Universal and from Great Performances and WNET13 (who were our partners on Hamlet and the recent Macbeth). Inevitably, we feel a little competitive about these prestige projects.

On Tuesday the Guardian ran an article by Vicky Frost about this quartet of films, which opened with this:

It is more than 30 years since the BBC last screened Shakespeare’s history plays.

Which, of course, simply isn’t true – although it is all too typical of a general ignorance about the history of television drama (and which the Screen Plays research project aims to help counter). For the record Illuminations produced Deborah Warner’s Richard II for BBC TV in 1997 and John Caird directed the two Henry IV plays in 1995; there was also a live presentation of Richard II with Mark Rylance from Shakespeare’s Globe in 2003.

Without much sense that anything would happen, I e-mailed a correction for the Guardian‘s Readers’ Editor and received a thoughtful response within eighteen hours. Part of this mail ran:

Vicky Frost meant to say that it was 30 years since the BBC had dramatised Shakespeare’s history plays – rather than screening theatre shows of the plays. Would that latter description cover the two productions you mention?

Well, no, because the John Caird Henry IV was most certainly a dramatisation. So after a bit more back and forth, this is the form of the correction that the Readers’ Editor said would run:

An article looking ahead to the BBC’s Shakespeare season, which includes ­television productions of Richard II, Henry IV parts I and II, and Henry V, said it was more than 30 years since the BBC last screened Shakespeare’s ­history plays. That overlooked Henry IV parts I and II shown in 1995, Richard II in 1997, and a live presentation of ­Richard II from Shakespeare’s Globe in 2003.

Online, the correction in fact appears as follows (which is rather less precise):

This article was amended on 2 May 2012. The original said it was more than 30 years since the BBC last screened Shakespeare’s history plays. Several productions have been screened in that time, but this will be the first time four have been shown in one season.

And here’s how the article opens now:

It is more than 30 years since the BBC last screened a major cycle of Shakespeare’s history plays.

Which is, certainly, accurate (although the correction is not as full as the on promised) – and I have to say I’m impressed with the care and focus that the Guardian demonstrated.

A producer’s lot

People often ask me at parties (they don’t, of course, but it’s a way of introducing this topic) just what does a producer do? Which is particularly pertinent when you are on location. For here a producer can sometimes feel like a spare part. Everyone else, from the director up, has a specific role during a shoot, whereas much of what a producer does has already been done – or should have been.

The money has been raised (at least in theory), the details of the project have been agreed with the financiers (ditto), and the casting and crew appointments are complete. There is a great deal more to do during post-production and afterwards, especially in relation to the final cut and mix, and then the press work, distribution, marketing and more. But just at the moment? Well, a lot of it is about walking around and trying to be nice to people.

What else? Here is a list of some of the things that I have done this morning: I said good morning to people (this is a more important part of the day than it perhaps sounds), I had breakfast with the director, reviewed the schedule with the first AD, issued a contract, signed a cheque, watched parts of the shoot on the set monitor, answered e-mail, welcomed to the set the RSC stage management team, discussed production photos with the excellent Ellie Kurttz who is on set today, Tweeted…

… conducted a behind-the-scenes interview with an actor, saw the blocking of the next scene, played host to a set visit from a Time Out journalist and the RSC’s Head of Press, looked at the set in the ‘grungy kitchen’ where we are to film tomorrow, made some phone calls (including one to an agent), revised another contract, drunk coffee, eaten lunch (pork with stir fry followed by apple and cinnamon sponge pudding, answered e-mail (did I say that already?) and written this blog post…

… I also read William Ward’s review for The Arts Desk of La Compagnia I Termini’s production of Julius Caesar which has just played as part of the Globe to Globe Festival at Shakespeare’s Globe:

The idea of a stripped-down, deconstructed Shakespeare tragedy sounds great, but not when the play’s gut’s have been replaced by an incessant overload of meaningless actions and clambering around the stage as if in a padded cells. Sound and fury, signifying… not a great deal? Afraid so.

Later: it was another good day, I think, and we successfully completed the ‘tent’ scene and its surrounding elements. So that’s all of the major scenes in the can. Which means that w now have two days of short scenes with lots of moving from space to space. Another kind of challenge then. But I think the team is very up for it. Good night.

Previously on the Julius Caesar blog:

‘How many ages hence…’, 2 May
‘The Ides of March are come’, 30 April
‘Good words are better than bad strokes’, 27 April
‘Whoever knew the heavens threaten so?’, 26 April
‘Peace. Count the clock.’, 25 April
‘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:

    Three points:

    1) I understand about the camaraderie generated in a project like this. I remember feeling the same way in high school and college choral productions; it’s that adrenelin rush that gets you.

    2) Re The Guardian, it would be nice if reporters got all their ducks in a row before going to print. Frustrating, isn’t it.

    3) You, the actors and the rest of the production team should be proud that you’re doing so much on such a limited budget.

    And, lastly, I promise, John, that if I ever meet you at a party, the first question I ask will be, “What, exactly, do you do?”

    Keep on keepin’ us posted daily.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *