Writings

‘Lights, camera, action’? More like ‘eat, drink and be merry.’

As I don’t currently make any money from writing, I need to have a day job. I have mentioned before about my previous work history, but when I quit my full-time job I decided that I wanted to pursue acting again. When I was 8 or 9 (I think), I asked my parents if I could go to stage school. At the time I had aspirations to be a Blue Peter presenter as they did so many exciting things. While I have moved on from that plan now, I still very much enjoy acting. As I grew up, I went to auditions and had a few days filming here and there.

Look at eager little 11 year old me.
Look at eager little 11 year old me.

Once I got to 19 I had to leave my agency due to me now being an adult. As I was at university I thought it would be a good plan to take a break so I could study. Then, when it came to finding a new agency once I graduated, I was completely lost. By chance, that year a TV drama came to film some shots on my parent’s farm. It was quite the spectacle with a lot of my extended family coming to watch. My mum took it upon herself to ask one of the directors if I could do something in the background, as I was too shy ask myself. Before I knew it I was costumed up and given a cheese to carry. At the end of the day, with my mum’s prompting, I asked their casting director what agency they used. He rang them up right there and then to recommend me. From there I was an extra (or support artist to those in the biz!) once or twice a year, as I was still working full time. The past month I have done four days of filming and a lot of networking – I just need to get around to actually joining the other agencies. However, everyone always wants to know what I do. Technically, photos and talking about the production aren’t allowed due to ‘spoilers’. Therefore, I am going to be verrrrry careful not to name anything, or actually reveal anything that could get me in trouble. However, I am pretty sure everyone knows what the programme is anyway.

G woke me up with a cup of tea.
“I’ll snooze my alarm, then it will be cool enough to drink.” I murmur before conking out again. After snoozing twice more, the tea was far from hot, but as I sat up I took a few sips. Once it reached the nauseating temperature of being Too Cold, I showered and dressed, my outfit picked out the night before. As it was a Monday shoot, wardrobe had called me before the weekend.

Although I was grateful for the slightly later call time of 9.15, traffic would be worse and I would miss breakfast. My rumbling stomach as I drove along the M25 was an auditory reminder of this. I reached over and fumbled in my bag for my emergency protein bar. Pulling it out, I proceeded to break bits of to nibble surreptitiously.

The traffic wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be and I was making good time, however that changed as soon as I left the motorway. I tried hard to hold the map in my head but as I passed through the town, the image slipped further and further away from my conscious memory. I pulled over to look up the postcode on my phone.
“What are you doing you stupid piece of machinery!” I whined at the inanimate object as it failed to complete the search. “You have signal and 3G, what is your problem?”  Sighing, I pulled off again.
“I guess I’ll have to rely on my sense of direction.”

I got a bit lost, but I made it just in time. Parking, I wandered over to the dining car to await further instructions with the other SAs. After not to long the 3rd assistant director, James, came to sign us in. He recognised me, handing me the correct chit without needing to ask my name. He then sent us off to costume.

I was more prepared this time, with thermals and a waterproof coat. I got frozen and drenched on last week’s shoot. With the sun poking through the cloud and drizzle, today promised to be a lot warmer. I pulled on my ski socks gratefully however, as the boots I was provided were on the roomer side. I then headed back to the dining car to wait.

Fueled with tea and biscuits, I sat down opposite one of the other Support Artists, preparing myself for aimless small talk. Thankfully, she seemed content to be quiet so I pulled out my kindle and began to read.

Tea, biscuits and a good book - is there anything better?
Tea, biscuits and a good book – is there anything better?

I had been on base for an hour and half before we were taken to location, a few minutes down the road. Upon arrival, we were all bundled off the minibus to walk the rest of the way. We all huddled under a gazebo that had been set up to protect the tea table from the rain. As we continued to wait, we crowded around the table, picking at the pastries, biscuits, and fruit. Something about all the standing around makes one really quite hungry.

All the SAs were called onto set before too long and the scene was complete without a hitch. Once again, I was amazed at the micro directing. It is primarily James’ job to direct the SAs, filling the background with activity that doesn’t detract from the main cast. However, the main director still moved me 6 inches one way, before back again 3 inches. Not that I minded; rather the whole process fascinates me.

Just past one, we all headed back to base for lunch and once again the food was fab. Though I went for the vegetable korma, I looked sadly at the salad table through the window of the dining bus. The salads looked particularly nice today and it was with some regret that I picked the cauliflower out of my curry.

Catering is possibly the best part.
Catering is possibly the best part.

After eating, I pulled out my kindle again as my group of SAs weren’t needed for the next scene. We didn’t head back to location until 3, and even then it was a while before we were back on set. As we sat around on a mostly dry patch of grass, the sun shining brightly overhead, I listened to the occasional roar of a plane overhead and the ripple of leaves when the wind gusted, all the while reading.
I love my job, I thought happily.

Once we were back on set James, having given direction to the other SAs, came over to me.
“So, walk around here on action, talk to that guy, then put the case down. Then open it and… um…”
“Make it up?” I proffered.
“Pretty much yeah!” he smiled at me. He seemed happy that I knew what I was doing. However, the confidence I had in myself of being able to ‘make it up’ was far from what I portrayed to him.
What the hell am I doing? I am going to screw this scene up. I have no idea what I am doing. Oh my god, I will get told never to come back…
“Action!” The director called. I walked with a confidence that I did not feel. Although my activity was tweaked a few times here and there by James, it was nothing I had done wrong. Once the scene was completed in just a few takes, I breathed a sigh of relief; I hadn’t screwed it up.

“Thank goodness!” I said to one of the other SAs as we headed off set, “I really need to pee!” I started towards the toilet when James called me over.
“Anna, I want you on this next scene.” He showed me the script, which needed an SA to interact with a member of the main cast.
“No problem.” I smiled. Well there goes my toilet break, I thought sadly.
“I selected Anna for this bit,” James said to the 2nd assistant director, “she’s really confident.”
I felt my eye twitch.  Confident? Me? I must be a good actress if I can fool them that much!
While the main cast rehearsed the scene, I stood nearby in case the director wanted me. I watched the ‘private’ rehearsal, for just the main cast, then the ‘crew’ rehearsal. I never normally got to be a part of this process, so I was very interested, though felt very out of place as I stood there. Clutching my prop case, I felt like a little girl on her first day of school clutching her lunchbox.

I swear there is a set through those trees.

“Right Anna,” said James once the full rehearsal was about to start. “You are going to get a cue, then you’ll call out ‘Sir’. Alright?”
“Yup!” I said. Holy crap. I have a lot to screw up here.
As I acted in the background, I watched the lady for my cue carefully. With my hood up and away from the main cast as I was, I could not hear the dialogue at all.
“Anna?” someone called, “Your line?”
“I didn’t get a cue!” I panicked
“Nah we didn’t get the cue.” The SA next to me agreed. The lady who was supposed to have cued me gave an apologetic smile and we started the scene again.
“Thank god,” I whispered to the other SA, “it wasn’t just me!” The next time I got the cue on time.
“Sir?” I called out, turning to the main cast member.
G is so going to mock me for this, I thought as I heard my own voice, I sound so posh.
After the action was shifted around a bit, we went for another take. My eyes darted to the SA next to me as we continued our mimed dialogue. They darted back and saw the lady waving her arms rapidly. Feck.
“Sir!” I called. My cue missed, I couldn’t disguise the panic in my voice. My face was red for the whole rest of the take.
Now they really won’t ask me back. I’ll get told off and I’ll cry, I’ll…
“Make sure you look at me the whole time Anna, it’s really quick after they walk in.” the lady said to me, but she was nice and no one else mentioned it.
“Yeah, sorry!” I grimaced. I turned back to the SA next to me. “I swear all I did was blink!” I laughed to him, and he laughed with me.
Thank god.

My ‘I’m not taking a photo, just trying to get signal’ pose.

“We’ll do the close ups tomorrow.” I heard someone say. “That’s a wrap.” Everyone hurried back to the minibus. Tired, I watched the woods go past the window on the short journey.
If I did proper acting roles, I reflected, I’d have to read and memories lines in between takes. Then I wouldn’t be able to read books. Wow did I pick a job unsuited for someone so shy and awkward.

Back at base, I changed out of costume and handed it back. Then I went to find James to give him my chit.
“You with us again Anna?” he asked.
“Nothing booked in, no.” I replied, shaking my head.
“That’s a shame, you are really competent.” I went home with a smile on my face. Though when I thought about it later, I just wondered how bad their other SAs must be.

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