Diary of Filming – An Actress

The Victoriana logo (drawn by Georgina Greves)

I didn’t know there was a morning on a Saturday.

I’m really suffering for my art here. I got up at god-knows-o’clock in the morning to get to Falmouth Library for 8.45, I’m wearing cheap 3-inch heels that are shredding my feet, and it’s bucketing it down. At least my costume is vaguely dignified, unlike Arthur’s homeless Crimean veteran get-up.

We’re filming a trailer for Tim’s graphic novel, and the concept is people tangentially involved in the story talking about the main characters. My part as a young science student involves walking down a flight of stairs and getting doorstepped for my opinion. It’s fairly straightforward and for once I’ve learnt my lines (which, I will later discover, will make me extremely popular with the crew). Now I just have to act them.

After I’ve tried my costume on, and discovered that the lab coat is too big for my five-two frame, Paul conducts a few equipment checks and discovers that my height is problematic in even more ways. He mentions that it’s cutting me off too high, at which point I chirp: “I don’t mind you cutting off my boobs!” Silence. Kris suggests we keep that one for the outtakes.

Tim, who can’t make the morning filming, has kindly supplied refreshments, so I neck a couple of glasses of Pepsi Max to keep my sugar and caffeine levels up. This inspires the crew to think about how to make Arthur’s face convincingly grubby, and they suggest either Marmite or coffee. Arthur is not impressed.

We do a few dummy runs, and I’m sent to the top of the stairs, mumbling about my feet. I walk down, staring straight ahead and trying to look elegant without being snobby, then turn the corner and walk straight ahead. I reach my mark, and turn around… “Where am I looking?” The crew are standing at the other end of the lobby – this is the far shot. I’m told we’ll do a couple like this and then try some close-ups.

Shooting my scene (I'm the one in the white coat)

The crew discuss this for a few moments, looking up and down the wall behind them. They point to a plaque on the wall which is about head height for someone normal. I’m sent limping to the top of the stairs again, and I come down, somehow without falling. Round the corner, hit the mark, turn head: “Alice?” The rest of me follows my head and I reel off the lines without even thinking about it, including looking at my watch and swearing in Russian. I’m not wearing my glasses, so am doing everything by light and colour, but I can tell even from here that the crew are mildly surprised and a bit relieved. Me too. I usually need prompting, but muttering my lines to myself like a mad cat lady for a week has clearly paid off.

“That’s great,” Kris says, then points out that I’m talking a little quickly. I can’t tell, but then I am still hopped up on caffeine. With another whinge to a sympathetic Emily about my feet, I go to the top of the stairs, while behind me Arthur is sent out to buy some cheap instant coffee. Again, down the stairs, round the corner, mark, turn head, Alice, turn body, rest of lines, fumble with the damn pocket watch. Emily thinks I should keep the watch in my trouser pocket, but like a genius I’ve chosen trousers that are not only four inches too long (hence the heels), but lack any pockets whatsoever. The watch is clipped to my lapel, and I practice grabbing it without dropping it.

I’m talking too fast again apparently. I protest that if I try to speak slowly, I sound brain-damaged, but the crew are having none of it and I’m gently encouraged back up the stairs. Meanwhile, a member of the public comes in, huffs at us and stomps off upstairs, seemingly miffed at our filming. We do have permission and the library staff are aware that we’re here, so we’re not too fussed. Once more I come downstairs and deliver the lines, and somehow manage not to crack up as the irate woman shouts at some hapless library employee upstairs in the background. I find out later that this charming exchange is caught on film, and in the rushes is my brave and valiant attempt to act over her.

One last try. Up the stairs, where angry lady appears to have calmed down, and then down again while thinking talk slow talk slow talk slow. Welsh cadences, I decide. Not that I can do a convincing Welsh accent. I glide serenely across the hall, before doing the surprised thing and… oh, you know the routine by now. I certainly did. Except this time, I am deliberately slowing my speech down and it shows. Perfect walk, perfect lines and perfect watch grab. Now it’s time for my close-up.

A still of the footage from my close up

Again, Paul runs some equipment checks as Arthur returns with the coffee. That’s another 44p to the budget. I hope Kris is claiming this on expenses. I try not to be self-conscious about the close-up but I’m having real difficulty looking directly into the camera, partly because of my wonky vision. Continuity forbids me from putting my glasses on, so I put up with it without whinging for a change. I repeat the lines, remembering that I can’t use my body language so much because most of what you can see is my head and shoulders. “That’s good, but let’s try a more… well, you’re gossiping,” Paul says. I go for the full toastie method of acting, all cheese and ham, and do the glancing from side to side before putting my hand up and shielding my face from imaginary listeners. We do this a couple of times, the crew desperately trying to tone me down no doubt, and then I hear: “Cut.”

“OK, what now?”

“That’s it.”

“That’s it?” The whole thing has taken just over an hour. I am congratulated on my hard work and I feel very professional. Then Emily and I pop off to the loo, I slip back into my jeans and trainers – bliss! – and officially transform into crew. By the time we get back, the blokes have been at the coffee and are smearing brown goo all over Arthur’s face. When he’s ready, I’m asked to look after the bags in the lobby while everyone films outside. Once they’re gone, I call my house and tell my dad that I’m fine and all my nerves were for nothing.

Much later, Paul asks if I’d like to do some more filming work. I just shrug and say: “Um, maybe.”

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