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Wait, wait, GO!

This week I spent three days acting in a film being made by some Ravensbourne students as their final project, which was quite fun.

I was playing a silent, staring, black-clad, evil man so I didn’t have any lines, or have to do anything emotionally challenging, but let’s say it still counts as “acting”.

When I last did any student films, about a decade ago, I think it was fairly common for them not to pay actors anything. Working for free in any creative area is more frowned upon these days and any ads for roles in the smallest productions tend to offer minimum wage. Mandy (previously the more sensibly-named Casting Call Pro) requires jobs to pay “National Living Wage” and also gives you, the actor, a chance to comment on whether you think it’s enough money.

However, it’s also possible for people casting productions to get in touch with actors directly, and occasionally the roles offered this way involve no pay — I assume this is a way around the system. This was one such role and, while I think people should be paid for their work, I was also quite happy to do it. The only internet-typing work I had on could be moved around the shooting dates; it’s a student film so it’s not like they’re aiming to make money from my free labour; the script was alright; the role didn’t require much preparation on my part; and some good-looking footage of Evil Phil would be handy for my showreel.

Thankfully I didn’t regret it and I had a good time. These days, when I’m at home for so much of the time, it’s nice to have an excuse to get out to unusual places and meet different people. Which sounds a bit desperate but here we are. One day was in an old industrial unit in Greenwich, another evening was in a school in Richmond, and my work ended with a morning at Marble Hill House, which was interesting in itself. The dozen or so crew were all very nice, and treated me well, and were reasonably efficient.

Being part of things like this makes me realise how much I wouldn’t want to make a film, even a short film like this. Or, rather, I can’t imagine the film I’d want to make enough that I’d be willing to go through the process of doing it. There’s so much to organise: crew, actors, locations, calendars, props, costumes, lighting, equipment, transport, food, editing, effects, and I don’t know what else. And then trying to keep all of that running smoothly and happily, to time and budget, on the shooting days, while also getting the required footage and performances.

And then to do all that as a student! Maybe I’m just more wary and cautious now and it would have seemed less daunting when I was younger and didn’t know what I didn’t know? But when I was at university one reason my final work involved painting was because I could do it on my own. I didn’t need to book time on the limited number of computers. I didn’t need to use the always-scary-to-me wood- or metal-work workshops. I didn’t need to talk to strangers. I didn’t need anyone’s help with anything. I can’t imagine 22-year-old me organising the shooting of a film. So I’m impressed by those who do.

I guess we can trace a line from me doing those paintings, through me liking making small websites, to me working as a solo freelance web developer. Do Kickstart my self-help book, Going Solo: Avoiding Hassle As A Route To Underachievement!

The downside about acting in these things (or maybe anything) is the amount of waiting around, often, in my limited experience, in quite chilly places. But so long as I’ve got something to read, and am warm enough, I’m not too bothered. I guess it helped that I didn’t have any lines to panic about forgetting.

One thought that occurred to me while hanging around was the similarities in rhythm between a film shoot and American football.

You could say the similarities start with all the preparations required before the big day — the memorising of playbooks or the planning of shots and schedules. But, that’s not particularly special; many things require lots of preparation.

The similarities seem clearer during the event. There’s a lot of waiting and preparing and planning in between each sudden burst of activity… which suddenly stops again before everything is reset, re-planned and ready for the quarterback/director to shout when everything’s ready to go again. Wait… wait… GO! Wait… wait… wait… GO!

OK, it’s a little tenuous but I only really noticed these similarities towards the end of a day of shooting, when the earlier rhythm starts to change. Despite firm time-keeping during the day by the first AD, proceedings often slip and by the end there’s a bit too much to do and everything becomes hurried. There’s less time to prepare each shot, everyone rushes back to positions and re-sets the equipment. “Still rolling!” “Let’s go again!”

Which, compared to the pace earlier in the day, feels very similar to American football towards the end of a game if the offensive team is one score away from winning, they have no time-outs remaining, and the clock is running down. There’s no more time for huddles between plays and the moment one play has ended the quarterback’s hurrying everyone back to the line of scrimmage to go again as quickly as possible. No time for substituting players, no time for plays to be relayed by the coaching staff, quick, quick!

As I said, I did have a lot of time on my hands.