by Marius Grose
The run into Christmas 2018 was particularly dark and dreary in Bristol, weather hanging heavier than a wet blanket on a washing line. I was feeling torpid and lacking a direction when I received a note. It was from my old friend and work colleague Steve. He had dropped me a line on Facebook, the usual thing ‘haven’t seen you for ages, let’s meet up’. But he also attached a coda to this message.
Steve is a very fine director of photography and for some time had been on the edge of a breakthrough into feature films. As it turned out he was contracted to make a micro-budget feature film, but he and the director had not found the right house interior to shoot the film. I smiled because I knew what he wanted. After a word with my partner, we decided to offer our house for the film shoot even though most people would think twice before letting the disruptive insanity of a film crew into their homes.
Steve came around the next day with Adam the writer/director. I could tell that he was keen. So I decided since I am a professional editor, I would offer my services. I had the kit to start putting rushes together while filming was on. This is not a service normally on offer during a shoot, but it could be of immense help to Steve and the crew to monitor the daily shoots. And I had always wanted to cut a feature.
Boy had my mood changed, from lying on a couch as darkness pulled down the day to working on a production in my own house! I was fired up to read the script, meet the production manager, the art department, and discuss the practicalities of having a crew of twenty-two plus a cast of four in the house – ten, eleven hours a day. I was in focus. I was in love once again – with storytelling.
We had to go to London the weekend before the shoot started and Steve asked if it was okay to bring some gear into the house. Coming back we found half the place crammed with lights, cables and all the paraphernalia needed to make a film. Yes, we realised that like Toto and Dorothy we were not in Kansas anymore.
Even now as I write I can feel myself smiling broadly. The art department dressed rooms with all sorts of props including a mummified dog. Lights transformed the house making it dark and mysterious. There was a frantic moment when a ventriloquist’s doll had not arrived. Adam had to race across the city to find a replacement. ‘I bet Spielberg never had to do that,’ was his comment on his return.
After the first two days of night shoots, the rushes started coming in and I got down to some serious editing. The room I worked in was filled with camera gear and at various points in the day with crew members and cast. I worked wedged in a corner of a room and, even in that tiny space, would occasionally find a sixty thousand pound camera stacked right behind my chair.
The days were long as we’d have to be up, showered and breakfasted before the crew turned up, which was usually around eight in the morning. Sometimes we didn’t get them all out of the place ’till eleven at night. Yet I was loving every minute of it, being part of a collective creative enterprise and seeing our house transformed. Stitching the rushes into coherent scenes to show the actors and the director how things were shaping up was a real buzz.
The house was full of film students or young people who had just graduated from film school as well as old hands like me and Steve. Every day I got to meet people like Les Dennis, Anthony Head, April Pearson and Nathan Clarke. When later, I was asked how we had survived such an invasion, I said we looked upon those three weeks as the longest-running house party ever.
When everyone had left, I carried on editing so I had a gentle glide down from the intensity of the shoot. I was able to give Adam a rough cut which he was able to work up into the finished version far quicker than scheduled. Although people say never let a film crew into your house, not one glass, plate or window was broken. Yes, there were a few superficial scuffs to the paintwork but those were remedied in a moment. Would we do it again? Probably not. Yet I want to keep the memory of this once in a lifetime experience.