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netribution > features > interview with ben blaine > page two

How did you get permission to shoot on the tube?
I asked for it. Rang up London Underground's head office and spoke to the charming Kate Blow who read the script, got rid of the bits she didn't like and then gave us a wonderful letter of general permission which is sort of like diplomatic immunity or the keys to a city. We then asked all the Station Managers of the various stations we wanted to film in and
persuaded them to let us.

How co-operative were the staff?
Some were very co-operative. Kathleen Hart at Old Street was fantastic. We wanted to film in a bit of the station that wasn't actually Underground property (the WAGN lines connected to it) and so she couldn't give us permission to use it - instead she rang up WAGN and arranged it all for us!
Some were not very co-operative. The DSM at Russell Square told us we couldn't film on a sunday afternoon because that's the busiest time of the week "I mean we have people coming in here, they've had a bit to eat..."
Generally the uncooperative ones could be persuaded to let us film. No one told the night shift at Finsbury Park that we were meant to be there, leaving me arguing with the guy at 2am for an age whilst the crew peered in anxiously through his office window. On the whole though the staff were excellent and supportive, once they saw the HO had given permission. Dick Luckings at Holborn was really good to us and so was Neil Boxford-Faulkner who came with us at Baker Street and winded some guy who was about to walk into shot.

How did you get around the problem of using the public as extras?
We cheated! Yeah originally the plan really was that all of the people the angel talks about would be ordinary people who didn't realise we were filming them. Yes we were that stupid. Truth is you just don't get that lucky. To get the chain of meeting thing that happens in the film with one person meeting another and another you need to see some sort of reaction - to get the camera in the right place three times in a row is just not going to happen. Deb Den is Sophie, Victoria is Louise. The packed commuter train is packed out largely with Alex's shoulder and me and Phil with our backs to the camera. Pat plays Beth Green, Robin mad Kirkley plays Sir.Colin Dale, Tom is the bloke who's name I've forgotten and Katie is the girl who remembers him. You'll also see Jim Waller's HUGE hair and Jo's fiancee's shoulder. We do of course still use the general public, but either without them knowing or to get a reaction from them, like when Keith pops back into reality. We had to shoot that three times because the first two no one really batted an eye lid as he sank to his knees and started to scream. The only problem we really had with it all was at Baker Street when Keith jokingly told a couple of school kids that we were filming Hollyoaks and that he as a new regular character. We did a couple of takes, turned round and the corridor was packed was teenagers staring at us and saying "You really doing Hollyoaks? Can I be in it?"

How would you advise seeking permission to shoot on the underground?
Ring up. Ask. Ask first, they can only say no. We were lucky. We wanted to do a pretty mainstreamy sort of film so there was no sex or drugs or fights. They made us cut out any reference to buskers from the script. Buskers, litter, graffiti and a bit when the angel slides down an escalator, which is fair enough I suppose. The film is full of buskers and litter though, which is the good thing. There's quite a lot of the film that we did shoot on the fly without asking or having been told not to.

All the footage at Russell Square is shot without permission, as is all the stuff actually onboard trains (because we didn't know who to ask) and there's a bit at Mornington Crescent that we actually filmed whilst I was arguing with the DSM about whether it was fair to call the police or not. Ask. If they say no, shoot it anyway, that's what I'd say. But if you ask then they should at least give you reasons why not, which is important because they might highlight something you hadn't thought of like - it's impossible to shoot this, it's lethal to shoot this, stuff like that. Never use lights on the platform and stay away from the tracks - never put passengers or staff in danger. Putting on my public information hat I'd say shoot on the fly because most public bodies do get unnecessarily uptight about the dangers involved but don't do anything stupid that causes distress to other people or puts them in danger because that's just not fair.What a nice guy I am.

Were there any studio shots?
I suppose the weatherman shot is sort of studio. We put up a slide screen and shot Tom standing in front of that. That's in our house so it's sort of studio.

How long was the shoot?
Two weekends. The last in January. Then another day about three months later with full cast and stuff to do the redesigned ending (we had big trouble with the ending). In between them it's just some bits and bobs of people shooting. Just wandering about filming things that look good, filming crowds and stuff. It's really freeing having our own camera and shooting on DV. I know I must sound like one of those wild eyed video enthusiasts you always get on low budget forums boring on and on about how the future is all one's and naughts but it is easier on video. We've got about nine hours footage for this film. NINE HOURS for 18 minutes! Most of that stuff is just people, just weird, bearded, wonderful people walking through tunnels. I love it.

In the editing you got to notice things. I found people walking out of one shot and turning up later somewhere else reading a book. All the stuff in the film about how the tube brings people together and how you can glimpse other people's lives is totally true.

How much did the film cost and how did you keep that figure to a minimum?
I say the film cost £1,000. Accountancy wise to get the film completed and edited together it cost eight hundred and something but I always round up to cover video copies and posters and stuff. The sum would raise from a grand if we did loads of publicity but we're not sure where to do it!
We did spend about £2,500 on our camera and, er, buckets on our G4 edit suite but I don't include this because whilst Russell was the first project that they were both used for neither was bought for Russell and both are still in use now (thank god). These are Charlie expenses not Russell expenses. That said it is because we had our own camera and edit suite that we were able to keep the costs low!
How else did we do it?
Well we paid only expenses (cruel but there we go). We did most of the jobs ourselves (so I don't feel so bad about paying only expenses. Chris and I weren't paid expenses, we weren't paid anything!) We organised the underground stuff ourselves (free, as opposed to getting
Kate Blow to sort it all out). The music and dubbing was recorded at Robin Kirkley's studio in Barnet which was run by Keith Malin and which, the day after we finished dubbing, was sold from under Keith's nose by mad Robin Mc.Mad the crazy sod. Either way though the music and dubbing was done for free. I think that's it really.
Yeah the only costs were tape stock, dinner, transport, wings (about fifty quid and I stuck the feathers on myself) er, don't know, that's it.

On what equipment did you edit the final piece?
We edited it all on our G4. Master to mini DV. We'll get some Beta's duped for theatrical screening (if we get any!). We're self taught editors but, I mean the technical side of editing is easy. It's point and press on computer, that's easy! As for the narrative side of it, the pacing and all the rest, I don't know - you make mistakes, you do it better. We tinkered with the film for months before we were happy. I guess we have a decent working relationship with pacing from writing screenplays.

Did you use artificial lighting?
Yeah. There's a scene when they go down this really long flight of steps. We had a torch and a piece of gold card held under the camera so that when the angel reached the bottom of the steps she gets this reflective glow and then we turned the light off when Keith gets down there so he doesn't.
That's it for lighting. We couldn't have used it, it would have taken too long to set up and made the whole shoot impractical.

When did you shoot the empty train and platform scenes?
Night time mainly. The train is heading for Cockfosters at about eleven on a sunday. I've travelled that route loads in the past and I knew it'd be empty. Some of it though is filmed on the WAGN platforms and tunnels at Old street on a Sunday when they're closed. We also used a disused platform at Holborn for one shot but it's a close up of her watch so you wouldn't really notice.

How did you achieve the 'weatherman' shot?
We got Tom to put his suit on and put him in front of a white slide projector screen and pretend to be a weatherman. Then we recorded the weather off the telly and did a basic sort of blue screen type thing to put Tom over the weather girl. Chris then did a bit of painting to tidy up the edges and we put the result to tape and then reshot it playing through our telly again to get that recorded off the telly feel.

How was the cctv shot of the 'accident' achieved?
Painting. Pure and simple. We've got commotion on our Mac so Chris just cut Keith out of a different shot and pasted him onto the screen. He had to colour him in a bit because he's actually facing the wrong way so Chris reduced him to a silhouette. I'm really chuffed you noticed it 'cos it took ages and no one else has ever commented on it.

How did you shoot the B&W/colour shots?
Painting. We shot the whole thing in colour and then just made all the gap bits black and white (that's really easy). Then using commotion Chris recoloured certain bits of the picture for the cross over sections. It's pretty simple because you're using exactly the same footage, you're returning colour as opposed to inventing it.

What would you have done with a much larger budget?
Er gosh. Never thought about it. Eaten better. Paid everybody buckets. Don't know. We don't have a larger budget so we try to limit our heads to what is doable so that we do it rather than sit around wishing we had millions. I'd do something with the sound. I'm worried about the sound. We've put on quite a few effects to the sound and it sounds OK on the telly but I'm worried about how it will all sound through a big system.
We were going to have more music. The title music is actually meant to be a rough outline Keith did for us. We were going to pull in some favours from strings players and get a little quartet set up in Robin's studio and have all live musicians. This wouldn't have required a larger budget if Robin hadn't sold the studio. Now we'd need studio time so that'd be quite pricey.
I don't know. Other than that I think I'm pretty satisfied with the end result. I wouldn't recast. Jo and Keith are perfect. I mean Keith is playing himself sort of, I wrote it for him so he was always going to be perfect but Jo is just a gift from the Gods. She's exactly what I had in mind.
There were times when we were shooting when I'd think "Chris I wish we could shut down the tube for the day and get these people out of shot" or "I wish we could film from right up here and lower the crane down onto the platform" but now it's over I'm happy with what it is. I'd probably like a large budget now to get copies struck on film from the beta dupes. There are a great many film festivals that are just not interested in anything that is not a film in the purest sense of the word.

What are you working on now?
Right now we're working on "Burnt Bernard" a short comedy about a guy who invites all of his old friends for a dinner party, including his imaginary friend Burnt Bernard. I think it's great. I think it's really great. I also hate it. So that's a perfectly normal working curve for me. We're shooting in September and the main part isn't cast yet. After that who knows...the plan is that we'll eventually have so many really good shorts that no one will be able to turn us away, but I'll believe that when it happens!
I guess we'll just keep on going. We're always interested to hear from people and we're quite keen to get our equipment used more often. It's been a real struggle to get to the point where we're at today and when you look at that point, there's nothing to write home about! I mean no one's ever heard of us! So we know what it's like to be struggling because we still are, so we're more than happy to help others who are struggling with us.


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