Tag Archives: phase 2 filming

London: Farewell

It feels wrong to leave London behind without saying goodbye, though I don’t have any other production notes for you.

I tend to take my last look at places through airplane windows with eyes so blurred by tears that the world is a soft smear of gray, green, and blue. This time was no exception.

As a city, London is the queen of my heart. I’ve seen her in every season, been there for the sake of tourism, for shows, for simple living, and just passing through. This is the first time I worked in London, and I worked hard. A city has a different face when you’re there for work, deeper and far less forgiving. It becomes part of the scaffolding of your life, if temporarily, both nurturer and antagonist.

This London, I loved best of all.

And it’s the same with people. When you live and work with others, there’s a sudden, unavoidable intimacy you gain. You have to do the “whose turn is it to use the bathroom” dance and become deeply concerned by the state of their blisters and stomachs, hour by hour. However temporarily, you become both less and more than a family, washing each other’s dishes and working toward a common goal.

It was a pleasure and a profound honor to share my life with Seraphina, Sherie, and Carrie for nearly two weeks. It says amazing things about their creativity, resourcefulness, and open heartedness that I wish it had lasted longer and I was still in that little London flat with them even now.

I dearly hope that this isn’t the last time we get to work together. We were fabulous, my darlings, utterly fabulous. I wouldn’t place money on any obstacle in our way. And our project isn’t done yet, not by a long shot. We did an impressive amount of filming in London, but there are still a few stragglers to collect, and a bit of filming to do in LA as well. And then of course, there’s a film to be cut from the whole cloth of hour upon hour of interviews.

I look forward to telling you more about those adventures as they happen.

But for now it’s goodbye, however temporarily. My last look at London was the same watery blur as always, but I wasn’t searching for the city through my tears this time. I was trying to see through the roof of Heathrow, to a table in one of the horribly overpriced restaurants where my friends had hunkered down to wait for their flight. Even now, as I settle back into the routine of work and writing, fighting my way through Houston’s crowded humidity, I feel like I’m still looking. I hope I’ll catch sight of them soon.

Rachael Acks
Executive Producer

London: Day 12

This was our last full day in London (tomorrow, we’ll spend the majority of our remaining time in Heathrow, which isn’t the most exciting prospect) and it ended up being non-stop gogogo.

I’ll admit, I was up way too late last night watching The Spirit of ’45 but the documentary just gripped me. It’s not one you just go in half an hour and call it good because you feel like you’ve got the gist. The film kept me awake for all ninety-plus minutes, and when it was done I felt like I ought to run out into the street and shout about how much bullshit capitalism is, quite possibly while waving a flag.

So yeah, didn’t sleep too well, and then I had to drag my butt out of bed a little more than four hours later so I could go pick up a couple more SD cards for the cameras; we were getting short on memory, and we had three interviews scheduled.

Our first interview was with Ken Loach, who is really a legend of British film. Quite literally everyone we interviewed up until today mentioned his name as a British filmmaker who had inspired them. We were all excited and a little bit terrified to meet him, I think. But as soon as he walked into the room, I felt like any subconscious expectations turned on their head. He was quiet, self-effacing, and rather grandfatherly. You can also sense in him a solid love of people and devotion to truth that plainly moves him to tell the stories he does.

For all his (mostly) soft-spoken words, Ken was quite impassioned when he spoke about the stories of ordinary people and their importance. He had quite a lot to say about what he sees as the problems in current American cinema (which often features a “pornography of wealth and a pornography of violence”), and questions of class (“don’t call them ‘Lord,’ it’s bad for them”). The only time I heard him raise his voice at all (which is really to say he spoke a bit louder; he certainly didn’t shout) was when we asked him about the negative reception some of his own movies (eg: The Wind That Shakes the Barley) received when they were perceived to show the ruling class in a negative light. Through it all, in listening to him speak I felt the same spirit that animated The Spirit of ’45.

There are  really no words to express the profound respect I feel for Ken Loach and his art.

After speaking with Ken, tea was necessary to calm down a bit. All the good the tea did was quickly reversed when last minute we were able to arrange to speak with someone from the BFI… unfortunately at the same time we were to be interviewing Nev Pierce. Two unit transformation, go go!

I stayed at the flat with Sherie to interview Nev, who was delightful. I regret I didn’t fully enjoy his company until the interview had officially ended, because I was too busy trying not to soil my shorts in terror at having to not only monitor the sound, but also be in charge of the big camera. I don’t think I brought shame on my ancestors, however.

Nev was just generally charming, and a bit different to speak with because he’s not a producer or director (most of the people we’ve talked to so far are one of the two). Nev is Editor-at-large for Empire, so he’s got a bit of a different perspective. What I found most interesting, however, was when we asked him which British filmmakers he’s found inspirational. He said that the reason he knows as much as he does about British cinema is because the love that American directors have for it really motivated him to learn more. It’s an interesting thought, and one that we’ll hopefully get a chance to discuss with some Americans in the near future.

And then I got to speak with Nev about superhero movies because why not. Since that isn’t relevant to the documentary, I’m just going to smile smugly to myself about it.

The first unit got back to home base not long after Nev had to hurry out the door (we made him late with our talking, I’m afraid) and let us know that the BFI filming went well. They pretty much focused on the good cultural work BFI does in restoring and archiving British films. I’m looking forward to seeing that footage at some point.

Then, finally, it was time for our last interview of the day and of the trip. We had Dan Poole, who is an actor and just co-produced and directed a documentary called Muse of Fire. (It’s about Shakespeare and I want to see it, appropriately enough, like burning.) Obviously, his experience with putting together a documentary and bringing it all the way into distribution was of relevant interest to us. He also had a bit to say about the torturous path of trying to get anything financed, which sounds like a never-ending nightmare.

After bidding Dan a fond farewell, I wish I could say there was champagne and partying to celebrate the official end of our filming in London: In just ten days we filmed 15 interviews and 4 red carpets. But to be honest, we’re all too darn tired to expend the energy on feeling victorious. We managed to get ourselves packed up and fed on some excellent Indian take-out. Now I think the true reward will be an early and hopefully peaceful night, since it’s off to Heathrow bright and early tomorrow.

Rachael Acks
Executive Producer

London: Day 11

Today was another one interview day, and then some more night exteriors. Since the interview wasn’t scheduled until late afternoon/early evening, I got to go for a run this morning, all the way down to the Thames and then a little along the bank. (Some day, I want to go to the crappy town where I’m not the slowest runner. London is definitely not that town.) It was an absolutely gorgeous day for it, with a cool breeze giving the river’s surface some texture, plenty of sun, and a few fluffy clouds drifting along.

Even better, I got to go on a little extracurricular trip to the BFI bookstore with our lovely director. I managed to escape with only seven books, and four of those totally don’t count because they’re bound screenplays. (No really, they don’t count. It’s a rule. Look it up.)

Our interview of the day was Julian Petley, who is a professor of screen media at Brunel University. Julian’s area is media regulation, particularly censorship, which is a topic important to filmmaking. He had a lot to say about the 2011 abolition of the UK Film Council (its former responsibilities were rolled onto BFI and BFI had its budget cut as a bonus) and other programs dismantled by previous governments. He also spoke at fascinating and worrying length about problems with British journalism and the connection to the proposed censorship of the internet in this country. Another subject we touched on was the problem of distribution, which is something that deeply affects films (and controls if they will ever be seen!) but is often forgotten in the discussion.

And then we all went and had dinner, so we got to speak with him even more. About horror movies, among other things. Julian is the only one of our interviewees who has had much time for extra discussion, and I loved every minute of being able to speak with him. He’s intelligent and ferocious (in a particularly British way).

After bidding goodbye to Julian, we did some more night shooting, this time at Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. We waited for it to get a bit late before heading out to the locations so there wasn’t quite the normal crush of people there. It was still crowded, for certain, but if nothing else we only had two random people getting up in the shot and waving. Not bad, I guess.


We’re getting down to the wire! Tomorrow is going to be absolutely crazy–we have three interviews scheduled, like we did on our first day of shooting. Going out with a bang, I suppose. I should try to get to bed since we have an early morning, but I’m going to try to watch a bit of The Spirit of ’45 to get ready for tomorrow before I crap out entirely.

Rachael Acks
Executive Producer

London: Day 10

Only one interview today as well, but it was really the interview to end all interviews: Lord David Puttnam.

Name doesn’t ring any bells? Try thinking about Chariots of Fire or Local Hero or The Killing Fields; he produced these and many more.

This was an amazing interview. To begin with, we met Lord Puttnam at his offices. Not quite in Parliament, but one of the buildings across the street. We had to have all of our belongings scanned, and were photographed for our visitor badges. (Carrie even managed to photobomb mine.) Just the whole security process wound us all up and left us nervous, because it did underline the idea that we were going to meet with someone important.

Lord Puttnam himself is avuncular, eminently accessible, and jolly. He breezed in the door to the room where we’d set up and really put everyone at ease. We chatted a bit about tattoos while I was getting him wired for sound. And he was wearing lilac-colored socks and a very nice pair of black patent leather oxfords.

In a week plus of fascinating interviews, his still stood out. As one might expect, he was incredibly well-spoken and thoughtful–but also extremely hopeful. He has a lot of hope about the state of the art and where things might be going in the future. Though not everything was hopeful; he told us that he was glad he’d gotten out of the industry when he had because more and more, he’d been asked who would be starring in a given movie, when he feels that’s really one of the last questions that needs to be answered. (And here I think now about how movies are often referred to as “vehicles” for particular actors, which makes me wonder if they’re falling down on their job being the vehicles of a darn good story.) When we asked our standard question about what makes British film distinctive, he said it was the internal values. The specific value he named for us was fairness; the British are always very concerned with what is fair, even if they don’t necessary then act on it.

I could really go on and on about his interview. Let me just say you ought to look forward to seeing the finished documentary even more than you were.

After the interview we headed back to home base to stow our equipment and were put in a holding pattern for most of the afternoon. Then I ordered us in some Chinese delivery and there was an unfortunate incident that involved “crispy fried seaweed.” Take my advice. Do not trust this stuff, ever. You might as well drink cooking oil straight out of the bottle.

We were hoping to make it to BFI tonight in time to catch a film or at least hit the book shop, but neither of those things were to be. Instead we sat in the coffee shop inside the building and waited for the rain to please act a little less schizophrenic (random periods of extremely heavy rain, heavy enough to hear it approaching and cause dismayed shouts of “Look out!”) whilst drinking tea. Apparently today was the 50th anniversary of the National Theater, and so we were quite randomly treated to a fireworks display.

BXNo_mIIEAA3hYSThe walk home was thankfully not as rainy as it could have been. I think we might take another shot at the BFI tomorrow, when things will hopefully be open. But I relished the chance to have another night walk through London. I miss this city desperately whenever I leave.

Rachael Acks
Executive Producer

London: Day 9

Yes, you might have noticed that I missed a day. That was because Sunday was a day of rest. Or, if you’re me, a day of going out with my friend the random Swede and getting a bit hammered at the pub. Carrie took over and blogged yesterday, so if you haven’t read that yet, you ought to.

Today was Monday, and as Monday is wont to do, it saw us getting back to work. We had one interview today: Jeremy Thomas. We went to him at his HanWay Films offices, where we interviewed him as he was ensconced comfortably on a blue couch that was perhaps the lowest to the floor I’ve ever seen that particular furniture go. I took my turn holding the boom mic, which proved more challenging than I’d like to admit because of my chronic shoulder problems. I might be the spider-wrangling designated man of our temporary household, but I guess I can’t win them all.

The thing that struck me most about Jeremy Thomas’s interview was he was perhaps the first British film industry person with whom we’d spoken who didn’t feel there was a direct and detrimental conflict between Hollywood and the British film industry. We’re going to have some excellent diversity of opinion in this film, about which I’m very excited. (One of Jeremy Thomas’s very relevant recent projects is the film Only Lovers Left Alive, which had a significant problem finding British investors.)

After we’d finished with the gracious and fascinating Mr. Thomas, we went back to home base for a few hours to let the worst of the rush hour tube and foot traffic calm down. Getting home was a real adventure, and even moreso for me since I was trying to wrangle a large duffle bag containing an expensive piece of rental equipment. Not something I want to do again, if it all possible.

Once it had gotten nice and dark outside, we ventured to the South Bank area to do some exterior shooting.


It felt like a perfect autumn evening to wander a bit, then pause while the digital camera recorded. As we walked along the bank of the Thames, I spotted an older gentleman sitting on a park bench, his shoes off and set next to him. He paddled his stocking feet in the night breeze like it was a cool stream on a summer’s day. I really wanted to join him.

I’m perhaps a bit more well-traveled than your average American because I’ve been very lucky, but London is still the love of my life. I like her best of all at night, and she did not disappoint.

Rachael Acks
Executive Producer

London: Day 7

Today was also a short day, which I appreciated. It meant I got to take a nice long run in the afternoon. And then I got lost while out on my run, because London. I ended up doing about 3.5 miles and had a nice wander around the area (dodging pedestrians and trotting very slowly past the tiny but very green parks), so no complaints there. I’m incredibly grateful for the maps that have been posted around some of the larger intersections for tourists, otherwise I might still be out there because I did the smartest thing ever and didn’t take my phone with me. (The best thing about these maps is that the “you are here” symbol is an arrow oriented to point the way you are currently facing as you read the map. This is genius.)

Thankfully, I made it back to the flat in time to peel off my disturbingly sweaty bandanna, drink a bunch of water, and then get all dappered up for our last red carpet of this round of filming: Only Lovers Left Alive. Things got started a bit late at the red carpet, but that was cool since we were standing next to the crew from XTV Online. After agreeing amongst ourselves to not be the kind of jerks that steal other peoples’ questions, we had a lovely conversation while we waited for the only person giving interviews–Tom Hiddleston–to get to us.

Each team got to ask Tom one question, so it went by extremely quickly. As you’d imagine, he was gracious and nice, and told us why in particular the LFF is important to him.

(And I still can go through life saying I haven’t met Tom Hiddleston, since I was hiding behind the camera the entire time. I get designated to operate the camera, you see, because I fulfill the valuable function of being the tallest person on our crew.)

After Tom had been whisked away in to the Odeon, we hung around for the next arrivals, the director and producer for Broadway Idiot. We were able to speak with Doug Hamilton (the director) and Ira Pittelman (producer) at relative length considering it was a red carpet. While of course their documentary isn’t a British film, they were happy to answer questions about being in London and the LFF, as well as what challenges they faced putting their production together. This is actually Ira’s first film, though he’s done quite a few Broadway productions.

Then to celebrate no more red carpets, I had some excellent Chinese food. And now I’m sitting around and blogging, wishing I could officially divorce my feet. What have you done to me, London? I only want to love you.

Rachael Acks
Executive Producer

London: Day 6

Today was a relatively short day, work-wise. We had some much-needed rest in the morning, and woke up to news in the afternoon that we’d gotten approval to film the red carpets for 12 Years a Slave and Locke. Excitement! We split up into our two units again; I was with the second unit at the Locke red carpet.

Interesting thing–Wikipedia claims that Locke is American. We spoke with Steven Knight (the director), Guy Heeley (producer), Paul Webster (producer), Andrew Scott (actor), and Tom Hardy (you know who he is) and all of them were of the opinion that it’s a very British movie. And in fact, basically everything about it, from cast to creative team to location is British. The only thing that wasn’t is the money.

Which really comes back to one of the central questions of our film, now doesn’t it? What makes a movie British?

Since it was a red carpet, we obviously didn’t get to spend a long time talking to anyone, just a couple minutes each. But I think they were all a bit surprised what questions we did ask, and despite the rather hectic environment we got some very well-considered and thoughtful answers. Tom Hardy was very intense.

(Tom Hardy was also shorter than I expected, but let’s be honest… when you’re acquainted with someone by watching them on a giant screen, it really just kind of ruins your perception of proportion for all time.)

The first unit apparently did fantastically at 12 Years a Slave. They got to speak with Steve McQueen (director), Chiwetel Ejiofor (actor), and Lupita Nyong’o (actor), all of whom were gracious with their time. I’m really looking forward to seeing the footage, since apparently they gave great answers.

One more red carpet tomorrow!

Rachael Acks
Executive Producer

London: Day 5

Gee, guys, what are we going to do today? The same thing we do every day, gentle readers, try to take over the world interview some amazingly creative people!

We bounced cheerfully from bed at first light–no, I lie. We crawled pathetically from our sleep caves at first light and caught a taxi to the London offices of the Raindance Film Festival. The lost sleep was well worth it, though, since we got to speak with the founder of the festival, Elliot Grove. The man is an eloquent and arresting storyteller, both on and off film. He described to us how he discovered his love of film, and I’m not going to spoil it here because I couldn’t possibly recreate his words well enough. I look forward to sharing it all with you at a later date in the documentary.

Elliot also has some utterly fantastic visions of where cinema might go in the near future, becoming more interactive with the audience via apps or in-theater controls. It sounds like some very exciting stuff. (And from the perspective of a writer, we’re starting to see a revitalization of the choose your own adventure idea because the internet makes it so much more flexible and multidimensional, so I totally dug how he was thinking.)

After that, we got ready for a whole new adventure in our filming trip–splitting into two units. We received approval to be on the red carpet for the premiere of The Invisible Woman, but at the same time had an interview scheduled with Jon S. Baird, director of the recently released movie Filth. (For my own somewhat profane take on the movie, you can see my blog.)

I was in the second unit, which interviewed Jon. Jon was very friendly and incredibly sweet, and patiently explained to us in several different ways the similarities and differences of English and Scottish film (both of which fall under the umbrella term of British, at least for now). He also came back to the point, again and again, that new filmmakers can’t focus on just one funding source, that they need to get out there and keep working and not give up until they take what they need, because nothing comes of sitting around and waiting to be given approval. It felt like a pep talk straight to the heart.

And then, once we’d asked all of our documentary-related questions, I quite literally got to ask him, “So about Filth. You seem like a nice person, Jon. Why would you do this to me?” It was an incredible experience getting to spend a few minutes speaking with him about his movie, because the more questions I asked, the more facets to it that I saw.

Meanwhile, the first unit was off at the red carpet, and apparently managed to speak with each of the people who were there for The Invisible Woman. Since it was a red carpet, it wasn’t exactly the time for an in-depth interview, but at least they got to ask each person one question. I can’t wait to see their footage from that.

As of right now, there are no interviews set for tomorrow. I think we’ll be out and about shooting some footage of London, but that’s only after we all get a nice lie-in. I feel like we’ve really earned it.

Rachael Acks
Executive Producer

London: Day 4

Today: more interviews! Shocking, I know. Tomorrow, there’s a 100% chance of interviews as well.

We actually got to sleep in a bit, which I appreciated immensely. The not sleeping over the whole NYCC weekend followed by jetlag is still making life kind of rough. I subjected myself to some lemsip this morning (again, WHY?) and felt almost human at least.

Our first interview was on location, which is a fancy way of saying we went to Kim Newman‘s apartment and interviewed him there. And by apartment I mean paradise of scifi/fantasy/horror/related works/comic books, where there aren’t so much walls as more bookshelves. I am incredibly jealous of Kim’s bookshelves. The entire space just smelled gloriously of books.

I managed to keep my writer fangirling to a minimum, though I did get to ask Kim a question about British versus American science fiction film, and whether the difference is more cultural or just a function of the generally lower budges in the UK. His answer came down more to Americans always wanting to humanize and lionize scifi protagonists, while British scifi protagonists get to be weird and intensely smart lone nuts… so, the US scifi protagonist of record is Captain Kirk, while in the UK it’s the Doctor.

After I pried myself off of Kim’s bookshelves, we headed back to our homebase to interview Vicky Jewson. She spoke on her microbudget action movie, Born of War, which I now very much want to see. Sounds like I ought to be able to find it in the US somewhere soon! As someone interested very much in commercial rather than arthouse film, she had a somewhat different perspective from the other people we’ve interviewed so far. (For example, she’s the first who hasn’t stated that unfortunately the US and UK share a common language.) I’m pretty excited about the diversity of thought we’re already getting. And as a special bonus, Rupert Whitaker was along with her, so we got to stuff him into the hot seat and ask him some questions about British film history.

Another exciting and busy day in store tomorrow. I’m glad I was serious about making myself useful on this trip, because the director is working me hard!

Rachael Acks
Executive Producer

London: Day 3

We survived our first day of filming! And not only survived, we triumphed!

First interview up was Tony Garnett. It was a bit nerve wracking to start, I’ll admit. There was still last minute running around to do before Tony arrived, and of course you never actually feel prepared to start something like this. I was in charge of monitoring the sound from the lapel microphone and keeping an eye on the backup camera, so I felt very official sitting there and listening through a headset. (I also feel official because I’m wearing a tie. Half windsor knot today, thank you for asking.)

Tony Garnett was intensely interesting, though I have a feeling I’ll be saying that about everyone we interview, so I’ll just strike that word from my vocabulary now. Tony was incredibly laid back about being our first interview, for which I will thank him forever since we had some kinks that needed to be worked out, like me having no idea how to actually wire someone for sound.

We covered the general questions about the British film industry, but where I found myself most interested was when he discussed the future, and the opportunities presented by the internet–the democratization of film. It’s a topic that really speaks to me personally. Tony very much brought politics into the discussion of art, which I know is not a usual thing, but I could have just listened to him talk for hours about the importance of presenting a wide range of stories, including those belonging to the working class.

And then: “I wish I was twenty again, so I could fail. And then fail better.”

Next up was Iain Smith. I am ashamed to admit that when he arrived, I was so focused on everything else I promptly forgot about The Fifth Element and Children of Men. This might have been for the best, because the level of nerding out I might have hit otherwise probably would have gotten me ejected from the room. But I got to shake his hand. Twice. SO THERE.

One of the parts of Iain’s interview that caught my attention the most was the question of British versus English versus London kind of overtaking the cultural narrative thanks to it being the capital city. And for that reason, English identity might be something that’s still struggling to find its definition, because London is not really representative of the rest of the culture… which is something that can be seen in other capital city versus the rest of the countries throughout Europe. Though of course then America has to be weird, since the cities that dominate our narrative tend to be New York City and Los Angeles, rather than our actual capital.

Food for thought, that.

Third and final interview of the day was Debs Paterson. To me, she was the cherry of amazing on a really great day. I think I fell a little bit in love with her when she mentioned Orlando as an influential movie on her development as an artist. That movie made a huge impression on me when I saw it (and then subsequently read the book) and has sort of been rolling around in my brain since on a subconscious level. Debs spoke very eloquently on coming of age when there was both a female prime minister and a female monarch, which at least rendered the question of if there were things girls could or could not do rather moot. (Think about this the next time someone questions the usefulness of role models.)

And once she’d answered all of the prepared questions, we wandered a bit off topic and onto women in film, particularly the dominance of white male characters on screen and the way in which that encourages everyone but white men to empathize with someone who is unlike themselves. It’s a topic familiar to me (due to recent explosions of debate in the scifi/fantasy writers community) and I was really glad to hear the perspective from a filmmaker.

I think Debs is going to be an amazing role model for the next generation of women filmmakers.

So that was it for the day. I’ve now fed the rest of the crew on some Sainsbury’s take home pizza and squash, and we’ll be off to see Filth in about an hour, to prepare for a later interviews with Irvine Welsh and Jon S Baird. We’ve got two interviews lined up for tomorrow afternoon as well, which is exciting! Interviews are still coming in even now, so I’m never quite sure what each day will bring.

So far, so good!

Rachael Acks
Executive Producer