Dolls

July18th

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DOLLS film production diary day twoIt’s 3pm, and we’re loading up the vans for the mammoth 16-hour shoot that’s awaiting us. Coming hot on the heels of a similar feat the night before (check out the production diary by “1st Smoke Wafter” Russ Stedman for more on that), we’re all a little tired, a little anxious – and very, very excited.

Because tonight is the big one: the most complex and challenging day of the shoot by far. Featuring two locations, four vehicles, 11 crew members, five cast members, one dog and only six hours of darkness to grab the rest of our night shots, it was a logistical nightmare. And miraculously, everything went according to plan. Well, sort of…

Our first stop was the beautiful St Mary’s church in Warbleton: probably our most gorgeous location, but unfortunately also the most difficult to get to. After scouring the length and breadth of Sussex to find a location with a tower and a spiral staircase in which we could shoot one of our final scenes, I’d eventually come across St Mary’s. Tucked away in the middle of the countryside 30 miles north-east of Brighton – practically in Kent, really – the medieval building is famous for briefly housing Richard Woodman, one of the “Lewes martyrs” and a convicted heretic during the reign of Bloody Mary. Woodman had been kept imprisoned in a cell leading right off of the spiral staircase we were shooting in before he was burned at the stake in nearby Lewes in 1557.

We were aiming to film at St Mary’s during the “magic hour” – that golden period between broad daylight and dusk that looks so gorgeous on film. In the script, the scenes we were filming are actually set at dawn, but as we were shooting in the middle of summer it was fairly unlikely that we’d be able to find somewhere that would let us start filming at 4am. So, we were faking it with an evening shoot! Ah, the magic of cinema.

We set off from Brighton at 4pm, with a skeleton crew of eight (so not that skeletal, really), travelling there with three of the actors and the film’s mascot, Brickface the dog. Apparently no-one’s sure exactly why she’s called Brickface, but maybe some things are just better left unknown…

Despite our almost overwhelming desire to make the most of the unseasonably glorious weather when we got to Warbleton, we cracked on with the shoot and started getting the shots in the bag at a rate of knots. This was the first day that we had 1st AD Jonathan on set and he was cracking the whip from the get-go. DoP Rich and director Elena were also settling into their groove following some slight turbulence during the previous night’s shoot, and everything was generally coming together. Which was great, because the difficult part was still to come…

In the changeover between the two locations, we had to get from St Mary’s in Warbleton to our next location at Lewes: a distance of around 20 miles. Not so bad on paper, but we had around two hours to pack up at St Mary’s, drive those 20 miles of country roads in convoy with our two vans and the SUV, meet up with the other carful of cast and crew in Lewes, and get set up to be ready to go as soon as full dark hit. We had a lot of shots to cover, and only a few hours to get them before dawn inexorably and inevitably rose.

I can’t even tell you how we managed to pull it together properly: those two hours were a complete blur of panic and anxiety. The next thing I remember after leaving the blissful tranquility of St Mary’s gardens was being in an alleyway in Lewes with a full crew busily prepping the first set. The long, narrow, woodlouse-infested alleyway was strewn with broken, headless porcelian dolls and bustling with people setting up lights, preparing dinner, dressing the actors and hanging several kilos of bedsheets across the alley. Don’t ever tell me that shooting a short film isn’t glamourous.

From there on in, time was ticking steadily until the sun started to rise. Perhaps it was just a side-effect of exhaustion, but the later the night wore on the more jubilant the atmosphere on set seemed to get: I think we were all pretty happy to be in that bizarre situation we’d gotten ourselves into. We also loved how local residents would occasionally enter the alley – actually having to use it to get to their homes – and find it transformed into some kind of nightmarish serial killer’s lair full of crazed and over-tired performance artists waiting to be called on for their scenes. We had a fair few onlookers throughout the night, and like most of the residents of Lewes that we met they were all super friendly, interested and excited about our film.

After wrapping at around 6am, we started the drive back to Brighton – to our beds, and to a much-earned day off before our next scheduled shoot on Wednesday morning. Unfortunately, this plan didn’t go quite so smoothly: after heading to Brighton beach at dawn on Wednesday, we were greeted by an endless vista of grey clouds and fog that completely foiled our shoot, which called for blazing sunshine. It was difficult to complain as we’d gotten so lucky with the weather over the first couple of nights of the shoot, with the predicted rainstorms thankfully failing to materialise. So, the beach scenes were rescheduled for another day, and we were all safety back in bed before 9am in preparation for our last filming day of the week. But look out for our last production diary from our Assistant Producer Amy for more on that…

Emma O’Sullivan
Production Manager

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