Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Being an Extra in The Empty Hearse

 SPOILERS for Sherlock; The Empty Hearse

I have been wanting to write a blog post about my day on Sherlock for a while (since March 2013), but of course I couldn’t allow myself to post any spoilers or hints from the episode. I think the BBC would be very upset with me if I did. But now the episode has aired I can finally tell you everything.

A lot of you won’t know this, but I am signed up with a TV Extras agency, and last March I was lucky enough to receive a phone call – asking if I would like to be an extra on Sherlock, Episode One. It took me approximately 0.2 seconds to reply; YES PLEASE.

I was on the Sherlock set a few days before – set reporting and briefly appearing as an unpaid extra, which you can read about here – but this was different. I was told I would be playing a “geeky student” who is a part of a “Sherlock fanclub”, and then told the typical rules of being an extra; no bright clothes, no logos, etc. After I spoke to the agency, I immediately phoned my friend Gareth to see if I could borrow his Deerstalker. (This turned out to be a great move later on.)

A week later, nervous and excited, I made my way to the filming base in Cardiff on a bright Thursday morning. I quickly met the other extras who I would be working with that day. There was only 7 or 8 of us in total – which felt strange to me as my previous experiences with filming, productions have needed 20+ extras needed on set – but I realised we were filming a very small scene.

After we were signed in and settled, a friendly crew member introduced herself and handed everyone a call sheet with most of the episode’s script stapled to it. I was immediately shocked. She’s just... handing me the script? This script had a LOT of spoilers – about 40-50 minutes of the episode, I’d guess. And she was handing it out without a question. She misread my scandalised expression; “Oh, don’t worry, dear! Your scene is only on the first two pages.”

So, of course, as anyone would, I read the entire thing. Twice. Maybe three times. Okay, maybe more. I didn’t want to forget a thing.

The first thing I realised about the script was how funny it was. I was giggling to myself as I read it. I particularly enjoyed reading the scene I was going to be in. Laura and her theory of Sherlock’s survival had me in tears I was laughing so hard. And seeing it on screen was even better!

Once the crew were prepared for us, we were sent off to the costume department so they could decide if our clothes were right for the scene. This is when I was happy to have brought my own Deerstalker with me. The script specifically referred to several members of the fanclub wearing the hats, so I proudly showed the deerstalker I borrowed to the costume department. They were delighted. I got a – totally imaginary – gold star for effort. They then noticed the scarf I had brought with me (it was quite chilly that day) and insisted I wear it, along with my black coat, to be a “proper Sherlock Fangirl”. It’s like I was born to play this role.

I then got to go to the hair and make-up department, as they were worried my long hair would disrupt continuity. It was a very windy day, so my hair was all over the place. The girls sat me in a chair – next to John Watson’s stunt double’s wig – and put my hair in a lovely plait (which was unfortunately hidden by the hat anyway).

Having read the script, I was aware my scene would be with Sharon Rooney and Jonathan Aris (who plays Anderson), so I was excited when we finally made our way to the filming location.

Jonathan Aris was the loveliest person I have ever met on any TV set. He walked straight up to me, shook my hand, introduced himself, and engaged everyone in great conversations. I was sort of lucky, I think, as I shared the name of Sharon Rooney’s character in the scene, so no-one had any trouble remembering my name. I was asked to sit on a very comfy looking chair, to the side of Jonathan Aris, but the chair, and the blanket that covered it, caused problems (Aris was constantly fixing the blanket for me), so it was switched for a more practical chair in the end.

The scene was quite short, but involved a lot of fiddling with camera angles and other technicalities, so sometimes I wasn’t needed (as the camera sat directly where my seat was for the close-up shots of Rooney’s face), and sometimes I was the only extra in the room.

Filming the reaction to Rooney’s line, “I don’t think we should wear the hats…” was the most fun. I figured we should react to the line, as most of us were wearing deerstalkers, so I touched my hat protectively and looked as disgruntled as I could. (This never made the cut, but I enjoyed it.)

As I was waiting for them to set up the final shot in the scene (me reacting to the television; HAT DETECTIVE LIVES which didn’t make the cut either), I waited in the room next door as I kept getting in the way. This room was empty, as it only served as a hallway to get to another room which contained the small monitors, so I stood awkwardly in the corner, observing the crew set up the shot from the doorway.

It was at this point where Benedict Cumberbatch (in full Sherlock costume) walked in.
I froze.
I knew he would be filming a scene with Aris (where he tells Anderson how he survived the fall) shortly after my scene was completed, but I didn’t expect to actually see him.
And to be the only person in the room when he walked in.

He was heading for the other room, but spotted me in the corner before he left, and paused to say hello. There I was, wearing a Deerstalker and trying to act normal, and Benedict Cumberbatch was talking to me.
He was so lovely and polite and gentlemanly that I immediately felt comfortable talking to him. He asked me how I was and how filming had gone so far. I then followed him into the room with the monitors and we spoke to the other crew members before I was then called in to do my final shot.

And then Cumberbatch followed me into the room where I was filming.
And Mark Gatiss also appeared (not in costume).
I had to act with those two watching me?! No pressure. Sure. I could do that. Oh god, no I couldn’t.
But I did.
And it got cut out.

That’s the trouble with being an extra. You could tell the world you filmed amazing scenes, only to be cut out in the end. I was on set for about 8 hours and my scene was barely a minute or two.

But it was so, so worth it. That week, where I was either on set as an extra, or set reporting for #Setlock, was the craziest and best week of 2013. Sure, it was cold, and tiring, and busy. But it’s weeks like that which really make me realise how much I want to work in television. It’s the best job in the world.

Screencaps of me in the episode can be seen below.

(made by Tumblr user thewatsondiaries)

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Doctor Who: #dwsr: Chepstow Castle, Wednesday 17th April 2013

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It's been a while since I've seen Doctor Who filming on location - even the crew noticed our absence. However, yesterday Gareth, Aimee and I discovered they were filming in Chepstow Castle, and it was definitely worth driving there to see what's going on.

We arrived at around 5:30pm and - as the castle closed at 5pm - we couldn't see anything being filmed. No spoilers in this post, I'm afraid, but we spoke to some lucky fans who managed to see what was happening inside the castle. They showed me a photo - which has been published in several media outlets since - of David Tennant, Matt Smith, Zygons, and the TARDIS!

After a short wait, we noticed the crew slowly packing away the equipment. We knew the cast would leave the location soon, as filming had wrapped. Luckily, there was only one entrance/exit into Chepstow Castle, so when the actors left the set, they headed straight towards us.

Joanna Page and Jenna-Louise Coleman were the first to appear. They both stopped to sign a couple of autographs from a few fans, but left shortly afterwards. Joanna Page was wearing a beautiful Elizabethan gown, which can be seen in the pictures posted above.

Then Matt Smith appeared! And, wait, is that...? Yes, David Tennant is just behind him! And John Hurt, too!

Unfortunately in the excitement, John Hurt managed to walk right past us, as most of the fans were focused on David Tennant. Fans were very eager to get photos and autographs from the two most recent doctors, and although they couldn't stop to pose for photos, we managed to take a few good ones whilst they were signing autographs. They were both incredibly friendly, and spent a long while to speak to all the fans waiting for them.

As you can see, I have posted all my photographs from today's events on my brand new Flickr account. I've also been asked if several media publications can use them in their articles, so you might see them appear around the internet.

Shortly after the cast left, so did we. We assumed they would be back there again today, but alas, we couldn't find them. The small base that was seemingly left behind had vanished during the night. There was just a small number of people packing up from the day before.

However, luckily for us, the old TARDIS prop was still in the castle! We managed to get quite a few good photos, as there wasn't anyone around, so it wasn't much of a wasted journey.

The TARDIS at Chepstow Castle

The TARDIS door sign

It just goes to show how lucky you can be one day, and how unlucky you can be the next. Fingers crossed we find them again soon!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Sherlock: #Setlock: Portland Square, Monday 26th March 2013.



Last night was probably one of the most exhausting, yet amazing, nights of my life.

The usual set reporters for Doctor Who (Ryan, Gareth, Aimee) and I decided to venture into the world of Sherlock set reporting - also knows as #Setlock - in Portland Square Bristol last night.

We've been to Portland Square before - for a few scenes in the most recent Doctor Who Christmas Special, The Snowman. Remember when Clara had to jump up to the invisible ladder? That was there. And it was reported by us and several other Doctor Who fans.

When we first arrived, it was a little after 2pm. We heard it was going to be a night shoot, and didn't want to get there too early. Admittedly, nothing was happening. We saw paper lanterns hanging on trees, blue fairy lights, and tables full of food. First we thought it looked like a garden party... but then the crew started making a bonfire. A huge bonfire. The crew also seemed a little on edge and it was clear why. The scene(s) they were filming tonight were dangerous, long, and bitterly cold. They couldn't afford for anything to go wrong, so we respectfully kept our distance, and went to sit in the car when we could.

Though there was only about 10 fans watching, the number grew dramatically the later the night wore on. We heard that the cast will be arriving on set shortly after 6pm, so there was a buzz in the air - both on location and on Twitter.  Amusingly enough, stunt doubles for Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman arrived on set first - which convinced a number of fans (even myself!) that the real actors were on set.

I think the moment everyone was looking forward to was seeing the huge bonfire lit up in flames. It even had a Guy Fawkes dummy on the top! I spotted a poster, proclaiming it was a Bonfire Night party - held on Tuesday 5th November at St James The Less Fields in London.

Then two actors arrived. Benedict Cumberbatch and Amanda Abbington. Why was Amanda Abbington there? Could she-? No... Maybe...? Could she be Mary Morstan, John Watson's wife? Yes - we hear someone call her "Mary"! She is! Brilliant!

Benedict asked a friend on Twitter to tell the fans to not upload spoilers and pictures to the internet. This caused a lot of fuss on the #Setlock tag on Twitter. Fans tweeting from "Post pictures!" to "How dare you post pictures?" in the space of two minutes. Luckily, this seemed to die down, as most of the fans on location were aware they were on a film set, and they needed to respect the cast and crew. I personally didn't take any pictures, except for this blurry one very early on (of the unlit half-built bonfire), as I don't have a fancy camera and I'd rather watch the action, instead of taking pictures. Everything that I'm posting here in this blog has already been posted several times by other users, and it's even in the newspapers today, so I can't see much harm in blogging my own view.

Shortly after, our favourite special effects supervisor, Danny Hargreaves, began lighting the bonfire with some specially rigged gas vents placed strategically under the wood. The actual bonfire was held up by a large metal structure, and the inside was hollow. We soon found out why.

The location grew quiet - extras, crew and fans were looking at the flames, basking in it's warmth, and trying to ignore the cold. The director yelled "Action!", and Benedict and Amanda pushed themselves through a crowd of extras - who were enjoying a lovely bonfire night in London - and started yelling, panicked, at the bonfire. "Move, MOVE!" as they both pushed past. They reached the bonfire quickly, with extras looking shocked behind them.

"JOHN! JOHN!" they both cried. We all glanced at each other, bewildered. And then it clicked. John Watson was inside the bonfire. Sherlock was being a hero and saving his unconscious and trapped friend. The stunt doubles for Sherlock and John were clearly needed - Sherlock started to pull away the wood on the bonfire, and dragged poor Watson out of the smoke and flames. The stunt double for Watson looked in bad shape - he had blood on the side of his head, he was covered in smoke and ash, and when he gets pulled out of the fire, he looks unconscious.

Before the majority of the above was filmed, the crew asked all the fans (they had grown in number by then) to take part in the scene and be extras/supporting artists! Of course, we couldn't turn down an offer like that. Even if we didn't want to be on camera, we wanted to get closer to the fire. We had to react to this madman pulling out a body from the fire, with a woman beside them screaming. It was pretty easy - because the actors were so convincing. No matter how many times they filmed this scene, their energy and passion didn't dim once. They were brilliant. We looked onto the action, shocked, horrified, concerned. Some of us ran away, some edged closer, as if trying to help the poor man. It was a very interesting scene to be in!

Martin Freeman then showed up on location - quite late into the filming day - to replace the poor stunt double for some close up shots, after he was pulled out of the fire.

At one point, Benedict did sign autographs for the fans-now-extras, which was so lovely of him. I offered him a torch to sign autographs, as he was having difficulty in the dim light. Although I didn't get an autograph myself (he was called back on set, joking "I'll be here all night!" to the disappointed fans) I really enjoyed the short and friendly conversation I had with him. He's lovely.

After the huge bonfire scene was completed, the cameras then focused on the extras' expressions and reactions. This was our moment to shine! Myself and a few other extras kept ourselves entertained by planning what we were going to do. I hope you can spot us when it airs on television! I wore a silly winter hat and had a glowstick. I hope it's enough to spot me behind the smoke and flames!

We noticed the crew had a running lunch from about 9:30 until 11:30, so shortly after our "scenes", we escaped to the car to sit down and warm up. It then hit us just how cold and achey and stiff we all were from standing in the cold for so long. We realised there probably wouldn't be much else to see, so we made the executive decision to call it a night and head home.

On the journey home, I was exhausted, but I couldn't believe how lucky we were. The first time we found Sherlock filming, they filmed a hugely significant and dangerous scene, and we got to be extras in the background. I couldn't ever imagine that happening!

I then checked Twitter, too. I literally gained about 75 followers, all in the short space of a few hours. Sherlock fans are passionate, I'll give them that! Thanks to everyone for the lovely messages. It really made the cold, bitter night worth it.