A few years ago, a call was put out by a Film Studies University student. They wanted volunteers to be a part of their Doctor Who fan film featuring original characters. Alarm bells might have rung in my head about how this would pan out when I realised the script hadn’t been finished. Effectively, by the time the script was finished, nearly all of the volunteers had dropped out and had mostly been replaced.
I don’t know how relaxed Film Studies is at this particular uni, or if it’s a reflection of the student, but my two experiences of filming have been interesting.
The first experience involved going to Cardiff. They brought coffee and read the script to me, and highlighted my parts. I found a location where we could shoot a scene that involved walking – no dialogue. Then we had a sit down meal. Then, while the light was fading, we walked to the Doctor Who Experience and filmed another short scene where their character answers a phone. That was a day of my life and £70 in food and travel costs.
The second experience came from my recommendation of Coventry Cathedral ruins as a backdrop for the main villain’s headquarters and a battle scene. The night before, I asked them to email me the script so I could learn my lines as I didn’t want to read through the entire manuscript looking for the few pages I’m in. They asked me when I was arriving at the location, and I said I had an open train ticket. They had done some research to discover the venue closed at 5pm, and decided they would arrive at the train station at 3.30pm as the tickets were cheaper. This gave us 90 minutes in Coventry. A good proportion of that time was spent with them struggling to put their costume on, asking where the hotel was, where the ruins were, how to hail a taxi, checking into the hotel. By the time we got to the ruins, they were closing the gates.
I suggested we use the exteriors as filming locations. We managed an hour due to the cold. We managed one page of script, as they didn’t know how to set up the tripod for the camera. They only had one camera. They didn’t know their lines. Some of my stage directions said “chants in an unknown language” for which they had no suggestions. I chose part of the All Blacks Haka. They had brought a tube of fake blood, which they hadn’t skin or screen tested beforehand. They didn’t take photos for continuity.
I went back to the hotel and stayed in my room all night. Mostly I spent it in the bath defrosting my hands. While I’d remembered to wear a thermal base layer, my hands were exposed and my hot water bottle went cold very quickly. We agreed we’d meet in the foyer at 9.30am, as that would give us chance to set up and then start as soon as the gates opened at 10am. I had a social media message at 9.12am asking where I was. I replied I was in the foyer having checked out.
They were on a fixed train, so we had 3 hours of filming and 40 minutes to get to the train station, get lunch and change into normal clothes. The day went like this:
– They struggled to put the remainder of their costume on at the ruins, which lost precious time
– They had removed they facial hair as it scratched, destroying continuity
– They didn’t put the fake blood wounds back on, destroying continuity
– They had spent the previous night in the bar rather than going over footage like they said they were going to
– They still struggled to put the tripod up
– They chose not to film into corners, so we had to wait for tourists to get out of shot
– They hadn’t done any online research of images in order to decide where to film different scenes, or visited the place prior to filming
– They wouldn’t leave the camera in one place, so the final edit is going to be very choppy
-They pulled out a second camera, but hadn’t brought a second tripod to set up an A and B camera scenario to allow running dialogue and action
– They hadn’t brought their camera chargers
– They hadn’t brought wet weather gear to protect the equipment, and it was raining
– They didn’t know that cold weather drains battery life
– They hadn’t brought a crash mat to fall on
– They hadn’t worn protective padding to take hits in a fight scene
– They hadn’t choreographed the fight scene, even though I had asked after our earlier encounter
– After an hour, they wanted to go and sit down and have a drink
– They took their costume off, as they felt embarrassed. It comprised black trousers, black polo shirt, black leather jacket and a plastic sword in a harness.
– I was wearing black trousers, leather battle tunic with a gold medallion sewn on the chest, a ceremonial silver belt, pantomime eyeliner, gold wrist gauntlets, sovereign rings, and a floor length red velvet cloak. I also had a sword on a belt. People in the coffee shop complimented my outfit and asked if I had been to MCM in neighbouring Birmingham.
– Other people doing the fan film were in MCM, but didn’t come to help film, It was literally either me or them pressing record and then running into shot
– They didn’t seem to understand filming with characters on the ‘third’ lines in frame, or about dialogue switching between being on one side of frame and then the other for different characters
– I convinced them to search for more material to film in the script. It turned out they hadn’t sent me all of the material I was in. I noticed a lot of the script had typing errors
– Part of the script in Coventry required a green screen and the camera to stay in place, as the same actor had to be in two places at once. The camera moved, and they didn’t bring the green screen
– They hadn’t brought floor tape to mark where we should be standing for different takes
– We filmed 3 pages out of 11
As it turned out, the train they were on also stopped at my station. I was glad to get home, having spent £80 on expenses. I remember my last Doctor Who photo shoot in Coventry Cathedral ruins. It involved 14 volunteers in cosplay, and the university student organised us brilliantly. They understood lighting, framing, background removal, bringing necessary equipment, keeping a crowd engaged, having set lunch breaks, factoring for the weather. At the end of the project, we all got an A2 sized professional print as a thank you.
I am left wondering what they teach in film studies. I don’t think it’s time management or writing lists of necessary items. I’m not an actor or a film maker, but somehow I know more than someone qualified. It’s probably all the behind the scenes documentaries I’ve watched about films.