Thursday, 21 March 2013

UNIVERSAL EARLog II Part 2: Day 4 (10)

The final day of the final reschedule of UNIVERSAL EAR: Banned Insubstance. It's Tuesday.

Today we are joined on set by Daniel Glynn who has been drafted in to play two roles: Linus, a disgraced former jockey (most character descriptions in this episode are prefixed by "disgraced former") and his disgraced former he-horse Gloria. In our excitement at Mush and Ravey's weekend work on Glynn's horse costume, we've completely forgotten to find him a jockey costume; we scour the area for a jockey shop to no avail, but a trip to Primark and a lucky tweet for a riding helmet see us right. We're against the clock today with Lockwood due to fly out of Manchester on the National Express at 15.00.

With every element now in place, we gather in the 'Zoom Room': a plywood-partitioned storage area of the Takk basement we have been using to perform our company anthem, Fat Larry's Band's Zoom, each morning before work - the idea being that the plywood will absorb unnecessary waves before they reach the paying customers upstairs. This precaution is particularly welcomed this morning as Glynn throws himself wholeheartedly into his performance, leaving no doubt as to his allegiance to the cause.

There is only one functioning movie light remaining, our other vintage bulbs having blown (and somebody didn't think to ebay 'new' ones as back-ups instead of waiting until we needed them as replacements). Boom shadows are almost unavoidable as I've fashioned our lone lamp into an unforgiving Mediterranean sun for today's horse stable scene; soundie Martin Salomonsen has no place to hide as miking from a distance tends to foreground the chatter, MacBook tapping and Scandi-pop from the cafe upstairs. Through a combination of Salomonsen's ingenuity and my turning a blind camera-eye to straying shadows, we line something workable up. There's something beautiful about an unintended boom-in-frame, like a dropped accent or a disappearing-reappearing wristwatch. If you want to see it as a negative thing, you aren't welcome in my cinema: such flaws are, in fact, wormholes into parallel extended filmiverses. Still, this isn't mentioned to Salomonsen as the set requires a certain (albeit upbeat) tension to operate.

The drama between Linus (a former sports-doper now strung out on street-dope) and Byrne (who wants to get his hands on the sports dope but recognises in Linus a tragic echo of his own degenerate brother, Santiago) is moving: Lockwood (playing Byrne), who has by now given up on pretending to have read the script, compares it to Shakespeare. Byrne tries the straight approach, flattery then empathy to get the required information from Linus until finally resorting to slapping the blissed-up wash-out repeatedly in the face. Still, by the end of the scene, they are in each others arms in one of the few non-libidinous shows of intimacy from Byrne that we've seen in the series so far.

With Linus and Byrne's scenes shot, the priority now is to get Byrne's scenes with Gloria the "mixed-up" horse before Lockwood has to leave for his coach. There is a delay as I struggle to frame a shot in which Gloria puts his hoof to his head in shame: deputy art director Mush has followed my precise instructions on which horse parts we need, and improvised beyond my wildest dreams in the execution of this horse-from-the-future (tigery!) costume, but there is a flaw in the plan: on creating the brief, I pictured the horse hoof, beak and ears as being worn by an actual horse, but as is to be worn by a person there is the difficult matter of framing out Glynn's human shoulder. The solution may be the closest thing Glynn has ever come to Yoga.

With the horse shot, we send Glynn on his lunch and casually set up a missing insert of Byrne first discovering the newspaper article which alerts him to the Linus-and-Gloria lead. It has been hand-drawn on the back of an unused (Lockwood's?) script this morning, by Takk Joe. Everything is ready, we've recreated our fine noir-window-frame set up from yesterday, when I decide that the light, that movie lamp with the one remaining vintage bulb, could be just a smidgen higher. In the farce that follows, the bulb is blown and we're left in the dark: Lockwood is sweating over the departure of his coach, I am overcome with self-loathing at having brought the production to its knees by simultaneously failing both as producer and cinematographer, and Salomonsen is philosophical - something along the lines of "it's in the nature of bulbs…"

Fortunately, this corner of the studio is brightly enough lit that we are able to get some, albeit unstylized, exposure for Lockwood's final shot. We pack him up and send him on his way. He has worked hard this weekend; he has ignored the script; he has seriously compromised the iconography of the character he has the honour to regularly personify by refusing to have his hair shorn into Harley Byrne's signature undercut for this episode. I suspect he won't get much sleep on that coach.

There is one final shot to get with Glynn alone: how long can it take to get this one shot? Quite long, attempting to again light the shot with just the studio's floating fluorescent tubes. Unable to get a flicker of recognition from Doris the Super 8 camera's internal light meter, we surround him with white cardboard and the Strig-Rig, shine our mobile phone torches at these and him, and finally, get some mechanical acknowledgement of our efforts when I hold my bicycle headlamp in my teeth and direct it straight at Glynn's face (one of my hands is holding a mobile torch and the other is needed to operate Doris).

Expect to see this one in cinematography textbooks in the near future

It's unconventional; it's unprofessional; it's probably ineffective. It's a wrap. The fourth episode of UNIVERSAL EAR has finished production. Next time I'd like to scale back the narrative and scale up the resources. The restrictions are becoming restrictive. Meanwhile, the rest of the afternoon is spent sweeping straw out of the studio, the rest of the day spent picking straw out of our hair. Byrne will be back.
Salomonsen, who were it not for his good nature might be pre-fixed "the long-suffering", attempts to mic a scene and be a lighting rig

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