This is a continuation of my DBA in Space journal.
Monday & Tuesday, September 12-13, 2011
Today I make my “secret” journey to England for the filming. While I explained to my family where I was going, and what I would be up to, they were given specific instructions not to talk about it, or give any hint to anyone I was in London. In fact, I had to maintain my “social networking” in such a way as not to let anyone know I was traveling.
I make the one hour flight from Springfield, MO to Dallas, then from Dallas to London, arriving in London at 8:00 AM on Tuesday after an 8 ½ hour overnight flight. After spending almost an hour waiting to pass through immigration, I took the Heathrow Express train from the airport to Paddington Station to central London, where I then waited another 15 minutes in a taxi line to take a taxi to my hotel. When I arrive at my hotel, the room wasn’t ready, so I spent nearly 3 hours in the hotel’s club lounge until the room was available. It was now past noon, and once I emptied my suitcases, I took a “short” five hour nap to catch up. Once I got up from my nap, I had dinner and spent the rest of the evening getting caught up with e-mail, then went back to sleep.<!–more–>
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Wednesday was a leisurely day, allowing me to overcome my jet lag. I had lunch at a Soho burger joint with Richard, my manager from Red Gate Software; Haydn, the Senior Creative from The Mill; and Kris, the line producer. I also got a quick tour of The Mill and met Anna, the Senior Project Leader; Will, the video’s director; among many others whose names I have already forgotten. The Mill is a fast growing company that is literally bursting at the seams with people.
I also got a newer copy of the script and a call sheet for Thursday, describing where I would be going for my costume fittings and initial rehearsals. I also learned, for the first time, who the lead actress would be, an American named Nell Mooney. She appeared in, and won, the reality series InTurn on CBS. The prize was a 13 week role on the soap “As the World Turns”. She has also appeared in the movie Enchanted, an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, among others. Nell also appears in the yet to be released film, Hyde Park on Hudson, starring Bill Murray.
At this point I am unable to keep from thinking about the fact that I was soon going to be “acting” in front of a camera. The reality of it all has began to sink in.
My call sheet for the initial rehearsal. Contact information has been redacted for privacy.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Today is the costume fitting in the morning, lunch, and a script read-through in the afternoon with Nell Mooney, my co-star (or stated more accurately, I am her co-star, as obviously I’m not a star). The Mill, which produced the video, is located in the Soho district in London. Because of the lack of room at The Mill for costume fitting and rehearsals, they rented the choir rehearsal room at the American Church in London, which is located near The Mill. The church must be over 100 years old, and the choir room was in a grungy basement. Not a very glamorous first introduction to film making, but perhaps more realistic than most people think.
We rehearsed at the American Church in London.
So at 10:00 AM, I show up and get to meet Nell for the first time. Nell has a bubbly personality, is a natural ham, very intelligent, great at improvisation, has no inhibitions, professional, kind, and swears like a truck driver (for which she apologizes for). She is married to a London-based executive with Facebook, and she and her husband have been living in London for just under a year. Before moving to London, they lived in New York. I was told that about 45 people tried out for the part of Miss Friday, but that she was the obvious pick from the first time they saw her. I wasn’t around when the casting was done, so I don’t know anything about the others who didn’t get the part. But after working with Nell, I must say that she was a great choice.
When I first met Nell, she asked me if I was a real DBA. I said, “Yes, I am a real DBA, but I just pretend to be an actor”. I spent a little time talking with her about what DBAs were, but she had actually done some homework and already knew a little about what a DBA was. In fact, she is very adept with Microsoft Excel and other Microsoft products from a part-time job she had in New York before moving to London. In addition, she is a science fiction movie fan and technology geek, and she virtually recognized every sci-fi reference in the video. She also likes to visit Comic-con. If you ever meet up with her, challenge her to a game of the Legend of Zelda, as she claims to be an expert at playing it.
At the costume fitting, besides Nell; there was the costume designer, Emma; and the costume assistant, Georgina. Will, the director also showed up to approve the costumes. Emma and Georgina were great to work with, and for nearly the next two hours, Nell and I changed into dozens of different outfits, while Will looked us over and selected which costumes he thought best fit the story line of the video. While I had sent my measurements to The Mill before arriving in London, all the pants they had for me were of the “skinny” cut, which apparently is the “in” thing in London. Of course, I’m not skinny, so all of the pants were too tight. Once the clothing was selected by Will, the “skinny” pants were returned and “regular” pants were purchased for the filming.
From left to right: Costume fitting with Georgina (Costume Assistant), Will (Director), Emma (Costume Designer), Nell Mooney (Miss Friday), and me.
After the costume fitting, I had lunch with Nell, Will, and Kris (the line producer). It was a lovely sunny day, so we ate at an outside Italian restaurant in Soho. I got the opportunity to get to know everyone much better.
From left to right: Lunch with Will (Director), Nell Mooney (Miss Friday), Kristyna (Line Producer), and me.
After lunch, we went back to the American Church and did a read through of the lines with myself, Nell, Will, and Haydn (Senior Creative). Essentially, Nell and I read through the script, which was apparently the first time it was ever read out loud. As we went through the script, all of us pointed out minor problems here and there, which we changed as needed. Will also explained the motivations behind the two storylines in the video, which helped me to make more sense of the script. The first story-line is about the alien who crashed on Earth and is wanting to get back home. The second story-line was about Miss Friday (aka Verity Blunt) who wants to gain recognition so she can be promoted at the National Space Defense Department. And of course, these two story-lines are set against the background story of the DBA in Space competition.
From left to right: Read trough with Nell Mooney (Miss Friday), Haydn (Senior Creative), and Will (Director). I am taking the photo.
Given that the video is actually a series of many short episodes, the story can be a little hard to follow, unless you watch the entire video from beginning to end. Now that the videos have been released, you can view the videos here. There are several follow-up videos that aren’t currently on this page, and hopefully they will be added soon.
As the story unfolds, one of the fun things was trying to identify all of the various sci-fi references in the script. While I knew most of them, I did have to Google a few of them to learn where they came from. The humor in the story consists of silly jokes, physical comedy, sci-fi references, Nell’s improvisation, and visual effects. I am sure that some viewers find it silly and corny, while others find it clever. But overall, I think the script was entertaining, which is the entire intention of creating the video in the first place.
Before I go any further, I want to talk a little bit about the director, William McGregor (Will). He is an award winning director and works at The Mill on various video productions, and on the side, he also directs short and feature films. He just turned 24 (I attended his birthday party at a pub in Soho), and he has already developed quite a reputation as a director. He was great to work with, and he was especially patient with me, given my lack of acting ability. Watching him direct, you would think he had been doing it for many years. He is very soft spoken, but was always in complete command of the filming, with help of his 1st AD (assistant director), Sam.
It took about three hours to read through the script and provide feedback, then it was time to head back to the hotel. Now, returning to a hotel doesn’t seem like a hard thing, unless of course you are a country boy like me, who has no idea of how to get around central London. After some advice I received, I learned the proper way to flag down a taxi in London. The first step is to find a location on a street where there is lots of traffic so finding a taxi is easier, but at the same time, you have to consider the location, as busy London streets rarely have any room for a taxi to pull over and pick you up. I was told that taxis will pull over virtually anywhere, but I didn’t want to push my luck. Next, you watch out for the lights on the top of the taxi. If the light is off, then it is not available. If the light is on, it is available. Unfortunately, not every taxi driver follows this policy, and in other cases, it is very hard to tell if the light is on or not, depending on how bright the sun is. Once you see a taxi with its light on, you have to stand at the streets edge, raise your hand as high as you can reach, and point your index finger up in the air. As you do this, many taxis rush by, ignoring you. But when a taxi wants to pick you up, they will flash their parking lights, which means they see you. Once the taxi pulls over, they roll down the window and you tell them where you want to go, and if it is some place they are willing to go, they let you in, otherwise you find another taxi. Fortunately, all the taxis I used in my London travels did pick me up, but not every one of them were familiar with the address I wanted to go. In several cases, I had to help them out with directions so they could find the right location.
A lot of my time in London was sitting in the back seat of a black cab. I spent over US $500 on taxi fares on my visit to the UK.
In the next installment, I talk about my first rehearsal.