DBA in Space: Behind the Scenes—Question 1

This is a continuation of my DBA in Space journal.

In the opening of the first episode of DBA in Space, I am playing myself, or at least a future self, as I am talking from the Roddenberry Launch Center. I introduce myself first, and then the launch center’s mascot, Jar Jar. Then Miss Friday introduces herself. We banter a little bit, and I finally ask the first question of the competition. Miss Friday finishes up the introduction of the first episode, then a large explosion occurs, and I jump for protection on the floor. As you probably know by now, the explosion was actually an alien craft crash-landing at the Roddenberry Launch Center. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, you can view it above.

While that first scene takes less than two minutes on screen, it took many man hours to prepare. The call sheet for the day had Nell Mooney (Miss Friday) and me arriving at the location at 7:00 AM for breakfast, then from 7:30 AM to 9:30 AM, we had our makeup done, put our costumes on, got fitted for sound, and rehearsed our lines.

DBA in Space costume area.

This room was where costumes and makeup were put on, and Nell and I used one of the tables for rehearsing. That is Georgina and Emma in the photo.

I have already introduced the two costume crew members in a previous blog post, Emma and Georgina. A makeshift dressing room was located at one end of a large room where all the costumes were stored and where we changed. The other side of the room was where the makeup was done. The Roddenberry Launch center mascot, Jar Jar, was played by Poppy, who is owned by Emma. Poppy, as mentioned in my last blog post, did a great job, considering all of the activity on the set.

The lead makeup artist was Eva, who was with us all five days of the shoot. A second makeup artist, Amanda, helped out on two of the days with the makeup visual effects, which are seen in later episodes. Both were a delight to work with.

Eva puts on Nell Mooney's makeup for DBA in Space.

Eve, the makeup artist, starts to apply makeup on Nell.

Brad McGehee in DBA in Space.

Besides doing makeup, Eve also styled our hair.

While I had expected the costumes and makeup, what I had forgotten about was the need to be wired for sound. So each time after putting on a costume, the boom operator, Oliver, would wire us for sound with a hidden microphone and battery pack. Some costumes were easy to conceal a microphone in, which others were much more difficult. In fact, Oliver was often fiddling with the microphone to be sure that they got good quality sound during all of the takes. If Oliver wasn’t fitting us, then the sound technician, Aiden, helped out. In fact, Aiden was in charge of all of the sound for the filming, while Oliver was his assistant, helping out with placing our microphones and recording sound from the boom microphone.

Brad McGehee getting microphone placed on for DBA in Space.

Oliver was constantly at the ready to ensure our wireless microphones were fitted, working, and not visible to the camera. Note the “Tote Betting” sign. As we were filming at a race track, there were lots of places to bet.

We had about two hours to get prepared before being on camera for the first time. Nell and I took turns with getting our costumes on, our makeup on, our hair arranged, and the microphones placed. During this time I noticed that Nell was rehearsing her lines out loud during this whole procedure. This seemed like a great idea, so I also started rehearsing my lines as well, out loud, even while my makeup was being put on. While I had learned my lines, what I had forgotten to do was to learn Nell’s lines as well. Why would I need to know her lines? Because I need to know when to say mine. This wasn’t obvious to me at first, but I quickly realized that I needed to know her lines so that I could say mine at the right times. Fortunately, we had enough extra time that Nell and I were able to go over our lines together before facing the camera.

Brad McGehee rehearsing lines for DBA in Space.

Rehearsing my lines in my head. Really!

The first scene of the day was scheduled to take 2.5 hours to shoot. When it was time to begin filming, a runner (someone who ensures that the actors are where they are supposed to be on time) lead us to the set for the first time. All the time while we were prepping, the crew had been staging the set, setting up the lighting, and setting up the camera on tracks to follow our action on the set. The wardrobe, makeup, and sound crew followed along with us, always there to ensure that everything was perfect before each take.

Brad McGehee in DBA in Space.

Leaving the dressing area to go to the set for filming (in costume).

We started with a rehearsal, where for the first time I saw where I had to walk, the marks I had to hit (spots on the floor marked with tape; blue for boys and pink for girl
s), and where the camera was located, all while holding Poppy (aka Jar Jar). It was about this time my mind went blank and I forgot every line that I been practicing for several days now. Walking onto the set for the first time was very intimidating.

DBA in Space set.

Nell and I are on the stairs, as we descend to present question one.

Brad McGehee and Nell Mooney filming on the set of DBA in Space.

Once we walk down the stairs, we stop on our marks and begin to speak. Notice that there is a blue mark for me and a pink mark for Nell. To the left is the column I hide behind after the explosion, and to the right is a light diffusion panel.

Will, the director, lead Nell and me through the scene, letting us know where to move, look, and so on. Once that was done, it was time for a rehearsal shot, where not only did Nell and me got to practice, but so did the camera crew. The director of photography was Christopher, and he, along with several others, operated the camera. This included framing the shot, moving the camera, and focusing the lenses. Sometimes all three had to be done in unison.


Here’s what it looks like, from my point of view, when acting in front of the camera. Looks intimidating, right?

Once everyone was happy with the rehearsals, we went for take one of the wide shot of the scene. A wide shot covers all of the action from a wide angle. After the wide angle takes were completed, then we repeated the same scene with close ups. First of Nell, then of me. That way, the editors have the opportunity to cut the scene together as they feel it plays the best on screen.

As you might expect, it took more than one take for each shot before Will was happy. Some of the shots were bad because either Nell or myself (usually me) goofed up a line, or perhaps because of a problem with sound or the camera. In other cases, we tried playing the scene different ways to experiment with different options. Between each take, the wardrobe and makeup crew would come up and touch us up so that we always looked our best. It is a little strange to having people fussing all about you, but it was also a little fun getting all the attention. (Please don’t quote me on that.)

Brad McGehee on the set of DBA in Space.

Getting my makeup touched up.

I can tell you, during the first take of the wide angle shot, that my heart was literally beating so fast that I could not only feel it, but hear it. Between takes, I had to close my eyes, focus my thoughts elsewhere, and breath deeply. I had to do this when I could, as I didn’t have the luxury of stopping the action and asking everyone to take a break.

Brad McGehee on the set of DBA in Space.

This was a live screen shot of me, waiting for filming to begin. Emma was checking my wardrobe at the time this photo was taken. Live monitors were used by many people, including the Red Gate representatives on the set, to watch the action at a distance.

To add to my anxiety during the filming, two of Red Gate’s marketing staff were on the set watching the filming as it was occurring live, along with several members from The Mill. So every time I was on the set, I was being watched. In fact, because I was wired for sound, everything I said could be heard and/or recorded. This meant that even though I wasn’t much of an actor, I still had to be professional at all times. I guess I must have carried off the professionalism well, as I was told that one of The Mill’s creative staff said that I was more professional than many of the “actors” he had seen on sets in the past.

After each take that seemed good, Will and several others would review the take to ensure that it was OK. Generally, Nell would also watch. On the other hand, I was too nervous to watch. Now that I have had time to reflect on the filming, I now realize that I should have watched the takes, as they would have given me good feedback on how to do a better job. For example, in this first scene I forgot to smile, I spoke too fast, and I didn’t enunciate every word as clearly as I should have. While Will could have corrected me, I think he was just thankful that I remembered my lines, let alone trying to make everything perfect.


Nell and me waiting between takes. Notice the race track in the background.

While everyone on the production crew knew I had never acted before, what was really great is that not anyone ever said anything negative to me about my lack of acting ability. Instead, I received positive support from everyone, which was great. Although I knew many of the nice things I was told about my performance were just polite talk, it still was comforting to know that everyone supported me.

After about 2.5 hours the first scene was done and it was time for lunch. Breakfast, lunch, and two snacks a day were provided on the set for the cast and crew. A catering truck was on the location all of the time, ready to feed anyone. In spite of it being English food, most if it actually was good, although I was too nervous to eat a lot.

This is one of the grandstands at Epson Downs where w
e filmed. The silver truck was the caterer.

If you are not familiar with how a film is shot, it is a large crew of specialists who all have a very specific tasks to perform. What is very interesting is that each shoot usually has different team of people. In other words, it would be very rare for a crew to have worked together as a team before, unless it was an on-going television series. What is fascinating is that although many of the crew didn’t know each other, everybody worked together like a well-oiled machine. This is because each person has a specific task, and they know their job very well. While Will is the director, Sam, the 1st AD (assistant director), was essentially in charge of the crew, having the crew execute Will’s decisions. It was great to see such teamwork. I also noticed this same thing when I did the still photography for the film I photographed many years ago. If only other organizations could work so well together, and with such cooperation and professionalism, they would be much more productive.


In my next installment, I talk about filming questions two and three.