I’ve returned to Uni (Lincoln School of Film & Media) after working as Assistant Art Director for a few days on a feature film called ‘Adrift in Soho’ (2015), which was being shot in Nottingham. It’s an adaptation of a Colin Wilson novel of the same name. It follows the life of a young writer, Harry Preston, who after being discharged from the RAF, moves to London in search of adventure. He fancies himself as a writer and so moves towards Soho, an area known for its creativity and finds himself involved with the many creatives of the Beat Generation. The screenplay was adapted and written by a very interesting and eccentric Uruguayan, named Pablo Behrens – who also directed the film. A very warm and capable Dane, named Martin Koblyarz, shot the film and the films art direction and production design came from a very captivating and adept Englishman, named Steven Blundell – whom I was understudy to.
I’ll tell you how I came to find myself as an Asst. Art Director at the age of twenty on a feature.
In the first year, a friend (Thomas Faulkner) and I were looking for work experience and so contacted a number of production companies in London asking for unpaid work experience, one got back to us. Agile Films were producing a music video for a band called Peace at Three Mills Studios and allowed us to come along and help out. The music video was for a song called ‘Follow Baby’. The shoot happened to be heavily reliant on the set and so we were recruited by the Art Department, which was headed by Steven Blundell. Steven happened to like Tom and me and so has contacted me on a number of occasions asking if I wanted to work with him on other productions. A friendly query at some production companies can lead to big things for a student – it’s worth a go.
Having been on quite a few shoots already – only lasting two or three days usually, adverts and a music video e.g. Ronseal, Simple Cosmetics, Warburtons – I was expecting the pace of a feature film to be slightly different. Short shoots are very intense so the production can be finished in the shortest amount of time. However, the pace of shooting was exactly the same as I have experienced before with the only difference coming in the social aspects of working on a film. With working on short shoots it’s always hard to socialise with cast and crew and build relationships as your time with them only lasts for a few days – this was not the case working on a feature film. I arrived three-and-a-half weeks into a five-and-a-half week shoot so the cast and crew had already built relationships so it was easy to fit in. Introducing yourself, being chatty and helpful will go a long way to building your network and relationships.
The first day of shooting, I got off the train and went straight to the location, so I’d seem eager, confident and ready to work. The location was a lovely old, Victorian public house. The first day allowed me some time to grow into my environment as the scenes didn’t require much effort from the art department. The main tasks were to reset drinks the actors were drinking and to dress a bathroom with graffiti. During the first day, I seemed to encounter my first over-inflated ego in the form of the one of the films protagonists, Chris Wellington. I was a bit weary of talking to him initially but over the course of the next few days I realised that he was a lovely and highly gifted young actor – remember the name!
On the second day of filming I realised the importance of the relationships between the different heads of department (Director, Director of Photography and Production Designer/Art Director). I realised how essential a healthy relationship between DP, Director and Production Designer was to filming. In this instance, the DP and Production Designer had to help an inexperienced director, who was a producer by trade. There were situations were the Production Designer and DP would have to advise the Director on how to achieve a certain shot and how to advise actors, too many to remember in fact. The director had a very clear vision of what he wanted to achieve in the film, admirably so but when certain shots could not be achieved there was no shot list to refer to. I am excited to see the finished film, however, and it feels like Pablo has made a lovely directorial debut.
On the Friday of my stay, we were filming in a studio. It involved dressing a studio to replicate a famous picture of Francis Bacon in his art studio – a very enjoyable and rewarding job, it looked uncanny. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the set and I don’t think I’d be allowed to show you because the film hasn’t been released yet, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
The second set was an advert for cereal, 50s style which was a very simple but intricate set. The Sunday involved making signs for marchers to hold during the March from Aldermaston to London in protest of nuclear war. This is where art director Steven Blundell took on multiple roles ensuring the marchers were safe and choreographing the march for the cameramen. Lots of crew were recruited to be marchers which was fun.
I also got the chance to network with several Nottingham Trent students who were studying Art Direction/Set Making which was enjoyable. The crew consisted of many people of a similar age which allowed me to learn even more from the advice that was handed down to them. I was there for five days, working for four and ultimately they were five very enjoyable days and I would live them all over again if I could. I didn’t know at my time of arrival but I learned that I’ll be getting paid which was a bonus. It was also nice to get my first credit on a feature at the age of twenty (hopefully the first of many). I’ll pass on some wisdom that I’ve learnt from crew members on set: never look at your phone whilst working, always be on your feet ready to go and always look alert and don’t yawn on set – it portrays a sense of professionalism, they’re only little things but they’re the things people notice. Relaxing is for lunch-time. Hopefully you’ll get to see the film next year in cinemas. It’s a lot of hard work but it’s very rewarding knowing you contributed to the making of a piece of film.