Filming: the boot on the other foot
When I was curator of the Museum of Classical Archaeology in Cambridge, I used to be terribly ambivalent about film crews wanting to come and use the Museum as a location (it's a great one, by the way). On the one hand, it was wonderful publicity for what we had to offer: a free advert, really. On the other, it was always a total pain in the neck. The crew would turn up with mind-boggling amounts of equipment, they completely disrupted the place for any other visitor -- and they always, just always, went on for longer than they said they would. I tried adding on penalty payments for every 15 minutes over the agreed time, but even that didn't work (though it did bring in more cash).
Now the boot is on the other foot. I'm in Italy filming a documentary series on ancient Rome, and I have become one of those villains I used to find so infuriating -- with all that stuff, getting in everyone's way, and sometimes, I confess, going on too long. A salutory lesson, I guess. I have come to see why it is so hard to be a "well behaved" film crew.
The timing really is extremely tight and disconcertingly unpredictable. Even if you have recce'd every location pretty carefully, you still cant be prepared for everything: the fact that it is a rainy day and very dark and you have to light the place, or a man is digging up the road with a pneumatic drill right outside (and it takes half an hour to persuade him just to take a five minute break), or the airforce has chosen to practice its tricks overhead, or your presenter (that's me) keeps fluffing her lines.
I dont really mean "lines" as there is isn't a written script as such. We know the basic points we want to make at each location, but I do it extempore to camera each time.
You couldn't really do otherwise if you want to make it fresh and good and well-targeted. Actually being in the place suggests new connections and new emphases in what you should be saying. But it's horribly easy to get it wrong first time, or even second time. . . not to say third.
Sometimes that's a matter of tone (too breezy, or not breezy enough). Sometimes it's a question of just getting bogged down in some not very relevant detail -- or realising that you just forgot the wonderful example that you meant to put it. Sometimes you have to take 15 minutes to check a fact that you hadnt realised you needed. I'm travelling with a mini reference library, plus access to JSTOR in the evening -- but thank God for Google on a smartphone during the day, which is great when you have had a sudden crisis of confidence about the exact meaning of a Latin word (brilliant Perseus gives you Lewis and Short online) or suddenly blank on the date of the death of Trajan (no, I dont trust Wiki!)
Making a slip in a lecture is bad enough, but you can always put it right the next time -- you can even make it slightly endearing on the "Homer nods" principle. If you make an error in front of a few million (let's hope) viewers, that's more seriously humiliating, to say the least. (And just think of the number of emails you'd get.)
So it's hardly surprising that you tend to run over time. OK, you could just double the time you thought you would need at each location, but that would end you up with big gaps, and wasted time and money ...and you'd probably annoy people just as much, for different reasons.
And it's hardly surprising that it's as exhausting as it is adrenalin-generating. We regularly leave the hotel at 7.30 in the morning and get back at 7.30 at night, before a couple of hours final prep for the next day has to be done (by me), and hitches with equipment, locations, permissions sorted out and tomorrow's shots planned (by the others).
It all makes me feel a tiny bit guilty about how fierce I was with the hapless, over-running film crews in our Museum.