A few weeks ago, I was shooting a Chinese film – a drama of all genres – around London and we were struggling to find a particular location which required from us to close down a junction, with a number of shops, for four days while taking over both streets and having to buyout the shops business for their troubles.
Myself and the location manager worked hard for several weeks trying to find the right location which could fit the directors vision and after looking over a good dozen or so locations, which according to the council or privately owned estates did permit to film, we came to a standstill.
Non of the locations we’ve shown the director where suitable enough for the way she’d vision the sequence to play out.
The location manager suggested that we may have to search further afield and head out of London since it would be more controllable but then we’d have to contend with the expense of putting up our London crew in hotels while covering travel and food expenses and that would be costly.
The added issues we were plagued with was that in order to shut down a road in London requires the production company to give six weeks of prior notice and we were a little over 4 weeks from shooting that particular sequence so things were beginning to look slimmer by the day.
Then, our Chinese first AD (Assistant Director), who had filmed in London on a previous shoot we had done, suggested a particular location where we’d filmed before. It was a cafe scene which we’d filmed for a few hours so we didn’t have to content with too much nuisance from neighbours or customers plus we filmed it relatively early in the day as well.
She recommended that we should film the sequence at that same particular location, close to the cafe, at the junction of the street for the four full days. Myself and the location manager jumped up in defence saying it’s not going to be possible, especially since the location we we’re looking at was going to be – Brick Lane.
(For those of you reading, who are not familiar with Brick Lane, it is one of the most congested areas in London with people and traffic during the weekends.)
The 1st AD suggested we go and scout the location anyway and see the potential and although we tried to dissuade her from doing so she persisted. So, giving in we headed down to have a look at the location, snapped some photos, all the while myself and the location manager thinking to our selves that this could never work.
A couple of days later, after the 1st AD showed the director the pics she’d taken, the director came back saying that this is the location she’d like to film for the sequence. Still believing that it can’t be done the location manager agreed to speak with the council and see what the possibilities are considering we were six weeks under the permitted application deadline. At the same time myself and my producing partner got in touch with the relevant authorities to asses the situation and see whether we could realistically shut down Brick Lane junction for the four days which would include a Saturday and a Sunday, considered to be the busiest days.
And to our amazement we found out that given we only had four weeks left to the shoot the authorities and council agreed that they could turn things around for us in time if we got the paperwork in on that same day we got in touch with them but stipulated that because we were one day behind from the four week notice we could not realistically close down the two streets on the first day of the shoot but could traffic control it instead – meaning that we’d have to position traffic management on either end of the two converging streets and while going for a film take have them stop the traffic for a short period of time only.
That very same day we rushed around like crazy filling in all the necessary paperwork in order to reach the agreed deadline while, at the same time, scouting for other locations for the shoot. I recall us only having a couple of hours to get the paperwork in order before the deadline and the stress involved in making sure we dotted all the i’s and crossed the t’s so as not to jeopardise the chance of missing out on this opportunity.
It seemed to be like mana from heaven – a gift if you like – of being able shut down Brick Lane for four days, which at first seemed impossible but on further inspection was realisable even though some of us didn’t believe it could actually work.
Which just goes to show, you should never trust you first instincts, especially if they tell you something is just impossible or not worth the time in pursuing.
In life, not just in film, we tend to come across these type of situations quite regularly and we get fooled by telling ourselves ‘No, it can’t be done’ or ‘It will never work’ without even putting in that little effort to see why it can’t or wouldn’t work.
The Chinese 1st AD taught me a valuable lesson on that day. Hadn’t I listened to her or had refused to go along on that day or follow through on that particular location then who knows if we would have managed to film that sequence. And we could’ve ended up having a very angry and disappointed director, which doesn’t really bode well.
So, next time you feel the need to jump to a conclusion before setting the facts straight do the following:
First – Bite your lip from saying the big No no;
Second – Pause for 10 seconds;
Third – Think about it for a moment or two and weigh up the possibilities;
Fourth – Then go ahead and find out the truth of the matter.
Hell, you may just find out that you initial thought was wrong all along. Just like I was.
Happy Chinese thinking.