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On Island West film shoot

A couple of weeks ago before the lockdown I was looking for sound recording jobs online as usual. I found on Shooting People a post looking for someone to work that same weekend on a film shoot in Cornwall. It was the winner of the Arri Alexa challenge, a short dystopian drama about life in Britain after an unspecified apocalypse, and they would be filming in north Cornwall. Although it was an expenses only job it sounded like a great opportunity to work with an industry standard camera, a skilled crew and talented cast. I was very happy to be offered the role and I spoke with Vic Thorson, the producer, on the phone.

I arranged with Vic to travel down to Cornwall with the script supervisor Becca Cornford. On the afternoon of Friday 13th March I made my way down to Sutton in south London and met Becca at the train station. We drove down without stopping in an incident free journey. Arriving at the village of Probus it proved a bit of a challenge to find the cottage I would be staying in, but eventually I found it and unlocked the box beside the door to retrieve the front door key. As some of the crew were filming some pick up shots that day I settled in and went out for fish and chips. Eventually the steadicam operator Rupert Peddle and 2nd AC Peter Doyle Davidson arrived, having filmed a mock up land mine in a stream. After a brief chat we went to bed ridiculously early for a 4am start the following morning.

In the morning we drove for about an hour to the first location. It was at Lean Point in North Cornwall, a beautiful cliff top location. In the sea below we could see seals who seemed to be watching us in action, and on a distant cliff top were wild ponies. It was a precarious walk down to the filming location from the cliff top and I managed to slip on the mud carrying my equipment down. Much of the time we were filming on the actual cliff edge and I tried to look down as little as possible. Fear of falling aside filming was highly enjoyable. As well as being a very experienced crew most of whom were working professionals, it was also an extremely friendly group of people. On some shoots I do feel separate from other departments, especially when there is a large camera department who keep to themselves. But over this weekend I found myself able to talk to and get on with everyone on set, both cast and crew, and there was a strong sense of a collective effort.

The director Carolyn Saunders knew what she wanted and worked in harmony with DoP Mary Farbrother. They seemed to be a tight unit even though they had never worked together before. Rupert Peddle using the Arri Trinity steadicam showed his professionalism as he navigated the cliff edge. I did my best to follow behind, mindful of safety. It was an enjoyable day but I was highly relieved at the end of it to leave the cliffside and we enjoyed a well earned pint at the nearby Gurnard’s Head pub. As the DIT technician Theo Cordery backed up the files we watched some of the rushes. They looked incredible, the drone footage especially was utterly breathtaking. After a Chinese take away at the cottage we settled down for another early night.

In the morning we drove the fairly short distance to a farm in Penvose. Driving in the minibus we heard a strange rattling noise, thinking there was something wrong with the engine. Finally we stopped to check and it turned out the tailgate was open! Fortunately nothing was missing. We filmed in a barn first which the talented production design team of Rowena Zoro and Fern Leigh Albert had turned into a dystopian family home, complete with steampunk electronic devices. It was a day of moving from location to location, battling the weather as the rain was a persistent threat. We enjoyed a lovely lunch at a lay-by in Melingoose where a catering truck offered us a tasty chilli con carne. The final location of the weekend was Pendower beach where we skirted around the dog walkers. We managed to wrap at sunset, which meant I had to pack down on the beach in the dark, my kit lit up by the gaffer Kian Altmann. I stayed a final night in the cottage and the following morning set off back to London with Rupert. He is a keen surfer and we headed to Newquay but the waves were a bit too intimidating that morning so we enjoyed a cooked breakfast overlooking the beach and drove back to London. As a sign of things to come we went our separate ways at Marylebone station, saying goodbye with an elbow bump.

Overall it was an unexpected but really enjoyable shoot. It’s rare for me to say this, but this was a bunch of people each and every one of whom I’d love to work with again. Carolyn has plans for turning this into a feature film, and if it does happen I’d love to be involved. Not just to be filming on the beautiful Cornish coast but also to work with a great cast and crew, every one of them a master of their individual craft.