End of part one driving

The people I’ve been working with, myself included, are all a bit shell-shocked today. We’ve been loosely communicating as there is still fallout to be fixed but two shows were shot in two days, Sunday and Monday, and now we have Tuesday off-ish. I still had a car to return, and I was very upset about having lost my driving glove so I resolved to find it. And I did!

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If I’m driving for hours and hours day after day, I like to wear a leather glove on my right hand. I find my hand takes some wear just from constantly holding the steering wheel, and the glove is very helpful. It’s also a little bit of an affectation. Part of the game is to make your passengers comfortable. Little things like a driving glove exist in a confidence place in the imagination. “He has a driving glove. He is evidently serious about driving. I’m in good hands.”

Also the glove used to belong to my uncle. It’s one of the many memories of him that I carry. Perhaps I have too much of the past around me, what with decking myself in so many of Peter’s accessories, living in my mother’s flat, filled with strange esoteric items that have come to me from Dad and other people long lost. But I like making use of old things that would otherwise be abandoned. And they remind me of the ones we’ve lost. So I wasn’t going to let that glove go easily.

My car was supposed to be returned to the rental people in the morning, but I used it first. I took it shopping and then went on a glove hunt and – miraculously – found it in the gutter on one of the streets I’d parked on yesterday evening. Hooray! Now I get another two weeks of Michael Jackson jokes on the next job…

Then I phoned up the rental company and asked them what time they were picking it up: “I’ve been waiting a fair few hours now.” Cheeky, but I should’ve returned it at 8am but they dropped it off to me, as they can for corporate rental, and I made out like I thought they were collecting, which we hadn’t arranged. Thankfully they bit, although I could tell they were being merciful. I drove it in many hours late and they didn’t hit for an extra day. Good on them. Now I’m home and somehow I’ve agreed to go out for a drink tonight. There’s an imminent danger of me falling flat on my face so I figured I’d get the bulk of this down before alcohol and pancakes…


Drinks at Vault with a mate, and then pancakes and wine with a treasured old friend. If I was tired when I started this blog I’m totally exhausted now. Virtually nothing left, frankly. So I’m in another uber, splurging my ill gotten gains, luxuriating my way home through the cold, to a flat that should be warm, and a good bed with no 6am emergency phone calls tomorrow. Probably.

 

Corona nonsense

My whole life is an NDA at the moment! The last week has been particularly weird as I’ve had three simultaneous NDA projects running alongside one another. It has been a crazy and fascinating week. I’ve done so much. And out of caution I’ve confined myself to just saying how tired I am or talking about random encounters. I think if I were to break all three NDA’s I’d be liable to the tune of about 26 million dollars. It’s all on the dotted line.

I was waiting for my last pick up of the job this evening when I got a call from Tom, who is staying on my sofa tonight. “Your flatmate says she has corona virus,” he says. “She’s in her bedroom. I don’t know what to do.”

I am forced to go into a painstaking dissection of this whole thing. She doesn’t have Corona virus. She has a sniffle, perhaps. She has massive constant anxiety, for sure. She also has the delusion that she is significant coupled to the conviction that there are only about 10,000  people in the whole world, thus statistically speaking, ALL THE THINGS are likely to happen to her or someone she knows. You know the type. You might be the type. Small world syndrome.

Won’t swim in the sea because sharks. Taxi door to door in *insert notionally dangerous city / suburb of London* so not shot / stabbed. The hitchhiker is definitely a murderer.  All of this, rooted in a bad assessment of odds, until life if stifled into tiny tiny safe safe patterns.

“She was sick – she puked,” says Tom. That’s not a symptom of Corona virus. A hangover, maybe. Anxiety, yes, at this level – and she’s an anxiety ninja. Anxiety yaks are a clear possibility here. But it’s not speaking to me of anything other than that she assumes she’s got the thing because the thing is in all the papers. A&E must be FLOODED with hypochondriacs.

Ok, if she’s been kissing some guy who has since been diagnosed and he’s sent her an anxious message, fine. If she sat next to a guy with “I went to Wuhan and all I got was this stupid T-Shirt”, and he wet sneezed in her face then fine. But in those instances she could legitimately have gone to hospital and said “I should get tested,” and unless she’s mental she would have. Rather than the action she chose: swanning into the living room, announcing it like Blanche dubois would to a somewhat nervous young fellow, yawping sumptuously into the porcelain prayer pot, and retiring to the bedroom therein to languish incommunicado with the blinds down. Light the blue touchpaper…

I’ll have a word with her tomorrow. Through the door. You never know. I’ll ask her why she thinks it’s Corona. If I get “Well there was this guy called Barney and now he’s in quarantine,” then I’m calling the guys in the hazmat suits myself. But if, as I suspect, I get a list of loosely connected symptoms, maybe an “I just know,” and inevitably a whole lot of disconnected noise then I’m going to go about my business as normal and take it with a heavy pinch of salt. Until I get home to a corpse and then die horribly just before all my friends do the same with my name the last thing on their foam speckled lips. “Fkucklinghg Ahhhlll Bhlarclhhlayychchkkkkt t nnnn ….”

Tom was worried sick. His worry was not contagious thankfully. He takes people at their word. I’ve had to go into great detail about the nature of anxiety and self importance in order to step him down from his original suggestion that we both just get a hotel room. It’s neurotic imaginings, or I’m Tom Selleck.

She had cancer just a month or so ago. That turned out to be a false alarm after all the private doctors checked it out.

It’s my bedtime. I’m tired. I just sneezed.

It’s smallpox, guys. I’ll try to keep writing as long as I’m able.

Unconnected photo. Yeah. That’s how I roll.

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Why be rude?

In a moment of quiet, knowing I won’t have a pick-up for a while, I walk over to meet an actor I’ve booked that I’ve never met before. I’m considering using him for another job in a week or two. He’s pretty obvious, in his costume, surrounded by people in high vis with lights.

I go up and greet him by his name. “I’m Al,” I say and extend my hand. He looks at it. Looks back to me. “Yes?” he asks, face neutral, defensive.

“I thought I’d come over and shake you by the hand.” He looks down at it again. His hand remains deliberately completely still. It’s a studied insult. He looks back to me “Why?” he responds, and is that hostility already in his eyes? My my, I think it is. I look at him for a while, right into those eyes, curious. Eventually: “Because I recruited you for this job and I wanted to get a sense of what you’re like.” And the veil goes over the darkness.

“OH! Hello,” he effuses, and a smileish thing switches on and he’s shaking my hand too late, too late, far far too late, I’ve already seen him now. But I’m smiling, and jolly.

It’s not a long conversation. He apologises at the end of it. With a dismissive gesture I throw away the idea of him needing to apologise. “It’s fine,” I laugh, and it is – for my pride, but not for my faith in him to fill this role.

He won’t be getting a call. The job I’m looking to fill needs someone with charm. I don’t care how cold or tired he was, if that’s his default talking to a stranger behaviour then it doesn’t matter how polite he is once he knows there might be some work at the end of it, it’s not work he’ll be good at. My instinct is my guide and in two words he eloquently talked himself out of a job. I’m sad about it. But somebody else will be glad of the work.

Outside of going and talking to some of the actors I booked, I have just sat in a car. Flashes of activity when the team get back to me and I have to race to another venue, but mostly just waiting. The day came and went, the rain came down, the sun came back. I waited. The sun went down. I waited still, and then some more. Waiting waiting waiting. Now it’s dark and I’m waiting outside the building where I did Christmas Carol. I think I’ll be up early tomorrow and it’s almost nine so I decided to start writing so I can just fall flat on my face when I get home tonight.

I’ve been fortunate to be driving a very pleasant man around town. We get on, although his brain is evidently flooded. I’m hoping we won’t be at it too much longer but I’ve got a feeling it’ll go until midnight. When I get home I’ll likely have an immediate bath, a glass of red wine, draw a line through a potential actor’s name in the notepad on my desk, and fall flat on my face again…

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Sleepy driver

Last night when I got home I carbonised some leftover pizza and then picked out the few edible bits with my fingers. This evening I was no more inspired, if marginally more successful. Baked beans on toast. Even this tired I couldn’t fuck that up. Thankfully I had stopped and had a proper lunch at Bone Daddy’s in High Street Kensington so I’m nourished already. Best ramen in town, and quick.

My phone is going constantly, usually people needing information or needing to have their mind put at rest or both. Having just discovered that my call time is surprisingly late tomorrow, I’m thinking I might do something that I never normally do. I’m thinking I might switch off my phone as I sleep. Then I won’t be woken by the buzzing of the morning message swarm. I’ll still go in to work long before my call time, but I’ll take my lie in when it’s offered, especially as I’m likely to be one of the last cars on the road tomorrow, doing my usual thing of picking up the slack. If I’ve got the energy I’ll spend it. That’s always been the way. But I’ve got to make sure I’ve got enough energy to spend.

Tomorrow is crunch time, when this huge team of people comes together and something happens. I’m really hoping it doesn’t rain in London tomorrow evening. We will be working in the dark, frequently outdoors. Everybody will be much more cheerful if they’re dry. Including me.

It’s hard to believe that I had a cleaning lady come to my flat just two days ago. My bedroom looks like a volcanic eruption of clothes. Digging around for audition clothing, finding spare bits of costume for friends of mine who are working in costume tomorrow. Getting home, immediately taking all my clothes off, and falling face down on my bed without putting them away. I’ve had the place to myself the last two nights and you can tell.

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My favourite thing about this job is that I get a car for the duration. Even in this town, I find driving therapeutic. But this town really is weird to drive in.

The weekend drivers were out in force today. My favourite was some old guy in his brand new Merc. I’m in an eight seater. I was trying to get off at the lights quickly enough to nip in front when my lane got blocked. He thought I was racing him, so he powered in front of me and then stopped across both lanes. Then he pulled aside to let me pass, and then did it again. He looked at me with a strange mixture of rage and triumph the second time. I was so weirded out I just kind of … shrugged. It didn’t seem to warrant an insulting gesture. It was a kid showing me a toy. I let him go ahead and then took a different route. I’ve seen too much road rage in this city and I didn’t want the insurance hassle if he kicked the panels in. Alone. Neat haircut. Clean shaven. Expensive car. Sharp suit. Those guys have the most stuff buried I guess…

In the mix with compassion

And then I catch myself.

The person I was upset with yesterday. She’s 22, and she’s doing a very difficult thing. This sort of event – there’s so much left to the individuals. How can I expect a 22 year old who is just starting out in event work to understand the intricacies of etiquette around booking actors? It’s a language learnt over time. I’ve resolved to be nice to her today, and guide the things that she hasn’t learnt towards being things that she has learnt so that next time there are no disgruntled thesps. We can be a temperamental lot. And through being nice to her I’ve understood her better and learnt things about her, and through learning about her I’ve discovered compassion for her and admiration for all the things she HAS done in a very unfamiliar context and an office environment that can feel hostile because it’s so busy.

This is a temporary office. It’s a short term thing. It’s a huge team of people, some working very hard, some standing by to pick up the things that need picking up. Everybody is thrown in at the deep end to either sink or swim. Everybody is human, everybody feels and strives. Nobody wants to be made to feel like their best efforts are not good enough. Far better to accept, embrace and guide than to insist that someone’s way is wrong. I know that. I just forgot because I got angry.

It’s how I used to manage my teams of over 100 unskilled waiters. Other floor managers would manage with a rod of iron. I’d come in and try to find the strengths and joys, get to know them individually. If I could build my own team I’d build a team that was happy and efficient where people felt their work was valued. If things got crazy sometimes members of my team would cry TO me but they’d never cry BECAUSE OF me. At the end of the event we’d part as friends. It’s a form of leadership that only works if you trust other people and not just yourself.

I momentarily forgot to trust other people, based on some reactive messages I got from people whose welfare I feel responsible for. Now I’ve remembered again.

One of my drivers fucked up. She lost her phone, and all her cards, and her call time changed. She missed her call, caused the transport manager all kinds of hell, and I ended up being told she’d be fired. “Let me sit with her first,” I asked.

She is a friend of a friend. She needs the work. I know that much. I’ve never met her before. I took her on trust.

She pulled up in a lovely merc. I got in and got her to drive me. I felt a bit sick. I’ve never been on that side of that conversation. She’s a good driver. She was nervous though, word rolling over word, her reasons, a context for what happened. I mostly let her talk, just trying to sniff if she was likely to do it again. It’s only a few days. I was honest with her about the concerns. Better that way. This work might be short term but we have to rely on everybody to do their little bit as best they can. I think we can rely on her. I told them so. Better to err on the side of compassion. As I said the other day, as I maintain, kindness is king. Be kinder than you have to be.

If it bites me in the arse then it bites me in the arse. I don’t think it will. She is no fool. She fucked up. It happens. And often it happens more when you care.

Just before I met the driver, my friend told me a story of how she left her phone at her day job and got on the tube to go to a big audition, only realising she couldn’t check Google maps when she got out the other end and found her pockets empty. I thought I’d missed my audition for the Netflix I just did, and almost sacrificed the actual audition by getting myself into a state about an imagined error. We are extremely creative self-sabotagers when we want to be. I’m policing it in myself, and I’m going to be compassionate about it in others.

I spent all day driving in a dinner jacket. Audition in the morning. No time to change. And frankly it made me feel sexy.

This life.

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Lots of actors

Well. I had a lovely day today on set. We were in a beautiful old school at half term. My brother’s old school. Last time I went there was when the parents were still alive, before the world got emotionally complicated. The names of the houses had a special significance. They were places of legend. Places where the older boys did the mysterious things that big boys do.

There I was, in the chapel. I found out what big boys do.

It turns out that big boys get a million WhatsApp messages from disgruntled actors who have been given no information and are losing faith in the job you’ve booked for them. The problem is it’s not my job to give them this information, and yet nobody else is. I just booked them. I called them off the record the other day and tried to put their minds at rest. But one of them said “it’s been decades since I’ve worked with such a bunch of muppets.” Another one forwarded me the most unprofessional email I’ve ever seen sent to a booked actor, with a release form attached, sent from the office, connected to me. Everybody has had one of these… I was filming something else and had to be on point. I had to disconnect. It was making me too angry. It makes me so livid thinking about it still. It’s a miracle of goodwill that half of my actors haven’t walked off the job after being on pencil for weeks and then getting that sort of sorry excuse for communication.

Given time I could maybe teach the person how to book actors – especially actors working at this rate. Even agency extras are better handled. They have to be, by contract. It’s a wonder my guys can put up with the communication level and tone I’ve witnessed. My rate for the day on set today was ten times theirs. Admittedly it’s for a week where if they need me I have to drop everything. But still… I feel responsible.

I went to the office after work, exasperated. “I’m just no good at writing emails,” is the response I get from the person whose job is mostly to write emails.

I’ll calm down soon, but not if my actors don’t show at the run through because they haven’t been briefed properly. Or at all.

Oh it makes me spit.

What a lovely day on set though. I should’ve just left my phone in the trailer. Lots of actors around me all of whom have been around the block a few times. “I’d forgotten that this is a way I can make money and enjoy it too,” says a man with two restaurants. “I’m thinking of easing back on this to focus on my daughter, you only get those years once,” says another. We’ve all been in it a while. I’m one of the youngest!

I travel home in a taxi with a lovely fellow. Lives in Ham, but isn’t. He came all the way to Manchester a couple of weeks ago only to be told he wasn’t needed. “Still get paid though”, he says. Fair. “Usually after a day like this I feel elated. As it is I just feel flat,” he confides. “I don’t know what it is. Too many people I suppose.”

Fair enough. There’s must have been 150 people in that room. The camera was interested in fewer than ten of us, and really in only two. The extras must have been living in some huge tent somewhere as we were ushered in coats through the rain by helpful young men and women with tempest torn brollies.

It was a good day but I’m exhausted from focus split. Tomorrow the mill. Sunday the fruits…

Here’s a picture of my lovely kitchen. In a glorious stroke of fate the cleaning lady came today. I’m off to bed in nice clean sheets.

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Pre production…

Walking into the unit office at the moment is like walking into a workhouse that has been organised to confuse me by the Facebook algorithm. I stroll in, direct from the streets, with the energy of sunshine on my face, into this weird underground lair. There I will see a woman who has directed me in multiple short films where I’ve been a sociopath in a car crash and a whimsical commuter on a bridge. She’s being briefed by the producer of last year’s Vault Festival where I insanely served psychedelic tea and talked about cholera and cleansing ritual whilst people had their tarot read. Sitting beside her is a dear friend who has done countless corporate gigs at dinners and award ceremonies with me where I’ve been dressed as a ringmaster and we’ve provided potted Shakespearean entertainments. Next to her, someone I haven’t seen for years but who I’ve always felt affinity with. I read opposite her at her Guildhall audition. We found connection and truth. She saw me in Twelfth Night as Malvolio in a stately home in Kent by mistake shortly afterwards and came and said hello. She ended up at RADA with my wonderful friend Tim and many other reprobates. We are still in touch, and there she is, organising crafty.

Jobs for good hearts. Jobs for freelancers. Jobs for people who have flushed years of their life into dreaming the impossible dream. A bunch of positive fearless fools. Sure, there is still fear in them but mostly I see an overcoming. “Good grief I am driving a HUGE bloody car. Eeek! Too many smart knobs and whistles” says one of my friends who I know will just roll with it. These huge modern cars are so well kitted out with technology that they feel like it used to feel driving minis. You just have to remember to take wider corners. And, frankly, today I worked all day as a “driver”. I drove to the office and parked. In the evening I drove home. My executive had booked an earlier flight so I’d picked him up yesterday. So no Heathrow run. I was supposed to pick up some tripods but someone fucked up hugely with insurance. I ended up not needed as a driver at all.

I decided to help pick up the shortfall of capable humans in the office, rather than sit in the car, so I spent the day on the phone making sure I had made contact with every single performer involved and making sure they had a better idea of what was expected of them, and rough call times, and troubleshooting availability crises. I think… I hope … That it’s sorted.

This producing lark. It’s like I’ve accidentally bought a really shit Groupon. “BE A PRODUCER!” I’m having the “producer experience”. Without any of the risk because I’m just a driver. I’m not a producer. Although I’m beginning to think I’ve got the bones of one.

Today though I’m a helpful person picking up some of the slack. I’m not sure what has been dropped and what hasn’t. So I start by calling those actors, as I said. I suspect they’ll be worrying. I would be.

“What do you know?”

“Absolutely nothing mate. I’ve just been sent a load of forms to fill in. I’ve filled in some of them twice and I just got sent one a third time. I haven’t a clue what’s going on. Not a clue.”

“Fuck. Ok. Here’s what you’re actually doing, oh highly skilled individual who has agreed to spend a day focusing on this madness despite a fully functioning career…”

I mean, yeah. Loyalty goes a long way. Thank God for these performers who are so switched on and yet not bringing their ego to the table, who are doing this weird shit because they appreciate what it is, what it pays, why they’ve been called by Becky or I, and what they can bring to a job you’d never want to tell your auntie about at Christmas.

Many many phone calls later I have now spoken to every single one of them. It’s only 20. That I know of. One of them is a pensioner, an old friend of my parents, someone I haven’t seen for ages. “Am I too old?” she asked, and I immediately became her champion because of that question and what it must have come out of.

The rest are all performers. None of them had a clue what to expect. Most of them sounded relieved to get the call and some clarity from me. It’s shit not knowing. I understand that well.

I’m on a very different set tomorrow for a high profile telly job, and they’re doing a night shoot this evening. I hadn’t heard a call time for tomorrow by 7 this evening and I started fretting. By half seven I was emailing one of the other actors and my agent, worrying. He was worrying too thankfully. We both know now, of course. They were just shooting late and busy. The call isn’t five am. It’s 8.45, and then an hour in a comfy car before we are even on location. Lovely. But I’m very glad to be told. You need that, as a performer. Some idea of the structure in which you will be working. Without it you don’t know how to husband your energy, let alone organise childcare etc if that’s an issue. Hence my calls.

At some point today though I got so stressed out from converting energy in the office, where I sat for a while like a little stress dehumidifier, that I opened a fresh leaf of my notebook – (not the leaf photographed here in a calm moment) – and just wrote the word : “SHIT” in it. In capitals. I have no recollection of it and no idea why. I found it later and wondered. But yeah. That’s been my day.

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