Since I’ve been in LA sticking shiny things to myself, it’s only appropriate that one of my first nights back is a shiny London night. I went to BAFTA to see the screening of two films from the Ghetto Film School. Ghetto works with kids “from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in the film industry.” They get to work with amazing equipment provided by Sky, they are hands on in every part of the process from script to grading. It’s a great chance for these kids to pick up skills that will pay them well in life, and to gain confidence in the process.
I met them on Skype last summer. You periodically have to do Skype auditions. They’re odd. I had two theatre directors with me at the time and had co-opted one of them to hold the phone while the other one read everybody else. She did it with that huge attack that theatre directors often have when they act. I was reading for the angry ghost of William Shakespeare and the utter balls-out irreverence that Holly read with helped me land it, I reckon. Three weeks later I was at the National Theatre costume hire trying on different ruffs and earrings. A month later I was in The Coronet in Elephant and Castle, watching a 17 year old girl that had never spoken in public confidently instructing 150 extras, and feeling proud of her for it. That was when I really made sense of what a lovely thing I had got involved in. The kids grew through the work. Our director Nico was 16. Every note he gave me was playable, which is more than from some of the experienced people I’ve worked with. It was a busy week, but morale was high. Everyone was enjoying it. What a glorious project Ghetto Film School is.
When you film something it goes very fast. It’s hard to remember what you did. You move around the story in a non linear manner, committing to isolated snippets. By the time you get in front of the camera for a shot, loads of people have already done loads of work. You’ve been driven, made up, powdered, costumed, tweaked, microphoned, fed. You’re in a little area that has been beautifully lit and dressed. You stand in the light. All around, people are working on details. Maybe someone asks you to say something for levels. Maybe someone explains the shot to you. Maybe you’re there with other actors, maybe not. Quiet is called for. Someone is usually doing something to your hair right up to the wire, or powdering you, or brushing something off your shirt. Then there’s a sort of rhythm which varies depending on the group. But camera rolls and that’s announced, and then sound might call “speed”, which is only necessary when you shoot on film but some people do it for old time’s sake. Then there’s the clapperboard, everybody knows the clapperboard, calling the shot, making it easier for the editors. Then “Action” which is your cue. The camera is looking at you but you’re just a tiny part of it. You say whatever it is you say, and do whatever it is you do, and someone shouts “cut,”. If they’re old school and they’re happy they’ll shout “check the gate”. I like that tradition. It’s left over from shooting on celluloid where a good shot could be ruined if a hair got in the gate where the film hits the camera. Once it’s cut, there’s a breath of relief as everyone carries on the conversation they were having or bangs the thing they’ve been waiting to bang.
Either it resets and you go again or everyone moves to the next shot. By the time you’ve been on set for a while you’ve lost track of what you have and haven’t done and how you’ve done it, but thankfully someone else is keeping track of that for you. You have to do your job and trust that everyone else will do theirs. The editors will hopefully cut it together nicely. You go home and probably forget all about it. Sometimes it’s ages before you see it and you’ve almost entirely forgotten the whole process. And that was me last night.
Watching the finished product last night at BAFTA was delightful. We had some of the kids over from America, and some big industry people like Barbara Broccoli watching their work. Emma Thompson was there too but I sucked in the desire to fanboy her. The kids got to do a Q&A afterwards to a packed audience. I think they’d have got a lot from it. And the film played nicely. I didn’t want to throw things at myself on screen. In fact I had a glorious evening. In many ways.
At some point the movie might appear online and if it does I’ll link you to it. But to have been involved in what must have been a hugely empowering experience for kids so young was great. And now I’ve always got a captured memory, and a useful calling card in the endless quest for the next job.