Filming in London

Filming in London

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The Shard, London by Clare O’Beara

Preparation

Before heading to London, I had made exactly one short film, a few minutes long, which I filmed; and co-produced with two students in my class, who acted. This was great fun and worked well. We used a student’s phone.

One of our lessons was to make a storyboard which is a drawn version of the story, in boxes shaped like the screen. I had to draw out what I thought my London filming might look like and any captions or dialogue should be shown.

I had made a series of clips of spring in St. Stephen’s Green and ran them together (our earliest film exercise with no story or actors) so I experimented with Final Cut Pro. I managed to overlay titles and newsflashes on this gentle scene to resemble what I could do with my London filming for book trailers. When I combined this exercise with the storyboard I was able to get a good idea of what I would need to do. This also allowed my lecturer to make suggestions.

I was making two films – my science fiction book trailers and a documentary on disability access.

Equipment

We booked a basic hotel in Ealing and Ryanair flights to Stansted during Reading Week in February. I had not had much time to get used to the Crosstour action camera, just one morning filming ducks in the park. To keep me going while on the move, I bought a battery pack called a powerbank. This has USB ports and each morning I set out with the two camera batteries, Samsung phone and the powerbank fully charged. When a battery ran low I would swap it for the one in my backpack which charged happily from the powerbank as I walked. I could also charge the phone that way. I had my mini tripod which could be used with my phone or the camera.

I had read The Guerilla Filmmaker’s Pocketbook, which I thoroughly recommend. This advised me to make a call sheet. This is a list of what scenes you need to film, where, timing, and routes to take between locations. We made this at home over a couple of evenings, using Google maps and the Tube map.  Following our call sheet saved time and debate each day. The only time we didn’t follow it exactly, we just had extra walking. I had scheduled one lengthy series of activities for ‘First Fine Day’; as it happened we reached London on the warmest winter day ever recorded in the UK.

Walking stick and pack
Walking stick and pack

Travel Day

We didn’t like to film in the airport but got some footage on the Stansted Express and in Liverpool Street Station. Allan my husband gets tired after travelling, so we did not do much after getting some footage in Ealing and checking in to the hotel that afternoon. The next day was a glorious warm day – turned out to beat the previous day’s record – so we set off for the fine day call sheet.

First Day’s Filming

We went straight on the Tube to the City where we went to Fenchurch Street and a building known as the Walkie Talkie. On top is the Sky Garden. We queued with other tourists for a security scan before the fast lift. The top had a café and seating and glassed balconies for the 360 degree views. I did lots of filming but was not allowed to use the tripod on the balcony, in case I used it as a selfie stick I was told, selfie sticks being banned. We could see the grey-yellow smog of traffic fumes sitting down over the streets. Allan enjoyed the view and lunch. We did comment that the potato and leek soup was a bit watery; of course, we were captive purchasers unless we wanted to go down early.

I was carrying my backpack with a folder of call sheets and notepad, the camera and battery bag and the tripod, plus my Kindle. My phone was in my front waistcoat pocket, and I was being careful not to be pickpocketed or to leave anything out of my hand for a moment. Each day I was also taking photos with an eye to making book covers.

Roman villa, Museum of London
Roman villa, Museum of London

After lunch, Allan decided that his legs had had enough (and the smog was causing asthma) and he just wanted a sit down, so I left him in a City café and went off to the nearby Museum of London. I only had time to see a portion of it, but the entry is free and it is very accessible. I filmed some of the displays, and myself handling stone axeheads and flint nodules.  Then I went on past St Paul’s Cathedral across the Thames, following a route we’d worked out for the sheet. We knew there was no point in going to Westminster as the Houses of Parliament are under scaffolding and plastic. I got all my shots – the London Eye was the big one, to represent London’s Eye the news zine in my books – and met up with Allan again.

At this point I need to record that I filled up my camera’s Sandisk SD card. We hadn’t known how much it would take but I had brought the packet so we could buy another one exactly the same. Allan spotted an Argos store in the City and said that would be a good place to get one. We went in and immediately saw a big poster advertising Sandisk SD cards. Clearly every tourist was doing what we were doing. I produced the original packet and we got the second card.

We ate our evening meals in Ealing as this left us a short bus-ride from our hotel. Prices here are also more reasonable than the city centre. We further economised by having packs of fruit juice and breakfast biscuits with the in-room coffee each morning, and not paying for wi-fi access. Most pubs and museums give free wi-fi.

We started each day by recording a sit-down intro in the hotel but I was not sure if I would use these or not. I just knew I needed different kinds of footage, and the more I had the more I could work with when we returned home. I was also using the time to get familiar with my camera. This kept us both attuned to the fact that we were here to film as well as having a short break.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

Second Day’s Filming

The next day Allan said he was tired and would prefer to take it easy. I agreed that this was also something to report in the documentary – people with health conditions and on medications can’t do as much as fully healthy people. Allan was thus given the task of checking us in to Ryanair and printing out boarding passes. He said he would get his lunch in Ealing and enjoy the day.

That day started out with a grey overcast and as I travelled the weather turned to chilly rain. I followed my second day’s call sheet and went on the Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich via Canary Wharf. I got a nice shot of Cutty Sark and some of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, including just filming the people, but what was most on my mind was lunch in the Maritime Museum.

At the Maritime Museum, which we’ve visited previously, I asked the lady at reception about disability access, explaining that I was a film student. I thought that saying journalism student might give the impression that I was looking for problems. I asked if she would mind my setting up a little camera and recording an interview but she asked me not to record. I was told that two of the lifts were out of order that day but otherwise access was good and a wheelchair user could get around easily. Large print information sheets and magnifying glasses were available to borrow. I asked if there was anything blind visitors can handle and was told there is a tour for blind people, who get extra handling rights.

I had lunch which was hot soup and bread and coffee, then did some filming around the museum. Then it was time to brave the weather which had turned very cold and wet; lulled into a false sense of security I’d left my heavier jacket at the hotel. I had to choose between pressing on to see the Dome, a twenty minute walk or a bus ride each way, and leaving it. As the light was dropping fast I decided I would have to leave it.

That evening I was starting to feel the effects of a couple of days of sightseeing and concentration. For three days I couldn’t go up a flight of steps or escalator in the Tube without whipping out a phone to film some footage. I had become adept at finding something to place my mini tripod on to film the street with the Crosstour. No litter bin or bench escaped my notice. I was happy to include medium low level shots, as this mimics what a wheelchair user sees. We relaxed over dinner and got an early night.

Each night in the hotel I sat reading my Kindle while all our phones and batteries and power bank charged. We had brought two plugs with USB ports and cables to charge the gadgets, and I swopped them over until everything was full but the Kindles, which I then charged overnight.

Chinatown in London
Chinatown in London

Third Day’s Filming

On the final day we packed, ate breakfast and checked out. Then we followed the call sheet by heading to Covent Garden for more filming and as the weather had improved I got some lovely street shots. I was looking out for specific items like the Royal Opera House and had noted these on the call sheets. We had lunch in Itsu which is healthy fast food; I had miso soup and a satay chicken salad wrap. Again I left Allan seated and went off to gather more footage; this time I got Leicester Square and nearby Chinatown’s restaurants, and Trafalgar Square where I was just lucky to spot a poster announcing street closure for the St Patrick’s Day parade. “Yes!” I said and filmed it. I knew it would stand in for my Irish character and one book does actually cover St Patrick’s Day in Trafalgar Square, which I made sure to get in the background. We headed to Liverpool Street again, having planned this day to be close to the station.

Jackfruit
Jackfruit

That evening we ate dinner at the airport, then had a delayed flight as a plane went on fire on the runway, and Stansted only has one runway. We got home at two in the morning. The cats were pleased to see us.

Conclusions

The next day I started to look at my footage, a journey of discovery. If I were to go again, I would be more au fait with the camera and I would know that the tiny squeak of the plastic feet on the tripod being moved, gets picked up by the onboard mic. I would probably bring a tiny tool to stop my nails getting broken by opening the tiny doors on the camera to get batteries and the disk in and out. However, I think that having nothing else to do but concentrate on filming for a few days was a fantastic way to learn. I am also highly impressed by this camera technology. This was so lightweight that I could travel easily around London and make the films I wanted to make. I recommend the Crosstour Action Camera and The Guerilla Filmmaker’s Pocketbook to any film maker.

Landseer's Lion
Landseer’s Lion

All photos taken by Clare O’Beara 2019.

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