Sunday, June 30, 2019

Top Secret Notes from a Movie Set

Two years ago I traveled to Prague with my friend Lisa Klein. Her book Ophelia was being made into a movie and they were filming at a studio in Prague and on location in the area. It was a last minute trip, to put it mildly, that came about mostly because I don't snore.  

Lisa's copy of her book, which the director, producers, and actors signed.

Day one, arriving on the set, and I was feeling like a reporter, all geared up to record my impressions of the studio and the filming, maybe snap a few photos of the actors (Daisy Ridley! Clive Owens! Naomi Watts!) but a publicist swooped over to say, No Pictures unless you absolutely promise not to share them on social media. 

And no writing about any of this until after the movie comes out.

I tried to explain that the things I wanted to write about (the props piled up on the set, the conversation I had with a Czech seamstress, a funny interaction with the cinematographer) were probably not going to mess up the publicity of the film. Also, I'm not writing gossip columns for Variety, just a humble little blog for my friends. 

Didn't matter. The answer was still no. 

I took notes anyway, with the thought that I would reveal all after the movie came out. Well, the movie came out. And now dear readers I am about to REVEAL ALL.

Or sorta all. 

Fun fact: the notes I wrote are packed away in a box who knows where because my husband and I are moving next week. So, bear with me as I piece together my two year old memories (with lots of help from the pictures I took). 

Castle in Krivoklat where they filmed many of the exterior shots of the movie

Barrandov studio where they filmed the interior scenes.
(This is the same studio where they filmed Mission Impossible and Bourne Identity.
Also, the Nazis made propaganda movies here.) 

Open a mild-mannered looking door in the studio, and Boom! You're inside the great hall of a castle. So castle-like, except there is no ceiling. I ask if I can take a picture of Lisa sitting in an Ophelia chair and I'm given permission. While I set up the shot--at a jaunty angle because I'm trying to be artsy-- a man leans over my shoulder and says, That's nice. 


Turns out, he's the cinematographer. He takes a picture of Lisa too and, no big shocker, it's nicer than mine.

Lisa and I wander onto the queen's bedroom set and get into a somewhat tense conversation with the set designer after I ask her where all the stuff goes after the movie's over. I get the feeling that she thinks I'm trying to steal her set-designer secrets, so I reassure her that I'm just nosy.

They made this bed for the movie. Super secret info I wheedled out of the set designer:
After the movie's over, it may end up in a prop warehouse
to possibly be used on a future movie set. 

The set designer's assistants hand-painted this lovely tapestry while we watched.
Fun factoid: the paint has gold glitter in it to attract the light. 

Oh look, this food on the banquet table looks so real! Because it is real, the prop guy tells me. And speaking of props, I can't get over how many candles they've been burning on this set. 

Boxes of candles in various stages of burning

Lisa and I stand in line to eat lunch. There's a huge crowd in the dining area. Actors in costume-- palace guards, ladies in waiting. Stagehands. A seamstress from the area who was called up for a few days to sew beads on dresses. The boy who plays young Hamlet and his mom. 

Clive Owens strides by with a make-up artist in tow trying to fix a chunk of bad wig-hair that keeps falling into his eyes. He's tall and he's CLIVE OWEN, but all I can think is: this guy doesn't look like a movie star... he looks like a middle-aged man playing dress-up.  

We meet Daisy Ridley! And she is radiant and lovely. We meet Tom Felton, who's sporting a very non-Malfoy-ish beard. We meet George MacKay, who plays Hamlet, and he's just eated M&Ms, and I know this because after he gives me the British two-cheek kiss, my two cheeks smell like M&Ms. 

We sit in the producers' chairs and watch the same scene-- Clive Owen and a bunch of guards running down a hall and yelling at Daisy Ridley-- over and over again for the entire afternoon. (In the movie the sequence takes approximately 45 seconds.)

I drift over to a table covered with helmets.

table covered with helmets

Lisa and I eat ice cream with a palace guard. We watch the stand-ins for Hamlet and Ophelia stand in various places around the great hall so the camera people can get the lighting right. You can't see it in the picture but they're both wearing sneakers.


People are running around all over the place, make-up people and lighting people. Actors and their mothers. Lisa's sitting in the producer's chair watching, and it hits me suddenly that she wrote this book! And the actors are saying her words! And all of these hundreds of people are HERE, in service to something SHE created. (Well, William Shakespeare created it, Lisa keeps reminding me.) But whatever, Lisa. I mean, how awesome is this?

The next day we hop on a bus and head away from the touristy places. We find a park and walk along a windy trail, ending up in a garden where kids are playing and people are walking their dogs. We sit on a bench and take out the books we're reading. The book I'm reading is Ophelia, because I am embarrassed to say, I didn't start reading it until the plane ride over here and I still have a few chapters left.

I am finding this whole experience surreal. Sitting on a park bench next to the author at the same time I am reading her book. Being in the Czech Republic. On a movie set. Where actors greet me with M&M-flavored, two-cheek kisses.

But then, in no time at all, I disappear into the story.
















1 comment:

  1. I know continuity is a big thing on movie sets and when you mentioned the candles, it just occurred to me how difficult it must be to make sure the candles aren't at drastically different heights (from burning down) between shots.
    What fun to be "backstage!"

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