Thought we’d wrapped shooting last night? Nope. It’s never that simple.
Day 11 – Saturday 24th August – San Francisco and home
We’d filmed every scene in the script, every bit of dialogue (well, apart from the bits we crossed out, rewrote, abandoned, or generally disregarded. Which is normal), but we’d known for a couple of weeks that we had a hole to fill: the odd schedule dipsy-doodle around Las Vegas, where we filmed the magicians, ditched my beloved Jeep thing, then flew to San Francisco in the nick of time to film at the Exploratorium had left us with a problem. In the grammar of the film, how had we travelled to San Francisco? It’s not an irrelevant problem, in that one of the stories the film tells is of Alom’s Summer holiday road trip. How does that resolve?
Our destination all along had been – and this isn’t really a spoiler, honest – the Exploratorium in San Francisco. My previous visit to the Western US had been effectively a pilgrimage to their original building, and this was my first glimpse of their new digs. I was excited.
Though first we had to convince the staff we weren’t going to burn the place down, or at least: if we did, that our insurance covered it. That was a bit nerve-wracking as the way location insurance is done differs somewhat between the US and Europe. We finally received the ‘You’re all good’ confirmation only when we were in Las Vegas, which was… a little close for comfort. But hey, as long as the camera gets to roll, that’s a win, right?
The last time Alom or I set up a shoot like this we got to start phone calls with lines like, “Hello, my name’s Jonathan and I’m working on a documentary for the BBC, I wonder if…”. It’s remarkable how many doors those three magic letters open. Sure, some are slammed in your face too, but at least the person you’re contacting has some sort of mental model into which they can place you. No such luck when you’re working for a production company and charity few have heard of. Several people we really wanted to talk to said ‘No.’
One of the things you typically do when you’re making a documentary is scout out locations ahead of time. The recce is a crucial time-saver, but this project clearly didn’t have the budget for it. That’s one of the reasons we shot the film in Colorado, Las Vegas, Death Valley and San Francisco: as you’ll have gathered from these posts, I’d done the whole ‘road trip’ thing before and hence had a bunch of locations in mind already.
Now, the last time I was in Beatty was three years ago, and at that point it had a couple of motels, a couple of bars, a crossroads, an implausibly-grand carpark, and a gas station. It’s since added a vast casino with a 24-hour Denny’s. So, you know, pancakes happened.
It’s rare to film a script in page order: usually one records whichever bits fit the schedule rather than adhering to the script. This becomes mightily confusing, but not so confusing that one can drive past a city the size of Las Vegas by accident. No, no – we absolutely intended to do that.
This film interleaves several stories, then brings them together (we hope) neatly at the end. There’s the obvious ‘Alom’s road trip summer holiday’, but there’s also the story of that bottle you’ve glimpsed at the top of Pikes Peak, and there’s a little tickle of a story about a remarkable guy by the name of Oppenheimer.
This is going to be another day of your wondering just what we were doing in the US. Running around filming demos in pretty places, certainly, but surely there’s more to it than that? There is, but… well, I’m not going to reveal everything just yet. Partly because I’ve only just finished logging all the shots, so it’ll be a while before we know what’s made the cut and what hasn’t. But also because I don’t want to spill the beans about the main story and content of the film until we’re much closer to publication. And that’s likely a few months away.
So enjoy the holiday snaps, and watch out for clues peppered through.
I remembered two things from the previous day: we did a bunch of props shopping in the morning, and I found out what ‘Chicken Fried Steak’ is. On reflection I could happily have seen out my days without such knowledge.
Day 2 – Thursday 15th August – Buena Vista to Durango/Silverton