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I made my first film when I was thirteen. I've done a lot since, as you can see here.
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FILM AND VIDEO: Anecdotes
Just four stories at the moment - one of my hellish time filming the latest rehash of Ivanhoe for the BBC; one of my appearing in the Strictly Come Dancing oh-so-tacky fanzine show; one of my appearance on a show asking for money; and the last of my bizarre day working with an all-deaf television crew. You might also be interested in my account of trying to get the Built for the Stone Age series commissioned.
Choose, and be happy:
Film snobbery on the Ivanhoe set
This is the story of my hellish time filming the latest rehash of Ivanhoe for the BBC. It is a tale of incompetence and snobbery. Some of the incompetence was mine, but for snobbery, I was left in the shade by the film crew. Stick to video, I should - the people are nicer.
First, a photo taken from my camera position up on the battlements of Aydon Castle, Northumberland. That's Ivanhoe on the left on the white horse.
Well do I remember the day in question. I got a call from the production manager of Ivanhoe, from Aydon Castle which I know quite well, asking if I might come and be a focus puller. Glad to be asked, but careful not to deceive, I told him that I was not the world's most experienced film focus puller, but that I had done some and was willing to give it a bash. Some while later, after he had presumably tried to find someone else (I do not blame him), we spoke again, and he hired me. He told me that I would be needed at 4.30 p.m.
I arrived before 2 p.m. and was told again that I was not needed until 4.30, and was told to join the cameraman I would later be working with, up on the castle wall. This suited me, as I would have time to observe the crew's working practices, and familiarise myself with the workings of the particular camera being used, as all cameras have their individual quirks. As luck would have it, it was an Arri, and I have worked with Arri cameras before, but not the one which was in use there, which had many functions on it which baffled the cameraman as well.
I have always been advised to be meek and cautious when joining an existing camera crew. When asked to change a lens, I asked for confirmation that the mounting collar unscrewed anticlockwise, which is the usual direction, but I wanted to be sure, since jamming the lens on the camera would have been an unpopular and unimpressive, as well as avoidable, mistake. After a shot, the cameraman said "All yours." When I had decoded this to mean that he wanted the gate checking, I thought that I would show keeness and good nature, by helping the camera assistant to check the gate, even though I myself was not to start work until 4.30. The camera assistant was the man I had seen handling the camera with confidence and familiarity, the man who looked like a camera assistant, talked little but camera assistant talk, carried the camera assistant's bag, and did camera assistant-like things, such as operate the clapper-board (I was told that another guy was the clapper-loader, working with the other camera). He was, I discovered several hours later, not the camera assistant, but the camera driver. By then, it was too late. He was expecting me to do the checking, and was trying to help me, and I was expecting him to do the checking of the gate, and was trying to help him. The inevitable result was that I looked hesitant and unsure, and perhaps too as though I was trying to get him to camouflage my inexperience. At the same time, of course, he seemed oddly hesitant to me. Fearing that I might be treading on his toes, as some people get touchy when you try to help them with their job, I backed off.
The next time, the production manager talked to me, he told me that the crew had reported to him that I didn't even know how to change a lens. I have many times been warned that crews will always try to prove that a newcomer is incompetent, and this was hard evidence in support of this. I was surprised to say the least, but remember that at this stage I was still mistaken as to the identity of the camera driver.
The other focus puller, crewing the main camera, clearly didn't like me. I formed the impression that he had taken against the idea of me before I had even arrived. Time and time again he tried to make me look a fool. When he heard that most of my experience was in video, he scoffed and clearly counted this against me. When I told him that I had been dolly grip and focus puller on one production, he inaccurately informed me that this was impossible. Actually, it is perfectly possible for several reasons. For a start, video cameramen are used to doing focus pulls themselves, while operating, which is a skill which most film cameramen seem to lack. On another occasion after hearing me mention a camera where to check the gate one takes the front off, not the back as he was doing, he interrupted my conversation with someone else, to inform me, again inaccurately, that one can take the back off all cameras. I have owned a 16mm film camera for many years, and taking the back off that one to check the gate would be a very silly move indeed. Even on a modern Arri, I prefer to check the gate from the front, as it fogs less film, and disturbs the film less, but I was not instantly certain how to do this with the particular cameras they were using that day, and damaging a camera would have impressed no one. About one minute's tuition on the clips and fixings on that camera would have enabled me to do the job. In fact, I probably could have worked it out myself, but why should I take the risk, with several people on hand to show me?
To prove to me that I was useless, the other focus puller started telling me other things too, to put me in my place. Most of these, unfortunately, were not true. The best one was when he told me that video experience was counter-productive since depth of field is so much greater on video cameras. I failed to see how my experience could actually be counter -productive, and marvelled to hear someone working in the industry be so naïve on a technical matter. Clearly he had not the experience of studio video cameras which I have, otherwise he would know how shallow the depth of field is on them, and how tricky it is to keep the picture sharp. I knew of the phenomenon that is the film snob, but meeting one was still a revelation. Presumably he thought that in the vicinity of video camera, rays of photons obey different laws of physics, and somehow refract differently through lenses, to hit a CCD which is near enough the same size and shape as the film plane in a 16mm camera. Thinking it wise and diplomatic, rather than point out his folly, I just nodded in wide-eyed wonder.
The day I had on location with Ivanhoe is one I am unlikely to forget. It was interesting to talk to various people, for instance the matte artists who finally got out of me answers to technical camera questions relevant to their work, which they had failed to get out of the camera crew, presumably because it was too ignorant and haughty to tell them. The nicest people I met were from the design department. While I may be well-trained in the areas of technical matters, it is clear that I have a long way to go in learning the tricky art of dealing with film crews. Joining any team which has been operating for some while is always problematic, and in the middle of filming is doubly perilous. No matter, it was, as I say, excellent experience, and next time I will know for instance to ask the chap who looks, sounds and smells for all the world like a camera assistant, whether or not he is the camera driver.
The production was the usual nonsense. As you can see in the photograph above, the ground inside the castle, where there was a working farm complete with a herd of period goats, was green and pleasant, and not trodden to bare earth at all. Also, note the period hairstyles. The make-up department still kept with the myth that everyone in the medieval period had fly-away hair and filth-covered faces. I don't use soap on my face, nor shampoo in my hair, and both look fine. People in the past still judged each other by appearances, and it would take very little trouble for a person to rub their face with wet hands once a day, which is all it takes to keep a face clean. The designers also saw to it that mist drifted across almost every shot, thanks to a man just out of shot with a smoke gun. Why anyone should believe that the past always involved mist, I do not know. On top of the compulsory knitted-string chainmail armour, was the cliché of a wall-mounted metal brazier, with a bright orange flame coming from it, outdoors, in the middle of the day. What was this meant to be? Some gas-powered light? Why would anyone go to the trouble and expense? As for the studded leather armour, don't get me started...
Those who know me, are aware that the previous paragraph contained compaints about the inauthenticity of films set in the past, which have been aired by me once or twice before. It is bad enough seeing such things on the screen, but to be within arms'-reach of some inauthenti-thing which I could rip down, well, you must understand that it tries a chap's patience.
Still, got to laugh, eh?
Television people know best. At least, that's what they think. I suppose that people from all walks of life are like this, but perhaps it shows more with telly bods.
A while ago, I got a round-robin e-mail from someone who does a what's-on listing for swing dances. It said that the BBC was looking for people to appear on a telly show about dancing. I sent in my e-mail, and was asked by the Beeb to tell them what dance I did, where I was from, and that sort of thing. They also wanted a photo. Later, they asked me for a video. I did a very short .avi movie file with my digital stills camera and e-mailed them that, and then forgot about it. Time went by.
I got a telephone call and someone called Claire said that "we" would like me to be on "the show". I had no idea what she was talking about. I asked, and she explained that the show was connected with something going out on BBC1 on Saturdays called Strictly Come Dancing. a worse name for a show could be devised I'm sure, with a bit of effort. On this, 'celebrities' were paired up with professional ballroom dancers and each Saturday they performed a dance or two and then one couple was voted off. The following week was the last week, and they were down to two couples. The show I was wanted for was a "fanzine" show for the ultra-interested, which followed the couples in rehearsal during the week. It went out every day at eight thirty on BBC3. They had a lot of air-time to fill, and in the last week especially, very little to fill it with.
They wanted me to go down to London the following Tuesday, shoot an item live in the studio, then on Wednesday dance for a location shoot at a dance in London with a partner they'd find for me, and this would go out on air on the Friday. I said I was interested, but was not immediately committed. Consulting my friends, or those I might have mistaken as friends, I was advised to do it. "No publicity is bad publicity" was said a fair few times. Over the next few days, I received more calls from Auntie, and it became clearer just how tacky the show was. I can't get BBC3 and had never seen the show, but I already knew how bad 'reality' telly is.
They had hit upon the wild idea of doing the item like Blind Date. For those in ignorance, this is a long-running light entertainment show hosted in Britain by Cilla Black, in which one member of Her Majesty's general public asks three questions of three others who are hidden behind a screen. Based on the answers given, he or she picks one of the hidden three to accompany on a televised 'date'. The screen slides back to reveal the chosen one. In our version, instead of a date to exotic climes, it would be a dance somewhere in London. You can tell already, can't you, that there is little chance of this being very good.
The producers, all called 'Claire', knew nothing about dance. I sent them details about swing dance nights in London, since they needed to shoot the date at one.
The Claires were in their twenties, and all people who had grown up in the age of mobile 'phones. This meant that they considered that they didn't need to plan ahead, and that the solution to every problem involved a mobile 'phone. When I explained that I don't have one of these gadgets, they said "Ah - you're one of those eh." Conversations went along these lines:
"We'll let you know. We'll give you a call."
"How? I don't have a mobile 'phone."
"Well you can call us."
"From the taxi? How?"
"Oh yes, I see. Well, just text us, then."
"How? I don't have a mobile 'phone."
"Well, we'll telephone the taxi driver. He'll have a mobile 'phone."
"Do you know his number?"
"Oh, no, I suppose that wouldn't…"
"Why don't you just set a time now, and I'll arrive then?"
"No, I think it's best if you call us."
"How? I haven't got a mobile 'phone."
"Oh no, you haven't have you. Er… well, could you call someone else?"
My train was late, and this had been a bit of a concern for them, but the others, the three ladies from whom I would be picking one, hadn't had far to come, and they had rehearsed their bit in the studio. I got to the White City Television Centre, and waited for some while in the ultra high-security glass foyer, and watched media-types come and go. I recalled the time I shared a lift with Jeremy Paxman, when I had been there for a job interview. He looked a lot greyer in reality. I said that a couple of very intellectual friends of mine thought that his book on the English was very good. He adopted an air of amused disdain and said "Well, that's praise." I let it go, but perhaps I should have said 'Oh, cheer up, Paxo, you don't have to be grumpy all the time. Being polite and gracious is an option, you know.' Next time.
Anyway, everything I had been told had changed. They were now shooting the dance date that night instead of Wednesday, and somewhere different. I was taken to a little self-contained studio a few minutes walk away. There I met the various Claires who were producing the show. We agreed on what I was going to wear, and my shirt was sent away to be very thoroughly ironed (it had been stuffed in a rucksack). I was sent to make-up, where they painted me orange. This was presumably their idea of what a dancer should look like. Actually, they only painted my face orange, leaving my forearms, exposed by my rolled sleeves, pale. They didn't darken my eyebrows, and instead these disappeared beneath the cake.
They required me to agree everything I was going to say in advance. Various ideas had been mooted, but the only thing that had been settled was that I would ask three questions. I had sent them various ideas for questions, that I thought would separate the wheat from the chaff. They came into the room where I was changing, and told me what the question I wanted to ask was. Now there was going to just one question, and it had nothing to do with anything I had suggested, or would ever have thought up myself. It was this.
'I am to the Lindy hop what Paul "Killer" Killick is to the Pasa Doble. What is your signature dance and why Number One?'
Try reading that out loud fast and clearly. There are only seven people in Britain who can. They clearly had faith in my diction. I rephrased it a bit to make it more like something a human might say, and then we went on to agree on the next few things I would say in the conversation. I had had many ideas for amusing things to say, but these were for the most part vetoed, but I saw opportunities for working a couple of them in anyway. The plan at this stage, though, was to do a rehearsal. They reassured me several times that we would have time for a rehearsal (and that I would not be made to dance). If I used all my gags up in rehearsal, they might be blown. I was not trying to wreck their plans, just to inject some of myself into proceedings. Everything I planned to say could be fitted into their scheme. The script they showed me had my lines on it, but not the presenter's. Instead, there were strong implications that the presenter would be saying something simple and clear, that led to my next line.
They were bothering to make sure that I saw none of the three potential dance partners I would pick from. I was shown into the studio, after the three had rehearsed twice, and had been taken out of the way. The studio was very small, and a cul-de-sac. I was met by a man who had "Floor Manager" written all over him (metaphorically), and shown to a place just behind the set they had built. The set consisted of a short wall, and through this could be pulled by means of a simple string, a sliding partition. I was warned not to trip over the runner on the floor that the partition rested on. The wall was short. One step to my left, and I would have been able to see the three women, and half a step to my right and I would be visible to the cameras. The AFM (assistant floor manager - I was playing the game of guess-the-role of the crew, and playing it well) was next to me. She quickly spotted that I had done telly before.
The presenter - Jason someone - took up his position, and did his madcap wacky introduction, and they played the introductory jingles and hyper-corny commentary, making it clear that they were going all-out for tacky, in the hope that this would be funny, or something. What had I got myself into? I knew that it would be tacky, but this was off the scale. I was introduced. The music then stopped, and there were a few quick words exchanged. The floor manager appeared in front of me. "We're just going to go for it, okay?" There was to be no rehearsal. We started again. Again the wacky intro. Clearly, the presenter was not improvising. I was introduced again. I was just about to go on when everything stopped again. "My heart rate doubled", I told the AFM. "Are you nervous?" she asked. "To a healthy degree" I replied. a bit of nervousness I think helps a performance.
My heart calmed, and we started again. This time there was no stopping. I walked on, and, being a bit taller than the presenter, he made a weak gag about my being all right "up there". He told me to take a seat. Straight away this was a good feed line for a gag. I looked around and saw several, but chose the one he meant - screened off from the women. It was a stool. One never looks good perched on a stool. The presenter bantered on, clearly drawing on prepared words, and these did not seem engineered to make me look good. On cue, I eyed the camera I had been told to talk to, and asked my question. I had wanted to surprise people a bit by asking Number Two first, but this idea had been firmly vetoed.
The first of the three answered, and reeled off a carefully worded load of corny innuendo. I remember that she ended with a claim that she would "jive you wild". I had considered saying something like 'Hmm - a thinly veiled promise of something there,' which would have led to 'Hmm - an even more thinly veiled promise of something there,'' leading to 'They don't make veils like they used to, do they?' after hearing the third question. I didn't though, because it seemed to be rude to draw attention to the ladies' innuendoes when the words were almost certainly not theirs, and they delivered them with such smiles. Sure enough, each reply was more innuendo-packed than the last, and the presenter revelled in the first two, and then said that the third was just filth. I rallied to Number Three's side with a "Oh" in reaction to his disapproval. Throughout the conversation, I did manage to work in a fair few reactions to him, including a "Steady now", which I thought worked quite well. It was, though, a hopelessly uneven partnership, because he had the full script, and I was constricted by my much lesser one, and he had sanction to go off-script.
To 'help' me with my choice, the corny announcer's voice came over the speaker, giving prepared summaries of the replies. I was then asked to choose. One part of me wanted to look at the camera and mouth "help!" but that too would have been rude to the three potentials, so I had to choose. I had genuinely no idea which to pick. The puns and innuendoes were no help, but one had mentioned that she was a dance teacher (albeit of salsa), and since none was a Lindy hopper, I picked her. I stood, and the door slid back. As I had predicted by the voices, I saw three middle-aged ladies, all smiling, and one of the three was standing. Of course I smiled and gave my chosen one a peck on the cheek. Immediately, I was asked to do some dancing with her. I obliged of course
They then revealed the identities of the two losers. Of one the recorded announcer said that she hadn't had a partner for nine years. That must have made her feel like a princess. I mouthed "I'm terribly sorry" to the other two, thinking this chivalrous.
Then something we already knew was going to happen was then announced as a big surprise: I and my chosen one were going that night to a dance! Since this was not far away, in Ealing Broadway, the other two ladies were going along anyway, but the people at home weren't told that. We waved goodbye to the camera, and they rolled credits to recorded applause. After this, the presenter said to me that it had been "great working with you."
I asked if I would be fed at my hotel, and was told that I could eat there and that they would settle the bill. I therefore ate little of the food on offer at the studio. They told us that the second part of the item - the evening dance - might now go out on Thursday, or possibly Wednesday, but that they weren't sure. I had told everyone Friday. After a quick chat with the ladies, I left for my hotel. I left because that was the plan. It was the plan, because they hadn't thought it through. They didn't think it through because they didn't need to. They didn't need to because they had mobile 'phones.
My hotel was in the centre of London, and that day there was a tube strike on. The Claires sent me in a taxi to sit in a rush-hour jam to the hotel. I arrived after an age, tried to get my orange paint off, and did get most of it off without much use of a chisel, but only with considerable effort. What a foolish man I was to travel without a set of make-up removers. There was no food at the hotel. I just had time to run to a supermarket, buy some sandwiches and scoff them, dampen myself in the shower, and get another taxi back. This was a truly pointless journey.
We were supposed to pick up my date before arriving in Ealing. The taxi driver didn't know the name of the hotel, but between us we managed to deduce which square it was on. We arrived there, and to my amazement, I saw that every building around the huge square was a hotel. He drove round, while I ducked into the first one, which, remarkably, was the right one. We could have lost a lot of time there. We then crawled through jams to Ealing Town Hall. On the way there I considered what I might say to the cameraman about shooting dancers. Most dance is very badly shot, and the Strictly Come Dancing show was no exception. One major mistake they make is not to use full-length shots, showing the feet, but instead use conventional shots of heads and shoulders. Giving tips can be useful and appreciated, but it can also put people's backs up, because professionals don't like being told their jobs.
We got there before they were ready. When the cameraman and the Claires were in place, we got into a different taxi that had just brought someone else, parked around the corner, and then we arrived again for the arrival shots. I already knew that everything on television is fake to some degree or other, and so I wasn't shocked, but was a bit disappointed that they were being so fake, and so conventional. It is my usual way to get out of a car and walk towards a building I intend to enter, but the situation obliged me to escort my 'date', who kept lagging behind. We were told to look up at and appreciate the building, so we did, but I did it in my way. We by this time were both wearing radio mikes.
Now, the night at Ealing Town Hall is called Hipsters, and it has two lots of lessons at the start of the evening. Downstairs, they do the Lindy hop, while upstairs, they do modern jive. You might then naïvely imagine that we would shoot downstairs, since this was meant to be a Lindy hop date. No. The main social dance of the night happened upstairs later on, and so they wanted to shoot everything upstairs. I asked them why we didn't shoot the lesson downstairs, and then the social dance upstairs. The answer was that this would confuse the audience, because the background would change. I pointed out that they could put a couple of words in the voice over, like "later on, upstairs…" but was told that this was impossible. That this was a flagrant lie didn't seem to bother them. Media people are so used to lying to the public, that they see it as part of their professionalism to do so.
So we did the lesson upstairs. I was positioned conveniently at the front, where they could shoot me with one camera on a tripod on the stage, and with another hand-held. I had decided against giving any advice to the cameraman. In cahoots with the BBC, the teachers taught an ultra smoochie routine, just to add to my discomfort.
After the lesson, the social dancing started. As expected, the music didn't really suit swing dancing, and I felt under pressure to dance for the camera, but soon enough they played something swingable. I danced with my chosen partner, and she was a pretty good follower, who did very well considering that this was an unfamiliar dance for her. As I danced, they videoed me, and I could see that they were shooting me with a 'mid-shot', which wouldn't show our legs. Perhaps I should have spoken up.
At one point I had to go to the loo. Another dancer came in and asked me about what I was doing with the TV crew. I explained to him what the show was, and mentioned a bit sotto voce that it all seemed rather tacky. I then remembered to turn off my radio mike. Perhaps the cameraman heard, or one of the Claire's, but I doubt it went to tape.
Later, my partner was taken away to be interviewed, and then I was interviewed in the lobby on my own. I wasn't filled with confidence as he set up. He was using a very small camera, and plonked it on a very high tripod, and then used the flip-out viewfinder that amateur cameras have. He insisted that I talk to him, and not to the lens, but using the viewfinder as he was, his head was very close to the camera, which meant that I was looking just very slightly off-camera, which I'd have thought would have made me look odd. He interviewed me with very obvious questions, and told me what to say in reply. I don't like this. That television is fake is one thing, but requiring people to tell the dull story that you have made up is another. He said things like "Just say that you've had a good time, and…" I didn't quite play his game. I didn't want to annoy him, but neither did I want to become some bland TV character according to his whim. He asked me what I first thought when the screens went back. I could have told the whole truth, I could have played his game and said something pleasant and meaningless. I compromised and said that I was concentrating on smiling and not tripping over the runner.
Then the time came for the joint interview. We went into a grand room in the building. He seemed to be expecting us to stand in front of a plain wall. "What's our background?" I asked, looking at the grand fireplace, pillars, and picture-adorned walls. "That wall," he asserted, pointing at the plain wall. I saw that he was nearly ready to roll, but in a tone of voice making it equivalent to 'Are you ready to roll?' I said, "You're on your bubble?" I was referring to the air-bubble in a water-filled capsule on the tripod that tells a cameraman that his camera is level. He wasn't on his bubble. Again, he tried to tell us what to say, to tell his story, which was 'They had a nice time and will meet again for regular dancing.' Naturally, he asked whether we'd be dancing again with each other. The pretext of this whole exercise had been to pair up two people to make a dance couple. They had found me a woman fifteen years older than me, who didn't Lindy hop, and who lived in Essex, which, in case you didn't know, is a long way from Newcastle. In other words, the expressed object of the exercise had not been a success. Of course, the real object of the exercise was to fill airtime on the show. I sort of did but sort of didn't play the game. I answered the questions politely and with a smile, but perhaps they sensed that I wasn't quite playing along. I said "Don't see why not."
We were then asked to do a joint thumbs-up to the camera and say "Thanks, Dance Mate." I did this, but the particular way I timed things may have had a sort of humorous cynicism that they weren't after.
They went away, and we stayed to dance some more. Eventually, I went back to my hotel. I 'phoned the next day to find out when the second part was going to go out. There was much confusion. I would have to try again. They were having problems, it seemed. I tried again later, and was told that the second part had to be scrapped because their machine had chewed up the tape, and nothing could be salvaged, not even from the other camera they used. That one tape gets screwed up can happen, but it is exceedingly rare. Two seems very unlikely.
Did I believe them? No. I think that they just decided that they didn't have the time to do the item. Either it would take too long to edit, or too much airtime on the show, and they didn't like the footage they got much anyway. Was this my fault? I don't know. The other contestants and their friends who were at the studio said they liked the way I had played it, but I don't think that the Claires got what they had expected, and they didn't know what to do with it. They chose me because of the little movie file I sent them, so they should have known that I would want to do my thing.
A friend of mine had taped the show for me, and some friends of my parents had been watching BBC3 to see me, every night. These then 'phoned my parents begging to be allowed to stop watching such an awful show. I did once see myself on the tape, and it was clear that the vision and sound mixers had gone with the script rather than the performance. Almost all my reactions and comments were inaudible and off screen.
I sent them an e-mail with some ideas for future dance items, but, you know, they never got back me.
Perhaps they were sensible enough to realise that their idea of matching people up was doomed. They may even have spotted this before they started shooting the item. They had at least got a guy to do the choosing and women to be chosen from, which is the way to do it if the guy does a different dance from the women, because a guy can lead a woman to do an unfamiliar dance.
How mediocre and formulaic the show was disappointed me, but shouldn't have surprised me. That the producers knew so little about their subject and didn't see this as a handicap is standard. That the producers constantly changed their minds about things, and didn't tell the participants is standard too in my experience. I don't like being lied to, and I don't think that there is any special licence that media people have to do this, but I have been lied to more often than not by media folk, so I wasn't shocked. I think that they were assuming that I would be a member of the public who would meekly go along with everything they wanted, because I'd be thinking 'Ooo - I'm on telly!' They were wrong there.
The Zoot-Suited Pillock
This is the tale of my being involved in another televisual concoction of tat.
I was walking down Northumberland Street in Newcastle and noticed a team of people uniformed in printed T-shirts. One woman stopped me and asked me if I wanted to take part in a television programme, and she handed me a flier. The company was called Fever Media, and it wanted to recruit people to go on the show and ask for money to do whatever they wanted. She asked me whether there was something I had always wanted money for. I could ask for up to a million pounds. It could be for anything: a trip round the world, to drive a racing car, or even just a new pair of shoes.
Of course, alarm bells were already ringing in my head. This sounded like tacky reality television. Still, as long as I didn't take it too seriously, I probably wouldn't get fatally hurt.
I took the flier home and went to the website mentioned on it. There, I filled in an application form, and said that I'd like money for a swing dance festival in Newcastle. I thought I wrote a decent case for it, and clicked "send", and then forgot about it.
Some while later, I got a 'phone call from a telly person, who, like most telly people, assumed that I had been thinking of nothing else since I clicked "send" and had been hanging next to the 'phone, waiting for the call, because nothing could be more important than telly. Perhaps they get this way because some recruits really do behave that way. They liked my idea. Apparently, they had received thousands of requests for money to pay off mortgages and debts, and were glad to receive to receive something a bit more entertaining. Would I go to an audition in Newcastle?
I cycled to a hotel in the centre of town, and signed in. All the staff was twenty-somethings, and friendly and enthusiastic in that tired way that telly people have. Other people auditioning looked more like charity people, complete with collecting tins, uniforms, and teams of disadvantaged-looking folk. Some had brought cakes and the like, to make an occasion of it.
I went up to a room with one girl and a camera, stood on a gaffer-tape cross on the carpet and did a three-minute pitch to camera, and then was interviewed by the girl for a fair while, and much of this she taped. I was alone, so had no one to dance with, but I suggested that I dance with her. She rushed off and found someone else. The girl, Jasmine, came in, and I made a point of not so much as touching her until the camera was rolling. I then put my arm around her and danced with her, leading her through a load of simple moves while doing some patter to the camera. She followed every step p erfectly. I had illustrated that anyone can enjoy swing dance. "Swing is good," I said to the camera, and left. I thought I had done pretty well.
I was told that if they liked me, I'd hear by mid-December, and that the shoot would be early in 2007
Not much later, I got another call, asking me to come to a second audition in Manchester. Clearly, plans were changing fast, but I was not part of the 'loop'. I had said in the first audition that for the real thing I'd get a partner to dance with. They asked me to bring a partner, because they wanted to see me dance. I tried to get an experienced dancer in Manchester to go along, but with only a couple of days' notice, and this being on a Friday, this wasn't possible. Luckily, one of my pupils from the Newcastle Swing Dance Society was going home to Liverpool that weekend, and she came along. We got to the hotel function suite and waited to be seen. More matt-varnished twenty-somethings looked after us, with their tired smiles. The pitch now had to be cut to less than a minute. They kept asking to hear it, and even to read it, but I wanted to keep it fresh and off-the-cuff. My pitch was approved and in I went with my partner to do the audition-come-rehearsal. I did the same sort of patter, and my partner was an absolute star. She represented the consumer-end of the enterprise, and her enthusiasm was a great asset. I started to think that maybe someone like her would be a better partner to use on the day that a slick professional dance partner.
This time I pitched to two producers, slightly older than the others, and these asked me more probing and challenging questions, but I fielded them well enough, and they, like all the other telly people from the start, sprayed me with words like "fantastic", and declared that they thought I was in with a great chance, and that they really hoped that I would get the money. Yes. I had heard such words from media folk enough times to know that they meant nothing whatever. These people leave themselves no way of expressing themselves when they really mean such things.
We talked about costume. I said that I'd prefer not to do it in a zoot suit, because there was a danger that I'd look like some tit who thought he looked good in a zoot suit, whereas I'd rather just come across as a normal person who knew what he was talking about and would be the event's organiser, not it's wannabe star performer. My opinion seemed to prevail. This silenced a couple of alarm bells. It seemed that they would sometimes listen to me, and perhaps they didn't want me to look a tit. I remained aware, though, that they and I had different vested interests, though they protested otherwise. I wanted the swing festival, and they wanted an entertaining TV show.
I learned that I could not negotiate over the amount of money. The panel would simply say yes or no. I had originally pitched for £40,000, thinking that I could accept a lower figure. I revised my request down to a still-ample £30,000. I managed to wrench a few more snippets of information from them. I got the impression that they had been living with the show and nothing else for long enough to forget that other people might not know these things. The panel would be made up of five people, like BBC's Dragons' Den, and I would have to persuade three out of five (minimum, presumably – they never mentioned any bonus for a misère) to get the grant. I also learned that the shoot had been brought forward to mid-December.
I noticed that the other people were pitching for more worthy-seeming causes, and were taking it very seriously. They all wore uniforms and pitched in rehearsed teams. One was a brass band that wanted to buy instruments for its youth section; another was a cricket and bowls club that wanted to buy the lease of its club house; another was some children's football league.
In the week before the shoot, I received more telephone calls than I had had in the previous six months. Everything had to be confirmed in triplicate, and every time I spoke, it was to another first-name-only twenty-something. I felt sorry for them, because they were obviously having to work very hard. I was getting calls late in the evening from people still in the office.
I learned more about the show. Again, they expected me to know this all already. The panel would be millionaires, who would be giving away their own money, and who would be giving away one million pounds over twelve shows, and there would be about fifteen people pitching per show. That's about £5,000 per pitch on average. Each show would be half an hour. This was later changed to an hour. The panel was Simon Jordan, who owns Crystal Palace Football Club; Jacqueline Gold, who trades as 'Anne Summers' the chain of sex/lingerie shops; Duncan Bannatyne, owner of a chain of health clubs and various other businesses, and veteran of the show Dragons' Den in which he played the role of himself as a grumpy bully; Kanya King, who organises the MOBO (Music Of Black Origin) awards; and Jeffrey Archer, which meant that I should avoid prison gags. That set off at least five alarm bells, but I was in for a penny, so…
I spotted a flaw in the format. What happened if the panel granted money to all the early pitches, leaving none for the later ones? Or what if none of the early pitches got the dosh? – this would presumably mean that all the later requests would get the money, no matter how daft.
In the usual manner of telly, plans were changing so fast that every time they called they contradicted something that had gone before. The title of the show was different every couple of days. All the titles I heard were tacky, like Cash Grab, but the one they settled on was Fortune The Million Pound Giveaway which made no sense to me. By the time of the shoot, the twelve shows had been cut to seven.
The day they wanted me to do the shoot changed three times. After a while it was definitely going to be either the Thursday or the Sunday, and I'd be told very soon.
Tuesday it was.
Here you see the flier. There is no mention of a panel of millionaires posing as philanthropists - none of that was mentioned until I had agreed to do the show. Note how they demand genuineness and honesty in participants.
A girl rang me up to ask how many tickets I wanted for friends and family. Er… what? This was the first time this had been mentioned to me. So, there was a studio audience. More alarm bells. I said I'd send word via e-mail to the swing community in London and see who showed up. They were willing to pay transport, and even to lay on mini-buses for people in London.
Costume and partners were discussed back and forth. They wanted me in a zoot suit. I wanted to be in mufti. They wanted me to be like the guy who first pitched to camera on his own in the audition. One producer even had the brazen gall to use the word "eccentric". Alarm bells agogo. They suggested I bring the suit just in case. I said that if I brought the suit, I knew that they'd ask me to wear it. I had been trying to get a partner, but my first two choices were going to be out of the country. They wanted me alone. The din of alarm bells was such now that I thought that it would be cruel of me to invite anyone else to join this sinking ship, so I agreed to do it alone.
They day before I went down, they sent out an e-mail to everyone asking them to avoid plain black, plain white, and stripes. My zoot suit is very stripy, and is worn with a plain white tie and black shirt.
The girl who was supposed to call me about transport left it so late that I just bought my own train tickets. When she called and heard what I had done, she seemed relieved. I arrived in London and went to the studio. The bored and unfriendly security guards had lots of high-tech equipment. They asked me to stand in front of a web-cam, and then to sign my name on a touch-sensitive graphics pad. They then printed out a security pass with a picture of someone who looked a bit like me on it, with a signature that consisted of half a dozen dots.
The first people I talked to were other contributors who were there for the second time. Apparently only five of the thirteen people called for the Sunday's shoot had been used. One reason for the delay was that they were having trouble persuading anyone to sit in the audience.
I was then ushered into a white corridor made of breeze-blocks, and abandoned. I learned by asking that a production assistant had been assigned to me and that he'd be along shortly. I did see him for a few seconds a few hours later. The twenty-somethings were all bearing grins, but were clearly not having a great time. I was struck by what a rotten job it was they had, and concluded that the main reason that they were all young was that no one could stick a job like that for long. They wore head-sets that had an ear-piece over one ear and a microphone on a stalk in front of their mouths. Any attempt to speak them involved a glazed look coming over their faces when their attention wandered to what they could hear and I couldn't. Each had a battery pack on his belt with someone else's name clearly written on it.
Eating and drinking were not appealing things to do when feeling a bit nervous. There were many magazines to look at, but these were all called things like Heat, Hello, and The Mail on Sunday, so I had a sandwich and a satsuma.
I decided to look after myself, and got into costume, and arranged to see the make-up girls. These turned out to be very pleasant and efficient, and they heeded my request not to be painted orange.
I had been told that I would get a full rehearsal in the studio, and then a further run-through in a rehearsal studio. They were telling me this despite its becoming increasingly obvious that they were falling further and further behind in the shoot. One couple I talked to had been contacted by the TV company and asked to contribute, and had come from Derby to ask for money to fix the roof of their house-come-community-centre. It seems that the initial recruitment drive had just brought in lots of weirdos and debtors. These two, after visiting make-up, were taken aside and told that there wouldn't be time to shoot their pitch. They weren't happy. One PA told me straight-faced that nothing was going wrong. I pointed out that they were now so far behind that they were sending people home. He replied that nothing was wrong – they were just running a little behind. So, I asked, did they plan to run behind?
A band was sent home too. The group who wanted to investigate paranormal recordings made in an abandoned building was still about, as was the couple that wanted to move a hippo from a farm in Africa where, if it wasn't moved, it would be shot. I liked that pitch – give us the money or the hippo gets it. I suggested that they give the hippo a name, because it's harder to shoot something with a name. The name "Archie" was agreed on – just enough like "Archer" to press the button.
I never got to see the set before going on, but I did get to go into the rehearsal hall. I brought up, not for the first time, the issue of my hat. They wanted me in the hat that goes with my suit – a broad-brimmed black felt thing. I suggested that the lighting man would hate them for putting me in it. I suggested that I should walk on wearing it, and then ditch it to talk. This got assent.
I mentioned my thought that the format was flawed. One of the more senior producers admitted that it was a nightmare. They had to contrive matters to make sure that the successes and failures were fairly evenly spread, and that there was still some money left in the pot near the end. Did this mean that whoever went on last automatically got the money? She wasn't sure.
A gospel choir from the Midlands came in looking happy. It had got the money. The old folks from the old folks' home went off to make their pitch. I sat with the hippo couple, two PAs, and they guy who was to go on ahead of me – a very confident and nice guy who wanted money for an after-school club in south London. In he went. The PAs kept up the friendly act, but both looked fit to drop.
I was called. On the way to the entrance to the studio, I was told two new different things with regard to hat policy. I stopped in the doorway, and my escorting PA took me through my pitch one more time and asked me various questions which I fielded as best as my divided concentration allowed.
I entered the studio. Many people stood about in the half-dark. I saw the face of one of the panel in a monitor. I commented that he looked amazingly like Gerard Depardieu. I gathered that I wasn't the first to spot this. This was Simon Jordan. I was passed from person to person. I gave the sound men a quotation from War of the Worlds for level. Some make-up people pounced on me and gave my face a final quick going-over, which involved dabbing powder in my left eye.
Was I ready? No, but let's do it anyway. By this stage I was confident that I could deliver my pitch without any problems, but I was also fairly confident that I wasn't likely to get the money, so I was happy just to go on to get it all over with. An AFM (assistant floor manager) took me through my entrance. I was repeatedly assured that I would walk on to the sound of entrance music, and audience applause, and that these would not be added on later in post production. I was now told to keep the hat on, but tip it back just far enough to stop it looking right. The AFM pulled the sash cord that parted the sliding doors and on I walked… to absolute pin-drop silence.
I looked first to my left and gave a nod to the audience. I then looked to my right and saw the panel on the set. Already Duncan Bannatyne had judged me, and had adopted his trademark bored look, looking up at the ceiling with his head resting on one hand. He never made eye-contact with me.
Perhaps I should have made some comment right away asking Duncan for his polite attention, but instead I did what I had rehearsed, and hit my mark and did my pitch. When I danced, there were some supportive claps and whoops from the sparse audience. I don't know if anyone who knew me was in it. I was clear and articulate, mildly amusing, and utterly without any hope from the start.
The questioning started. Their tone was clear: We Are In Charge, You Are Dirt. I fielded the questions well enough I think, though there was a lot more I could have said. I never got to mention the crash-courses of lessons I proposed, or the schools' follow-up project, nor the health and confidence benefits of swing dance, nor a few of the gags I had up my sleeve. While I was talking to someone else about something else, Jacqueline Gold suddenly sat up and smiled, and offered to come forth and dance with me.
One thing I had noticed was that all the panel was wearing ear-pieces. These would not be for decoration or curiosity-value. These would be so that they could hear instructions from the gallery. Clearly, she had just been given her cue. The producers of the show said that they loved what I did in both my auditions when I danced with a non-expert, and we had discussed my trying to get one of the two women on the panel to dance with me. Clearly the producers had persuaded Jacquie in advance that she would look a good sport if she gave it a go, and the director had just cued her in. TV people leave nothing to chance. She stood up, and tottered towards me in her inevitable stilettos. I have never seen the appeal or function of stilettos. All they do is make a person incapable of walking with grace or ease. I'm sure aliens looking down on Earth would speculate that they were some punishment device. Anyway, after two staggering steps, her microphone battery pack fell off, and she was hurried away for a refit.
While we waited, Simon Jordan seized the moment to be a git. "Is that a zoot suit?" he asked. I could have said many things in reply, but this was early on in the interview stage and I was still in polite-mode. The panel, however, had been in rude-mode all day, and we all had to overcome some inertia to change modes. "Yes, " I said. "I hate zoot suits," said he, as he preened himself and looked smugly about the room. Like Duncan, he never looked me in the eye. Again, many things came to mind, each howling for outlet from my springboard tongue, but I repressed them, because I was still being polite. Why did he have to ask if it was a zoot suit before making his statement? Did his mother not tell him to say nothing if he had nothing nice to say? What an utter tosser.
Jacqueline came back and we shot the bit where she rose from her seat again, and she came over to me and we danced. The crowd made nice noises, and she did all right for a person hobbled by ridiculous footwear. Suddenly, she called a halt, and went back to her seat. She had been told that that was enough by the director in the gallery.
Jeffrey Archer use the word "impresario" in his questioning, and seemed to try to make out that I didn't know what it meant. I stayed polite. I used politicians' tactics and said what I wanted to say regardless of his stupid questions. He did look me in the eye, although to be looked at by someone so famous for being a liar did not endear him to me. Liars of his calibre always can look you in the eye. They find it easy, and that is part of their shame.
It was very clear that no one wanted to back my idea. Duncan claimed to have seen swing dance and been unimpressed by it. This was clearly a lie. No one can witness a large hall full of people dancing really well and having a riotously good time, and not think that there is something to it. Most people who see swing dance wish that they could do it, and any businessman seeing a hall full of satisfied customers knows that there is something to work with there. I should have said this.
A feeling of power came over me. I was standing, and they were sitting. This was presumably to make them look powerful and good, but actually, they were immobilised and I was free to stride about. I should have used this power more. I also had nothing to lose. Of course I wasn't going to get the money, but I could at least make them all look silly before I went.
Simon made an insulting remark about Newcastle, and I laid in to him. I can remember almost exactly what I said. It came out at very high speed: "Are you dissing my city? Are you casting aspersions against the great capital of the North? home of the inflatable ironing-board and waterproof teabag? birthplace of the steam turbine? How dare you sir!" Such was the high-speed mix of silly and sensible that he was quite unable to cope. He looked stunned, and never spoke again. As I write this I don't know how they have edited my piece. I may end up on the cutting-room floor entirely, but if they use any of my bit, I hope they keep that bit. They probably won't though, as it is a side-issue, and makes one of the panel look bad. Mind you, just showing Mr Jordan at all will make him look bad. He was wearing a watch that was painful to the eye from my distance of fifteen feet. It was nearly the size of a pack of playing cards, and appeared to be made of diamond. It occurred to me to say "I bet that watch tells the time ever so well", and now I really wish I had. Could any man with true friends really be like him? I doubt it.
Cued in via their ear-phones, they started to declare that they were not in favour of the proposal. I noticed that the most favourably phrased statement came from the woman who had danced with me, and decided to make a joke of this, but alas I made a slip of the tongue and implied that she had declared in favour of my proposal. The fiends pounced, clearly joyous at having such an excuse to savage their prey. For some reason, the shooting had to stop at this point, and then when we started up again, order was restored, and Jacqueline started the talking, by smiling smugly and saying "I think I can speak for myself…" This would have seemed so much more convincing if she hadn't said this on cue from the director. Of course, the pause will be edited out, so she won't look so stupid.
Jeffrey now had fun calling out "Five-nil!" with schoolboy glee. I kept my cool, which I'm hoping will be scorn enough, but possibly I should have said something like "Okay, Jeff, do you think you can say that again, only this time with even more schoolboyish glee? It's pointless malice like that that will endear you to the voters again."
Being in Duncan's presence had been pointless, and perhaps I should have said so, as it was something that I think he and I could have agreed on. I felt like daring him to look me in the eye. He was seated in the centre and clearly liked to think of himself as the leader of the pack. He wanted to have the last word, and he went about it pretty effectively. He sat forward in his seat and did his much-practiced stretch and yawn. He said that swing dance was of no interest, and I said, still keeping my voice enthusiastic, and amazingly enough, even polite, "You've just got to see it!" which was a good feed line for him. With his eyes closed, head to one side, and arms at full strength, he said "Seen it!" A very unpleasant person.
I don't think these guys had quite got this philanthropy caper. In my opinion it involves being nice. One might argue that the role of charity is to alleviate misery, whereas the role of philanthropy is to spread the joy around. I should have pointed out that there is no more direct route from money to joy than swing dance, but it would have done little good, because they were getting their kicks through the feeling of power that came with the ability to say 'no' with any amount of rudeness.
Only Kanya kept her dignity throughout. She looked me in the eye, made a decent job of looking as though she was listening, talked to me straight, and even asked the most intelligent questions.
I had been told that Richard Madeley would interview me after my spot, at the end of a short walkway. Having had enough of their rudeness, I looked around for the floor manager or anyone else moving to bring matters to an end, saw no one, and so just turned my back on them and walked off. The interview place was in darkness, though, and Richard was nowhere to be seen. I wish now I'd said something like 'So, Richard, how do you think that went?' which might have forced their hand. I stepped down off the platform, handed in my microphone and left. The audience was silent. Why was this? Telly people are usually fairly thorough and formulaic with these studio matters, and if they wanted some crowd noise as I left, they would have orchestrated it, so it seems that they preferred silence. Did Richard not want to face me? Perhaps it was feared that I'd be dangerously articulate and riled.
I wasn't annoyed that I hadn't got the money. Before I went on I had good reason to suspect that I had been set up to fail, and as soon as it was obvious that I wasn't going to get the money whatever, I felt it didn't matter. I might have been a bit upset if I thought that the way I presented my case was at fault, or that a little slip had made the difference. I felt sorry for the couple who wanted the James Bond wedding, as I had good reason to fear that they'd be ripped to shreds.
I was disappointed not to be interviewed by Richard, though. I have long been an admirer of his ability to talk naturally in front of a camera, and I was keen to try and match him. I should for balance I suppose say that I have long been exasperated by the credence he gives to crackpot ideas like spirit mediums and astrology, but perhaps he does this out of sheer professionalism, knowing that that sort of tripe appeals to most of his typical audience. I had something in mind to say to him, which would have worked whether or not I got the money: that it struck me that a philanthropy show on mainstream television was a good thing. Philanthropy in the later Victorian age in Britain was common. Rich men would donate money to the benefit of others, and with this they would buy very useful good will in their local communities. If they built a library, they would see to it that their library was magnificent, with strongly built walls, and ornamentation. Today the word 'philanthropist' is used to imply or even mean eccentric or mad, and people expect central government to do everything, such as build libraries which now resemble shoe-boxes. By putting philanthropy on prime-time television, rich people are given a public platform to show off their generosity, and perhaps get philanthropy working again.
On the day of the shoot, though, a new thought had occurred to me. This show wasn't about philanthropy at all. It was the equivalent of vanity publishing, mixed with cheap PR. Today (Dec 2006) it costs about £95,000 to buy the airtime for a thirty-second advert on prime time ITV. These five entrepreneurs were getting seven hours of prime-time television exposure for £200,000 – quite a bargain. Not only did they get the useful business promotion for this money, but, hey! they got to be on telly! I'm sure that they had even persuaded themselves that they were doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. So, the woman who runs a chain of sex shops, a disgraced politician who had just come out of prison, a couple of arrogant tossers, and the organiser of a flagrantly racist award ceremony – what do these all have in common? I suggest that one uniting element is the need for good PR. I don't think the telly company had played its hand as well as it could – it should have got the millionaires to pay for the making of the show as well.
So, did I lose any sleep over it? Actually, I have to admit to taking longer than usual that night to fall asleep – repeating in my head all the things I could have said, most of which I had in mind at the time but refrained from using out of a perhaps misguided notion that politeness mattered. How will they edit it? They certainly, if they use any of it at all, won't use it all, and I know that they will always favour making their precious millionaire donors look good. I don't expect to see it go out. I don't know which show I'll be in if I'm in any, and I don't like the thought of watching seven hours of tat to find out.
Still, all good experience, eh?
Fools, I'll destroy them all.
Working with a Deaf Crew
For a while, I worked at a studio where many deaf people worked. They were mainly trainees. One day I was required to go to Studio One, and play the part of a policeman interviewing a deaf suspect, for one of their training productions.
A television studio is a very audio-visual world. Both senses are used in the normal course of things, to make the system by which television programmes are made, work. Deaf people are often very proud, however, and insist that they can do everything that hearing people can do.
For most of the scene, I was at one end of a table, and my interviewee was at the other. Behind her, out of shot, were all my lines, written in big letters on idiot-boards. Behind me were all the suspect's lines. Holding these boards were deaf crew members. We started shooting the scene. I read my lines off the idiot board presented to me, and my interviewee read hers. This worked fine until we got to the end of the first boards. The next boards were not presented to us. The snag was that the deaf people holding the boards couldn't tell when we had read to the end of the board they were holding. They couldn't hear us, you understand. They couldn't lip read us usefully either, since the lines they could see were on the other crew member's idiot boards, and these were the lines belonging to the wrong actor. The actor they needed to be able to lip read had his or her back to them. Since they could neither see nor hear what was going on, they had little to keep them alert and interested, and were not as diligent as the director and others might have chosen them to be.
We tried with this system a few times, but the best they could do was show us one board for a while, and then show us the next one when they thought they had been holding one up for what seemed like long enough. This random method was unsuccessful.
Normally, such problems can be sorted relatively quickly. The usual method of communication goes like this: the director sits in the "gallery", which is out of sight of the studio floor. He can only see what the cameras on the studio floor show him on his monitors. He has two sets of sound information, however. First, he can hear what the actors are saying, because the microphones recording the sound for the programme on the studio floor feed sound signals to speakers in the gallery. Also, he has the chatter of the crew, both on the studio floor, and from the gallery, which comes through a separate sound system, which is relayed through headphones ("cans") worn by all the studio floor crew, including the organiser of the studio floor: the sergeant major of the studio - the "floor manager".
So, in the normal course of things, while the programme is being recorded, the pictures from camera three might be going to the tape, and the director might see the pictures offered by camera two, and not like what he sees. He could say into his microphone "Camera Two, pan left a bit please, I want to see the edge of the door in this shot". The man working camera two would hear this, pan left until the director was satisfied, and then the director could say to his vision mixer, "Coming to two -two!" and the vision mixer (almost always a woman, and usually with a name beginning with H - don't ask me why) would cut to camera two, and all would be well. This sort of adjustment could be done during the recording process itself, with no need for rehearsal, and a well-seasoned crew could carry this all off very smoothly.
With a deaf crew, things are a bit different. Saying, "Pan left a bit please" into the headphones of a deaf cameraman has little beneficial effect. First, one has to attract the attention of the floor manager. Normally one would just say, "Brian, could you get the policeman to move a bit to his left, please?" and this would work, provided the studio floor manager is called Brian. A deaf floor manager is a different prospect. First, one flashes a light to attract his attention. This works, provided he is looking in the right direction to see the light, and is tremendously alert. Next, the director has to tell an interpreter who is up in the gallery, what he wants. The interpreter then has to go to a camera in the gallery, and sign into that camera what is wanted. On the studio floor is a monitor showing the output of the gallery camera. The floor manager sees this, and if he understands straight away, he can set about the task. If he doesn't understand, then he needs to go to one of the cameras on the studio floor which is relaying pictures of the crew back to the gallery, and sign "Eh?" into that camera. Once the instruction has been understood, he can then go to the actor and beckon over an interpreter on the floor. He signs to the interpreter what is wanted, and the interpreter says to the actor, "Could you to move a bit to the left, please?"
This is what happens when things are going well. If, for instance, an instruction is given but is then thought to be a bad one, or to have been misunderstood, then no amount of arm waving at the camera in the gallery will attract the attention of the floor manager who is going about doing whatever seems needed. One solution to this problem is to have two interpreters on the floor, one watching the gallery monitor at all times and the other following the floor manager around. While all this is going on, most of the deaf crew is waiting about, knowing nothing of what is going on, minds wandering off the task in hand.
So, to shoot with a deaf crew, one doesn't just need cameras to shoot the actors, one also needs at least one camera in the gallery, and a couple of extra cameras on the studio floor, plus monitors for these in both places, and at least two interpreters, and some flashing lights for floor and gallery.
Back to me and my idiot boards. I was sitting there, observing the process with some amusement, and after a while it was decided to go for another take, and hope for the best. A new problem was spotted. When one of the idiot-board crew decided it was time to go to the next board (and sometimes they had the boards in the right order), he would let the old board fall to the studio floor. It would fall out of shot, so couldn't be seen, but it would fall with quite a bit of noise. Unable to hear the noise, the crewmen hadn't thought that it might be a problem. When the problem was eventually explained to the crew, it came up with something of an unexpected solution to the problem. They sent out for two hearing people whose job it became to take the idiot boards and put them down quietly. Intriguingly enough, the moment of when to pass the idiot-boards to the hearing crewman to put down, was still chosen by the deaf crew member holding the boards, using the dead-reckoning method described above.
I thought the whole process to be hilarious. Indeed, just the sight of a deaf man holding a microphone boom pole, and wearing headphones struck me as fairly amusing. The rest of the people there had been in the studio for four days of this, and they didn't find it nearly so funny.