Lockdown Unlocked – A blog from a social distance by Thomas Willshire #11 Filming

Every now and then (but nowhere near as often as I’d like) an acting job falls out of the sky. That said I certainly didn’t expect the heavens to provide during lockdown. I’d written off the opportunity for acting work until next year to be brutally honest. However, with the government’s blessing film production can resume and on Wednesday Polly and I got to do a little screen acting! As with most work Pol and I get, this was offered to us by someone we’ve both worked with before and who we now consider a friend. He’s a student at the National Film & Television School and we provided the solution to a casting problem as we belong to the same household and can therefore stand closer than two meters apart without breaking regulations. He assured us that wasn’t the only reason he thought of us for the job and our egos dictate we take his word on that!

As a result, a couple of days ago Polly and I found ourselves driving up to Beaconsfield to shoot a short film about a couple of travellers who meet at a secluded bus stop in the middle of middle-America. I thought I’d use today’s blog to describe to you how a socially distanced film set works.

In the days before the shoot we had to fill out various forms stating we hadn’t had Covid symptoms in the last seven days. Pol and I are pretty sure we had Covid at some point at the end of March therefore regard ourselves as being symptom free for nearly three months now. No problem there, thankfully! We were expecting to have our temperature recorded on arrival but there wasn’t a thermometer in sight. Perhaps they scanned us or something as we walked in but it wasn’t mentioned so we didn’t make a fuss. We were designated a ‘green room’ and had the keys handed to us drenched in anti-bac gel. Then a little talk was given by a Covid Health and Safety Marshall in which we were told we’d have to wear PPE when we weren’t shooting. I was a little apprehensive about this because it was a hot day and my character was dressed in an anorak throughout the scene. The prospect of being under the lights in a plastic coat and then having to wear a mask didn’t fill me with joy but you do what you have to in these instances, of course. The School had done incredibly well in terms of having hand sanitiser readily available and they even had special yellow bins intended for PPE only. Personally, I love a special bin and I considered this new yellow ‘PPE only’ bin an exciting addition to my collection. Polly wasn’t excited at all by the refuse provisions and I’m yet to work out why.

With everything explained to us and with all the Covid killing apparatus in place the two of us felt very comfortable all day. The only drawback I’ll mention was the social awkwardness inherent in working with a film crew who all have to wear masks. There’s an awful lot of time-consuming fiddling with equipment that goes on and normally, as you’re sat there, you can have a bit of a chat as they get the cameras ready. With half of their faces covered up it was hard to tell sometimes if jokes were being met with good humour, indifference or offence. At one point the Director of Photography made a small joke about me being in the way and her sarcasm was so lost on me she had to explain that she was joking. I suppose slight social confusion is a small price to pay for safety and everything but a good rapport with everyone on set is ever so helpful and it was a shame we all had these little paper obstacles to contend with.

I was hugely impressed with all of the students at The National Film & Television School and the day offered Polly and I a much-needed change of scenery. I’ll put a photo of me on set above this so you can see what it all looked like. It struck me that thanks to the backing of a supportive educational institution our friend and his fellow film students were able to hone their craft in as normal an environment as possible. I daresay large film production (backed with a lot of money) would also be able to function as efficiently. It’s the small independent film makers I worry about during the pandemic. At the best of times getting a film off the ground creates a huge number of hurdles to surmount and all this social distancing is only going to add them. I imagine it’s nearly impossible to get smaller ‘homegrown’ films made at the moment so just like I said in my previous blog about Theatre, let’s hope certain voices are heard clearly when financial assistance is being asked for.   

I’ve very nearly finished Act Two I’m very happy to report! I’ve got to wrap everything up properly in Act Three which I’m a little daunted by but at least I’m writing the stuff. Focus on the positives Thomas! Many thanks for reading!

Thomas Willshire is a writer/actor/comedian who just about lives in London with his wife, Polly and dog, Fergal. He considers himself the fortunate product of a supportive and loving environment.

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