I trained and worked for many years as an actor, predominantly in theatre it must be said. I began a corporate entertainment company which was how I first got involved in camerawork and editing (via our Film-Days, which we still do).
The filmmaking gradually took over, although I still get involved in the occasional play. I confess a certain smugness when filming actors because I watch them struggling with their lines (not uncommon in corporate videos where dense language and last-minute script delivery in the norm). But I was recently thrown onto the other side and the lines had to be perfect, not only in their accuracy but also in their pace.
I was one of two leads in, of all things, a music video. Not any old music video – a rap music video. Suddenly, I was thrown into that very situation that I took such pleasure from escaping.
It started on a Wednesday afternoon. I got a call from my acting agent (so rarely do I hear from him that I’d forgotten his name). He said I had a casting for a music video the next afternoon. At midnight, I get a script and a link to the hip-hop world of DJ Shadow. The track we had to learn for the audition was called ‘Nobody Speak’ (if you want to check out the lyrics and the pace, take a look at this Rolling Stone video). So, on Thursday afternoon, at 4.00pm, I find myself spouting lyrics I have no understanding of into a camcorder in West London. I get a form to fill in and notice the filming starts in just a couple of days!
On Friday morning, I get a call to say I’m ‘pencilled’ for the job. This is confirmed at noon. The flight leaves at 8.20 the following morning, so I have to learn a load of new lines.
Saturday morning at 5.00 am, a car picks me up and delivers me to Heathrow. I fly to Kiev. I meet the DOP, David Procter (I decide not to tell him I’m a videographer) and we are driven to a rehearsal studio where a fight sequence is being worked on. I meet the other lead actor, who also has to get these lines in (the idea is that we are politicians saying the lines in the way politicians would say them – it just so happens they time with the song, the intonation is supposed to be completely different).
On Sunday, we have a costume fitting and on Monday afternoon, a rehearsal. This is where it gets tense. No matter how good a job you think you’ve done on your lines, when you first have to do them in front of a director, they seem to disappear.
The shoot call time is 7.00am on Tuesday morning. It is a great set (a former Lenin museum done up to look like the UN). There are about 40 ‘extras’ and stunt artists. We all sit around a UN table. David has done a good job on the lighting – huge screens block out the natural light and a massive hot air balloon is inflated above us – it has a large light source and lots of silk to soften the light. They are shooting on an Arri mini and there is loads of haze in the room. All looks good.
The shooting doesn’t start until well after 11.00am and, at about 12.30, the close up camera is rigged on my fellow actor. The music is played and he gets some of his lines out at the right pace. But it all goes horribly wrong, again and again. With that many people about, with that focus on YOU and with the pressure of those words at that pace, it is an almost impossible task. I feel sorry for him as he gets it wrong again and again.
Not only that, but the focus puller keeps making mistakes too. The delays increase.
I get my bits done, but the pressure is on. Then we have to do fights and all sorts of tings that hadn’t ben rehearsed. I get released at 1.30 am – 18.5 hours since arriving. I get changed, step out of shoes that have made my heels bleed, hand over a sweat-soaked shirt (the last scene had me killing the other guy with a stars and strips flag) and feel the relief – only to be told they want me back in costume for one final shot!
I get back into the tight shoes… they don’t actually need me but I stand around until the wrap at 2.00 am (a full 19 hours since I arrived). Should have been two days, of course, but that’s how production companies save money.
I rather enjoyed being back on that side of the camera. I was kind of glad not to have the pressure of keeping focus, keeping the lighting constant throughout, etc.
I flew back to London with David the following afternoon (I told him I did video too). I also said how surprised I was to see he was shooting at 25 frames per second. I would have expected 50fps which would allow for a slight speed adjustment on our lips should we, somehow, get out of time with the music.
25 frames per second keeps the pressure on.
But I wouldn’t want to edit it.
Mid August and the video comes out on YouTube. Within days, it has passed 100,000 / 200,000 views. Suddenly, I’m ‘cool’ with my kids. My nephew contacts me from France – his colleague showed him a really cool video and he was shocked and surprised to recognise his uncle in it.
If you are over 18, and you’re OK with swearing and rap music, you can watch the video HERE. Let me explain the credits: my stage name is Ian Bailey.