I visited the set where my channel 4 film, DIP, was being shot. I felt a rush of pride – here were thirty people all trying to make my words come to life. Far more people than I expected, in fact, and I never quite worked out what all of them did. There was a script supervisor who checked continuity, and a makeup lady who kept rushing up to the lead and gelling down a loose forelock; two producers; a man who periodically told everyone to be quiet; two assistant directors; a clutch of extras. And all these people were crammed onto a bus, the story’s setting. The bus trundled along in the bus lane, stopping whenever the scene required it – which meant a fair few irate drivers behind wondering what was going on. It was a Friday night, so there were lots of people out, with even, at one point, a couple of drunk girls trying to get on board. It was the last day of a four day shoot and all the scheduled scenes were to be shot on the top deck. So actors, director, camera and sound people were upstairs, and everyone else was downstairs, with boxes of crisps and dried fruit and a tea caddy. The monitor was set up where the prams normally go. If you wore headphones – cans – you could hear what the actors were saying. I found it excruciating listening, I just couldn’t stand to hear my words being spoken, so I turned the volume down – but it was great to watch them.
After seeing a scene being shot, I felt a burst of euphoria and thought, this is where I am meant to be, this is exciting, what happens next? But what happens next is that they do exactly the same scene again, and this time shoot it from a different angle. Then they do it again to get some reaction shots from the secondary charcters, then again because that last shot went wrong – the bus went past a billboard and there was a logo in the frame, the stray forelock sprung loose once more. And then they do it again and again and by the time they move on you’ve thoroughly lost interest. I discovered that film sets are really boring places; everyone is waiting around pretty much all the time. They were very nice to me, scrupulous in trying to accord me status, but they all had jobs to do and I hadn’t, I was really just in the way, and I felt like a visiting dignitary, saying ‘and what do you do?’ and shaking hands.
Later I saw a rough cut – an assembly – in a Soho edit suite. Watching it, I felt like asking for all the dialogue to be cut. When you’re writing a script the temptation is to obsess over dialogue – and, after all, when writing a novel, dialogue is the most powerful and vivid thing you can write. But when you see the film, the realise that the dialogue is meh; it’s the pictures that count. And the most powerful images are things that looked like nothing in the script – ‘Asad looks out of the window’, ‘the girl is eating a kebab’; or just weren’t there at all – there’s a big difference between what is written and what is actually shot. Then out of this vast, amorphous lump of filmed material called ‘coverage’ a tiny fragment is sliced up and put together to make the film.
Now the edit is done. They have taken the hum of the engine out and added other sound effects – squeaky brakes, the smack of a punch – and all that remains is to layer the score over the whole thing. I am very much looking forward to seeing it on the big screen, at a screening in the Curzon Cinema in a couple of weeks. Though I will squirm, I am sure.