Monday, August 10, 2009

A Day on The Tudors

A Day Following The Director on The Tudors
When exec producer Morgan O’Sullivan calmly leads me on to the set of The Tudors I’m immediately struck by the scale of things. It’s more people than I’ve ever seen on a set. But then, as somebody who devotes most of his time to documentaries, I haven’t been on that many sets.

I’m told it’s not the biggest production you’ll see but I’m still impressed by the number of people around and the amount of organization that goes into making the production run like a well oiled machine.

‘Machine’ is a word I hear frequently throughout my day on The Tudors - most of this team have been through a few series of the Tudors and a feature film together and they know very well what it takes to keeping the production moving. There’s a great atmosphere on set and people are immensely friendly, going out of their way to make me feel at home.

In the driving seat of the machine on this particular day is Ciaran Donnelly, the easy-going director of George Gently, Stardust, Proof and numerous other TV dramas. As I arrive, they’re picking up a scene from the previous evening. I immediately show my naivety by asking Ciaran if there’s much of a light difference overnight. He gives me a tour a few minutes later and I realise that the lovely natural light coming from outside is all lights and the trees outside the windows are blowing in the wind due to a fan.

In my own defence, drama is entirely new to me. My background is documentary and my preference is for observational documentary. Sometimes when making a documentary the best approach is to cede control, to let the action proceed naturally and not intervene in anyway. The notion of ‘direction’ is almost counter-intuitive - sometimes it is better not to direct at all.

I recently shot a three-minute short and a massive amount of prep went into it. I couldn’t help thinking that you have to have a completely different approach to how you control things in drama. When I say this to Ciaran, he says, “control is everything.”

Before each scene, Donnelly does a rehearsal with only the actors where they quietly work through the scene and the elements that concern them, then the first team (heads of department) will watch what he has in mind before communicating that through the ranks.

The mood is relaxed but this is presumably only the case because of all of the structures that are in place. A lot of preparation has gone into this and it very much feels like a team are working through a prearranged plan. Donnelly tells me that he will prepare three or four ways that a scene might work in advance before arriving on set.

Having said that, it is clear to see the creativity and collaboration unfold as the first team rehearses the scene. In a scene that involves a fight that breaks out during a card game, little elements are added every time they work through it. In this case, the suggestions add tremendously to the scene but it must be difficult sometimes to know which suggestions to listen to and which to ignore.

Two cameras are rolling simultaneously on each scene. The purpose of this is to pick off little story beats where available and Donnelly is on the lookout for little details that add to the story.

The second camera is used first to get reaction shots from a major character in a crowded scene. In another scene it’s used as a steadicam to give another option and in a third scene it’s a wider view of the tighter main camera. Donnelly watches them all carefully and chooses the ones he likes.

The Tudors is part-funded with Canadian money and Donnelly explains to me that the footage goes to Toronto for the edit. As I understand it, by the time he gets to the edit, it’s about 60-70 percent cut. He then does a cut for story and one for character and works out the best solution.

After spending the day on The Tudors, I have a much better understanding of the work that goes into a major drama like this. So much of it is preparation but a director must also be open to the little bits of magic that happen on the day.

Thanks to all on The Tudors and the folks at SDGI for making this available. It’s definitely an experience that helps you understand TV drama better.

No comments:

Post a Comment