Tales from the Industry XXXVIII – Improvising

For the second half of today I was involved in film-making again, but this time not the usual science documentary material, but something else. What, exactly, I am not at liberty to tell you since I don’t really know, if the truth be told. It is going to be a rather beautiful-looking piece of work, with an interesting narrative arc, and… well that’s all I know. I was cast in it a while back following an interesting story in and of itself. I’d made friends with a really engagingly interesting bartender at a bar downtown that specializes in rum, a while back…(a year? more?) We had a great time chatting about ideas in science, the arts, and beyond, and did that “let’s stay in touch” thing that people do a lot, which may or may not really happen…

Some months later, the same fellow came to see me in my office to tell me about this film he was making, and that he’d like me to come and be in it. At the end of the conversation, somehow I still knew nothing about the film and what I was to be doing in it. I was just going to be in a splendid house somewhere, talking to people, and… hanging out. I’d be able to be scientist-me, to some extent, and so not too much of a stretch was needed, believability-wise. Well, I agreed because (a) it could be fun and instructive, and (b) well you about know my whole business of taking the opportunity to put a bit of science where it might not be expected (read about earlier examples here)… this might fit really well with that… and (c) the filmmaker is such an engaging fellow with a good nature, and great sense of humour and wit – you just want to help him make his film.

To be honest I did not think it was going to work since there were many scheduling difficulties, and since the Spring there have been at least three or four dates for the shoot that almost happened but then got called off… not all of which I would have been able to make (what with professoring, and Summer travel, and so on and so forth)… but somehow it worked, and I was on location today and will be tomorrow for a very full day. It was really, really cold today, and there was a lot of waiting around, in not the warmest of surroundings, which was not so great. But it was fun, as I made a number of new friends, as we were all waiting for our scenes together. I’d expected some waiting, and so had brought my sketchbook to do some drawings of interesting things and people while I waited, but in the end I was too chilly and was content to huddle and move around from time to time while I chatted with my companions (about all sorts of things, from film, to books, science, art, graphic novels, tv shows, acting, stately homes in England, boots, single malt scotch, Scotland, and so on and so forth).

When we did begin shooting the scenes I was in, I got to improvise some dialogue with one of the people I met while waiting, and I think that time we spent together while waiting (from lunch at 1:00pm until about 5:00pm) really helped make the improvisation flow well. We had a lot of fun in the scenes, riffing on some science ideas here and there (I was at one point appalled as I caught myself misusing the term “heat” in the, er, heat of the moment as we were discussing the making of ice, but I had to let it go and stay in the moment… sigh…) but also connecting it a bit to some things for other scenes. We did this while walking down a subterranean corridor in this splendid old palace of a house (a mansion from 1923), with three dim lights and long lines of old pipes hanging overhead. As we finished the last take of this and the camera stopped rolling, a rat appeared from a hole in the ceiling and ran down the length of the pipes. Would have been a great way to finish the shot, had we been ready for it, and perhaps it would have matched the tone of the whole piece in a certain way…

Anyway, I’m babbling. I will maybe tell you some more (without ruining any confidences) later, (for example, about the splendid location that I’ve always wanted to visit), but right now I’d better get to sleep, as I am very tired. First, however, I’ve got an actual scripted speech for tomorrow’s shoot (which is apparently key to help the whole thing hang together) and so I’d better cast my eye over it and try to internalize it a bit. (Update: More on it all here.)

Er, onwards and upwards with the Arts, as they say…


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