Filming the James and Samantha Blake Book Trailers — Day 1

We started filming the James Blake and Samantha Blake book trailers, and scenes for the Class Heroes video game on Tuesday 19th August 2014 at University Campus Suffolk.  Luther Lucas stars as James Blake, and Jessica Rowbotham stars as Samantha Blake. And I have to say it was great to see two damn fine actors doing their thing and bringing my characters to life.

Actors Jessica Rowbotham and Luther Lucas

I’ve lived with James and Sam since I created them in 2011, and it may seem bizarre when I say it, but I really love those characters. So it was such a thrill to watch Jessica and Luther acting those parts so convincingly and making them seem like real people. (Now I’m confused... do I know them or not? I’ll be like those bonkers people who abuse soap stars in the street because they can’t distinguish tv from reality!) I kept referring to them by their real names and character names, so yes, I am one of those people.

I’ll talk more about the video game, and its other star – actor Jack Parker as Will-the-Pill – in a future blog post. For now, it’s all about the trailers.

We began with exterior filming in the grounds of UCS at 8:30am. The weather forecast claimed that temperatures were at their lowest for three months. I believe them. It was cold and it was windy, and poor Jessica suffered the most as she battled with her streaming hair and billowing skirt.

As is obligatory with filming in public, there was a passer-by who couldn’t resist stopping to make some bizarre observations. Although why he had to pick on my heavily pregnant wife is beyond me.

Passer by: “What are you doing?”
Heavily pregnant wife: “Filming a trailer for a book.”
Passer by: “What book?”
Heavily pregnant wife: “It’s called London Belongs to the Alchemist.”
Passer by: [Edging closer] “Why aren’t you filming in London then?”
Heavily pregnant wife: “Because London is 70 miles down the road and it’s expensive.”
Passer by: “Look, I’m not going to get into a debate with you about this!!”
** Passer by walks off

No, not an Arthur Miller script. That’s what happened. Thank you for your comments sir. I’ll take them under advisement.

Indie filming and the race against the clock

At 11:00am  we were inside in the warm, and the excellent extras arrived. I needed a number of school children to be, well, school children. Thanks to my friends and neighbours’ children for coming along and being Sam and James’s classmates. My pal Helen, who is a secondary school teacher, also came along to play the part of the teacher. And everyone was so natural and convincing that it really did feel like school!

The biggest problem I’ve come across with filming is that everything takes longer than you think it will. With indie filming, you are begging, borrowing and pleading for help: you need people’s time, access to locations, equipment etc. You don’t want to stretch the goodwill, so you have a constant battle with the clock to fit everything in.

Having a great cast and crew

I was lucky to be working with a very experienced filmmaker, Nick Woolgar, who was my Director of Photography. His skill, professionalism and experience made him a pleasure to work with. He knew just the right questions to ask, exactly how to get the shots I wanted, and anticipated problems. He made the shoot go very smoothly, and I would strongly recommend his services.

Equally, I was very impressed with Jessica and Luther. They knew their scripts inside out, had a good handle on their characterization, and were also interested in the filmmaking process. They were conscious of how the different scenes link together and pointed out potential continuity problems.

All three of them worked well under pressure — and they made it a really fun day.

Suffolk Filmmaker Nick Woolgar sets up with Jessica Rowbotham and Luther Lucas

Thanks to Andrew Clarke, Arts Editor at the East Anglian Daily Times, for covering the shoot. Andrew interviewed me, Luther and Jess, and a photographer took some great pictures of Sam and James (I mean Jess and Luther). That article should be published in the next week or so.

Thanks also to Simon Hallsworth and Emma Gwinnutt from University Campus Suffolk, for giving us permission to film in the Arts Faculty, and making the shoot possible!

Towards the end of the afternoon, we crammed in some scenes in Rendlesham Forest  (real-life site of the notorious UFO incidents), which doubles for the equally spooky Witches Wood (from book 2 What Happened in Witches Wood). Literally, we bombed down to the forest, found a perfect, isolated spot, set up and just started filming.

Again, it’s great credit to Nick and the actors for just getting going with very little time to prep.

So day one completed. At least three more locations left to shoot in, and I’m working on those at the moment...