Monday, July 15, 2013

A "Funeral" in Chorlton-cum-Hardy

The widow and the vicar prepare for the "funeral service"
Last Saturday saw the bringing together of the results of several weeks of planning, obtaining permission from Manchester City Council, discussing protocol with Creative England, making sure that all of the cast could be there on the day, making sure that we can create a convincing coffin, obtaining the flowers and so on.
I am talking about the afternoon that we were going to carry out a "shoot" in the old Chorlton Green Churchyard for our first filmed drama, "Cry England!", script written by my colleague, Nigel Anderson.
Two scenes in the film cover the funeral of "Frank", a close friend of "Garry", both of whom have served in Afghanistan. Both scenes are in flashback to complicate matters!
A beautiful set of flowers for the coffin
We have chosen an afternoon which turns out to be hot, and being a Saturday afternoon, busy with people walking to and fro between Chorlton Green and the Bowling Green Hotel (the setting for another scene in the film to be shot in a few days).
But we are lucky as everyone is friendly and no one displays anything more than curiosity as to what we are doing. We are happy to oblige by telling them. Some stay, some walk on.
We have our own gathering, with a total about 17 people (more than we expected), including cast, crew and extras, friends and relatives who have kindly agreed to come along to support us.
"Ben" (Stephen Fletcher) watches the preparations for filming
We have two newcomers to the team, Frank's "widow" played by Audrey Holliday, and the vicar played by Gareth Preston. Their task is not an easy one, acting in public amongst a team who have been working together for several months and know each other well.
But, don't worry, the widow and the vicar step up to the mark with no difficulty at all! The widow has the unenviable task of having to slap the face of the wife ("Tracy") of her late husband's best mate, a task that she performs well, much to the astonishment of the congregation around the coffin! We won't tell you how we did it, but suffice it to say that "Tracy" (played by Nell Cooper) comes away with a "sore" face which looks pretty convincing on screen! No humans were hurt in the making of this film!
"Tracy" (Nell Cooper) and "Garry" (Chris Burton)

In the second of the scenes which appears much later in the film, the congregation is standing around the coffin when the vicar announces that we are going to sing "Jerusalem", a wonderful hymn for a funeral on a hot Saturday afternoon.
It is fair to say that the congregation and film crew give a rousing rendition of the first two verses ... twice! You can never be sure that one take is enough!
The rest of that scene takes place in different spots within the Churchyard after the funeral is over and the congregation has dispersed.

So, how did we bring it about?  It was quite taxing.

We had to identify a suitable location. The Chorlton Green Churchyard, formerly the site of the original St Clement's Church, seemed ideal but who is responsible for it? Here, we are indebted to the help of the Rev. Ken Flood of the current St Clement's Church who advised us that it was no longer the responsibility of the Church, but he thought it was managed by Manchester City Council. He suggested we contact the Chorlton Ward Coordinator, which we did, and who was very helpful indeed.
"Elspeth" (Jane Cheshire) and various extras await their call.
After explaining what we were planning to do, she and a colleague couldn't seen an issue with what we were proposing and wished us good luck!
The Council put us in touch with Creative England who were able to advise us on protocol. And they also checked, rightly, that we had the appropriate Public Liability Insurance, which we have.
So, with the location established, we had to think about the props.
What about the coffin? This seemed quite a challenge indeed. We knew that we could drape a large Union Flag over it which together with the flowers would disguise that it wasn't a real coffin. We had checked to see what sort of price a "cardboard" coffin might cost. Locally, we could obtain one for about £90. Since this is a "zero budget" film, we had to make one as cheaply as we could.
We started by going to the garden shed to take out various bits and pieces of wood, old wooden sheet and cardboard in the hope that it could be assembled into the right shape. After two days of hard work, it was a disaster! And then we had a bright idea. Why not go to Staples and buy something from which we could assemble a shape that looked like a plain coffin?
A still from Scene 2 just after "Tracy" gets a slap! (flashback)
I shan't say what we actually used, but it worked a treat. It could be put in the car flat to transport to the location; it could be assembled in about 10 minutes and dismantled after filming in just about the same time!
One child asked if it was a real coffin and whether there was a real person inside!
The set took about an hour to create so that we were ready to film. The first shot was filmed from our jib, with our camera mounted on a motorised pan/tilt mechanism. With this, we could start with the camera facing the flag at the foot of the coffin, and gradually rising to reveal the vicar and congregation in the middle of their service.  It was very colourful and effective, except that both scenes are in flashback, and the colours will therefore appear drab! For the rest of the shoot, we used two cameras simultaneously to achieve different angles of the same scene. Sound recording, as ever, was through a separate microphone and digital recorder, and being close to the pub, the blimp with "dougall" on it was invaluable to keep unwanted noise at bay.
We were there in total for about 5 hours, working in three different parts of the Churchyard, until it was all over.
Having packed up and left the Churchyard in the state as we had found it, if not better, it was time to go off to the Bowling Green Hotel next door for a well earned drink after what had been a thoroughly excellent afternoon!