Jason Figgis Mentors with Ciaran Donnelly on the set of “George Gently”
Two days on the set of ‘George Gently’
I arrived at the Fort Lucan set of BBC’s ‘George Gently’ (series three) on a cold Wednesday morning at 7am. The episode that I was to observe director Ciaran Donnelly, DoP Peter Robinson and crew bring to fruition was called ‘Gently through the Mill’. As the name suggests, much of the action was to take place at a working 1960’s Mill called, for the purpose of the episode, Linton’s but in actuality Shackleton’s Mill in Co Dublin’s strawberry beds area of Lucan.
A difficult set-up was the opening work of the day; this involved a very tight balcony location requiring the manoeuvring of three characters and culminating in an act of violence that sees one of the characters plunge to his watery grave beneath the mill race. The weather conditions and variations in lighting posed difficulties for the crew, not to mention the angles of the action sequences and the roaring sounds of water and wind (I am sure of particular difficulty to the patient ear of the sound man and steady arm of the boom operator).
Ciaran, after a private rehearsal with the actors and prior to his technical rehearsal brought me through his approach to the scene and his technical requirements to make it work believably on screen (areas of action setups always being of particular concern regarding safety and believability to the ever scrutinising gaze of the viewer). It was interesting to see how Ciaran liked to observe the action from the thick of things; directly beside the action taking place – to a position fifteen feet away; while seated, portable monitor in hand – to the larger indoor monitors (showing the action of cameras one and two simultaneously). Ciaran likes to cover views of the action from all angles which seems to be a very logical and sensible approach to the overall piecing together of the scene. He has a very relaxed and level-headed approach to all of the setups and various takes, which has a corresponding effect on actors and crew alike.
I spoke at length with DoP Peter Robinson (Garage, Inside I’m dancing, Song for a Raggy Boy, True North) and apart from some of the issues he was having with burn-outs on white shirts while shooting on HDCAM, he breezed through each setup (regardless of the confined spaces…and some of them were mind bogglingly tight).
The recreation of 1960’s Durham in Northern England was so precisely detailed as to include a 1960’s magazine on a counter, folded over and never in shot and countless bills with faded 1960’s handwriting that even the tightest macro could not pick up. The atmosphere of a working mill was palpable in all areas of the set and even the extras were hand-picked for their particular old world features that truly transport you to another era. The actors required only a few takes to perfect their performances and did so with humility and great humour, despite the freezing and variable conditions – windy, snowing, sleeting, rainy, sunny, cloudy. I found the show’s star, Martin Shaw to be extremely amiable and as one would expect, highly professional.
Ciaran and I spoke several times over the two days on set and he described to me in great detail the requirements for directing drama for TV and the delivery schedule specifics for major networks.
All in all it was a very insightful two days and I would like to extend my thanks to the SDGI, Ciaran, Peter and all of the cast and crew for a very welcoming experience.