Jacqui [my film agent at KCPM] has arranged an interview with Willard Carroll the writer-director of Toms Midnight Garden at Ealing Studios. The script arrived two days ago. I very much enjoyed it as Willard has remained faithful to a book I remember reading with the children when they were small. I renovated my portfolio to include some good shots from Mrs Brown. We have an excellent meeting, and on this occasion I only have to wait an agonising 24 hours to find out that I have the job.
The story is a multi-layered parable about time and our perceptions of it. The plot concerns Tom who is seen at two points in his life, principally as a 12 year old but also as a grown-up in the prologue and epilogue. As a 12 year old, he is sent to stay with his repressive Aunt and Uncle in their flat in a converted Victorian house, where he has a series of dreams of a beautiful garden wherein he meets the 10 year old Hattie (whom he also encounters at the ages of 6, 17, 20 & 80 - played by four separate actresses, the last of whom is Dame Joan Plowright). During the rest of the film the period changes both forwards and backwards as each night the old Grandfather Clock in the hall strikes thirteen, when Tom meets and learns to love the lonely girl that he finds in her beloved garden. The dreams climax in a long journey on skates that Tom and the now grown-up Hattie make along the frozen fens to Ely cathedral, where she is met by Barty, her future husband. Eventually, the boys final despairing effort to find the child-Hattie turns into a noisy failure that wakes the entire household, and thus Tom finally meets 80-year-old-Hattie, and both recognise the other from their dreams.
Like Boccanegra, if it sounds complicated, it is! Therefore it requires particularly careful delineation in the costumes to keep the period-identification clear.
Today I became a modern designer after months of dithering. Knowing I had this movie I finally took the plunge and ordered a shiny new Mac PowerBook. Now I have to learn how to use it. Fortunately both husband and all the children are all Mac-literate so I shall have plenty of help probably more than enough.
The main difference between designing for films and theatre is one of administration. Since my costume supervisor, Charlotte Bird, is not due to join the payroll until August I have to make all the budgeting decisions myself if I want to get any planning done, let alone bargain with the Producer for more dosh while there still is any. Hence the desirability of equipping myself with a portable computer.
From analysing the script I can see that we have 24 Principals who will require a total of 55 costumes. This gives a Principals budget of about £13400, as follows:
|10||makes average £550||
|10||makes average £200||
|10||found or purchased||
The Crowd costumes we shall get from Angels, who are the only hire place to be able to offer sufficient quantity and variety. And theyre also never short of accessories like hats, handbags and boots, plus they offer temporary office space by the week. 90 costumes will be required as follows:
|people @ auction||
|crowd - found||£1200|
Salaries for myself, a Supervisor and two Assistants are all part of the below-the-line budget established by the Producer. The above-the-line element which I must decide on and negotiate for will also need to include consumable goods, additional dressers for big crowd days, charges for lost or damaged hire garments, research, and a contingency to cover myself in case Ive got anything horribly wrong. Therefore
|Misc, inc. Research||
|Extra days /assistants during Prep||
|Office rental at Angels||
|Lost Costumes (allowance)||
On Mrs Brown it took an entire week to write the costume plots by hand, with three-quarters of the time taken up with the endless repetition of the one-line scene descriptions that need to accompany the scene numbers which, to start with, no-one can remember. But with my computer, I am assured that I can, for example, type in the name of an actor, and at the click of a mouse, all the scenes in which the said actor appears will be displayed on the screen, saving hours and surrounding me with an impressive aura of up-to-date efficiency. Maybe Ill even have the time to design a few costumes as well.
In its first fortnight the Mac has already revolutionised my approach to prepping. With a great deal of help from the males of the family I now have budgets for Principals and Crowd; a handy summary thereof; a master Costume plot, complete with scene numbers and probable sources and, most impressive of all, a beautiful database designed by my son, which will contain all the information the wardrobe could possibly need; including garment lists, measurements, locations, and when the costume will be needed.
A good meeting to establish thinking on colour schemes with James Merrifield, the production designer with whom I did Basil earlier in the year. For some scenes; he was already able to give me wall-paper and paint samples; gray/blues, steel and creamy beige for the 1950s, sumptuous reds and greens for the 19thC Mansion, and colour coded planting schemes for the different parts of the garden. It does help both of us if we look as if we are working together, rather than on parallel tracks. I have drawn most of the 50s stuff slightly idealised, as if filtered through grown-up Thomas' memories of his childhood. They are turning out to be what my eldest daughter when small used to call proper Mummies' clothes, ie. mid-calf swirly skirts, high-heeled shoes, matching necklace and earrings, and a fully fashioned cardi. She hadn't a hope with me, poor dear. Indeed, when I showed them to Willard, he said he kept seeing his Mother wearing such things, so I knew that I must be on the right lines.
16 August Edinburgh.
The premier of Mrs Brown is being held at the Dominion Theatre, Edinburgh as part of the Film Festival. It would be gratifying to be thought grand enough to be flown up at the company's expense, but the reality is that I have fittings on Monday for Scottish Operas revival of Norma (Bellini) in Glasgow so Im really here courtesy of Scottish Opera. Convenient, nonetheless. It is a relatively small scale affair, as film premieres go, not many stars, apart from our own two, Judi Dench and Billy Connolly; but the party afterwards, in the magnificent sculpture hall of Edinburgh Art School is huge, and so devastatingly noisy that when my friends Clive & Roz Barda arrive from a Festival performance we flee.
20 August Glasgow
My schedule of Norma fittings allows me just enough time for a hot and sticky afternoon in the fourth floor warehouse which acts as the main storeroom of The Saratoga Trunk, a romantically-named vintage clothing store. I find some wonderful things; including a 50s embroidered cardigan for Greta Scacchi (as Toms Aunt), a brown tweed Hebe Sports suit for Mrs Willows, many useful pairs of striped wincyette pyjamas, a pretty pink pleated nylon dressing cape, and a really amazing late 19thC black sort of strap-work lace coat. This last garment is falling to bits; but once mounted on some oil-slick coloured taffeta, reassembled, and with a lace and pleated silk cape it will be perfect for the ferociously unpleasant Aunt Melbourne.
Fitting the new cast for Norma is an interesting experience. Seeing them again after a couple of years I still think the costumes are some of the best and most interesting Ive ever done. Yet it would be almost impossible to achieve such work for a film. There simply isnt the prep time. I had been able to spend at least a month doing quite complex water-colour drawings, using researched Celtic and Viking images to decorate the enormous red druidic robes. John Liddell, the costume supervisor gasped slightly when he saw them, but doggedly set about organising an extensive group of very talented crafts-people to make them. There were huge feather head-dresses for the attendant priestesses, Fortuny-style antique pleating for some of the under-dresses, and vast amounts of screen and stencil printing which had to be done on the druids' robes and on the ladies' velveteen kaftans, plus lots of 11thC jewellery, ie crystals and bits of beaten brass on a selection of cords or chains - things on thongs! The costumes themselves were actually quite easy to make, and their simple geometric shapes were marvellously flattering on even the most unconventionally shaped members of the chorus.
These days between the death of the Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed and her funeral have been the strangest I can recall, and quite without precedent. Working very hard to complete as many fittings as possible before the start of shooting next Thursday, driving around London to find fabrics & so forth, I am aware of a collective grief so palpable as to feel almost physical; quite beyond reason, really. I have thought a lot and taken part in endless discussions to make some sort of sense of what is going on.
Arrive at midday in Glasgow for General Rehearsal of Norma, having had to absent myself from an extremely important TMG production meeting at Pinewood, only to find that the afternoon rehearsal is cancelled because the theatre is still a building site. When I discovered that the evening session has also been scratched I really let everyone have it. What makes my blood boil is that the Management would never have dreamt of failing to alert the performers but designers being on a flat fee can safely be forgotten!
I enter the auditorium imagining I will see the fit-up is progressing, and am appalled to discover that the stage itself is still a building site. Construction work on the set itself hasnt even begun. Apparently Ian Judge had been nagging all week for someone to warn me (evidently unable to do so himself) & though I had been phoning daily to find out if The Funeral was disrupting the flights not one hint had been given about the chaos that was actually going on, and the fact that people were already calculating how to get round having to cancel Fridays rehearsals.
Since anyone with any experience of building knows that things are invariably late and over budget (as is our own modest house extension) it really ought not to have been beyond the collective wit of Scottish Opera to imagine that remantling a whole theatre as well as putting up the new bits of the Norma set was going to be just the same.
I watch The FuneraI in my hotel room in Glasgow while the stage crew erect the Norma set. The fact that Mother Theresa and Sir George Solti have also died only adds to the extraordinary feeling that we are all taking part in an ongoing as-written-in-the-stars Greek tragedy.
15 September. Wardrobe Truck, Chenies Manor
Its been far too hectic to write anything for the last few days. We started shooting on the 11th, and as always there was a huge amount of last minute stuff. On this film Ive really discovered the other side of what Lindy Hemming was talking about: in this case it seems that many of the agents now won't let their artistes sign until the very last moment, presumably in case they get a Voice-Over! This is pure poison as far as the costumes are concerned and means that everything remains up in the air and its impossible to do any costume fittings until the contract is signed & sealed. Which reduces all my careful preparations to utter nonsense. Apart from wanting to avoid the kind of last minute-ism in which things get overlooked, any serious design input is effectively impossible, which is very depressing.
New problem on the horizon. In about 10 days the production moves to the Isle of Man. Im being told I cant bring either the girl who had been doing Stand-by and Continuity as well as looking after the female principals; or Charlotte Bird who, as wardrobe supervisor, has in effect been Lord High Everything Else. This is partly to save money and partly because were only going to the IOM because theres a Film Commission there which invests in films in order to attract work to the island. Accordingly we have to employ our quota of local staff, and working with a completely new Costume Supervisor as well as three new actors who are all scheduled for the first day of shooting there, is not my idea of fun.
19 September. Hall Barns
All our crowd days have been scheduled in the same week for some reason just to exhaust the wardrobe department, no doubt. OnLine Producers and 1st ADs are principally responsible for schedules, but most have no idea -and even less interest- what happens in the Wardrobe, and accordingly prefer to schedule Crowd Days back to back, doubtless because its simpler administratively, BUT the strain this places on the Wardrobe is tremendous for many dozens of returning costumes and accessories have to cleared up at the end of each very long day (bear in mind that we sometimes have to be on call as early as 06:00 in order to get all the performers into wigs and makeup before 09:00). While at the same time everything has to be meticulously itemised and set out for the following day which will probably be a completely different scene for in the blind panic and semi-darkness the most obvious things can suddenly and embarrassingly disappear. Just laundering 50 peoples used linen for the following day takes the Wardrobe Mistresss several hours each day. Even a single non-crowd day in between would, quite literally, be a breathing space to relieve some of the pressure but you never get to choose, do you?
We have almost completed biggest scene, Castleford market in the snow, where Hattie meets the man she is to marry. There were 50 extras /crowd (or as the more politically correct say supporting artistes) to dress as an assortment of market traders, middle class townspeople at the market and a number of coachmen and carters. We engaged two Dailies to help out, as although we had fitted most of the costumes last week at Angels, actors always need help with period costume, corsets and collar studs usually causing the most trouble. So Alistair McArthur is moonlighting from the Opera House, where he works as a freelance supervisor, and is being helped by my son Sam.
I do find being away from home very wearing. Not as young as I once was! Also, the fact that the two mainstays of location life, bread and alcohol, dont agree with me means that I constantly have to plan for alternatives in places where were all strangers yet where nobody else ever needs exactly the same kind of dietary support-system which best suits me.
26 September. Ely
As they need Extras for a scene to be shot in Ely in the rain on Friday I suggest Maxwell might as well be man with dog as he is offering to come up anyway to save me the 250+ miles drive home, and this way at least the miserable £40 Extras fee pays for the petrol. The 1st AD carefully set up the different paths people were to follow, and gave pride of place to Lakshmis, our labradors, obedience at running to heel, remarking that he could now add directs animal to his CV in case a remake of Rin Tin Tin came along. But at the last moment Willard changed the camera position so that instead of running up towards the camera they crossed in front of it, thus Maxwell became a blur and the dog might as well have stayed in its basket.
Chatting to Stills Photographer Sophie Baker while we waited for the rain to be restarted she remarked that she was absenting herself from the film for a few days as Penelope Wilton was arriving to do her scene. Apparently Sophies first husband had left her for Penny, a fact which the victor seemed less at ease with than the loser.
30 September, Isle of Man
Ive written less than I wanted to about the events of this month. The hours have been too punishing. And altho one ought to be able to write while hanging around in the trailer, the mind is numbed by the amount that has to be remembered and foreseen, and ultimately writing about your exhaustion has little meaning for others.
There have been a great number of experiences this past fortnight, and tho we had no huge crowd days, there have been many changes of location and most of the principals have needed up to 4 changes of costume a day due to the many time periods in the story.
Were very fortunate that my new Manx Costume Assistant Pat Barlow has turned out to be everything one could possibly need; energetic, hard-working, an excellent Wardrobe Mistress, a cheerful carer who gets a kick out of looking after her actresses and, most important, makes an excellent cup of tea! In fact, while I wont say that her descriptions of bringing up several children under less than ideal circumstances are the only qualifications for the job, they have certainly seem to have taught her how to make a pleasant atmosphere - something that ambitious or money-oriented people rarely do. Our mens Costume Assistant, Elvis, also had to turn his hand to being both wardrobe mistress and supervisor, and in the absence of Charlotte I had to be the wicket keeper of last resort.
Ive hardly got organised on the IOM than I have to zoom back because three actors - two new ones and grown-up Tom (Nigel Le Vaillant) need costumes. Mercifully therefore, home for Sunday and then up to London on Monday and Tuesday AM shopping the proper way, by which I mean with a Merc and a chauffeur before flying back here to the lavish but gloomy Mount Murray Hotel where all the light bulbs are 40 watts.
ILLU p10 Fri 17th Oct Call Sheet
I leave the Isle of Man on Friday morning with the utmost difficulty, since its also half-term (how many boarding schools can there be on the IOM?) and Manx Airlines were unable to confirm my place on the early flight on Saturday. As a result I miss the final day and the Wrap Party afterwards, which would worry me more if I was younger or drank, tho my goodbyes have therefore been a little peremptory, but Maxwell was giving a concert on Saturday evening with my old mate Christopher Luscombe and I didn't want to miss it.
So that's it I suppose, except for doing the returns, and sorting out the petty cash [mine], and the very grande cash [Angels]. I just wish I could afford to rest for longer than about ten days. There are a number of projects on the horizon ranging from a film of the life of Christ with Ken Russell in Turkey (help!) to a horror story involving cannibalism in the Californian mountains to be shot somewhere in the remoter reaches of central Europe. So I may have to choose between the Feeding of the Five Thousand Extras in Turkey and limbless blood doubles in the snows of Slovakia. Such is life.