Just back from two days on the Wolfblood set just outside Newcastle. The place of the writer on set is a rather strange one: on the one hand, everyone’s only here because of you and all of this is your baby, but on the other, your role in the practical process is over (or at least, continuing elsewhere) and you’re the only person here who isn’t working their socks off!
But this does allow you the freedom to really observe the production process, and see how the actors and director work with your words. In many ways, this is the most valuable thing you’ll ever learn about writing. Everything you do as a writer is leading towards this moment – the moment your ideas actually have to be turned into something solid – and the better you know that process, the more practical, inspiring and inventive you can make your next script.
I spent the morning of my first day off the set, taking a good look round the stunningly picturesque village that’s standing in for our central characters’ home. In a heat wave, outside was definitely the place to be – as I soon discovered when I got back to set!
My visit coincided with the last two days of the first block of filming, and first block director Will Sinclair was shooting some final scenes in the school. (CBBC shows are filmed in blocks of four or five episodes, rather than one episode at a time. This allows all the scenes from those episodes which take place in the same location, or feature the same actors, to be filmed at once). Unfortunately, a lot of the classrooms are south-facing, and even with the blinds down, the cast were getting distinctly warm!
Film crews basically divide into two groups. There are the people who are busy primarily during a take: camera operators and grips, sound department, and of course the performers. Then there are people whose main work is done when the camera isn’t rolling – makeup, costume, lighting, and the army of assistants and runners who keep wanderers off the set and make sure everything is where it should be when it’s needed. The director falls into both camps, setting up shots with the camera operators and working with the actors before a take, and watching the footage on monitors during filming.
The area round the monitors, ”video village”, is where everyone gathers between and during takes, and the place you’ll see most of as a writer. On day two, as we moved outside to shoot playground scenes in even hotter weather than day one, I was able to lurk just out of shot and watch the filming process itself. Seeing first hand how hard it is to coordinate a ”simple” playground scene – in fact, two cameras, dozens of background performers and the main cast doing multiple takes is anything but simple – makes you wonder if you should just write about two people sitting in a room from now on!
Of course, the most important location on set is actually the catering truck. A fellow writer did warn me I was likely to put on a stone during the writing of the series – but I didn’t realise that would be largely due to the excellent on-set catering!
Meal breaks also mean an opportunity to catch up with the cast, and, since they haven’t seen the very last episodes of the season yet, let slip a few hints on where their characters end up by episode thirteen. Though I’m not sure I can accommodate one actor’s request that his character turns out to be a werewolf too…
And then the highlight of the visit – a few sample scenes of edited footage. No soundtrack and no VFX yet, but it’s already clear that the show has a distinct visual style and real atmosphere and tension.
Just time to say hello to second block director Declan O’Dwyer, arriving to shoot his first ever scene at the end of the day, and it’s time to head back to the real world. Exit one very pleased writer, already looking forward to seeing the finished product…