22.05.2005 20:45 - At Last, the 1945 Show
I've been in a movie, me. A real one, about the bombing of Dresden.
My hollywood experience started at about 1pm in the afternoon in a disused tractor factory in Cologne. I was to play the landlord of a pub which is used by some of the bomber crews. The set of the pub was built in a disused lock-up underneath the arches (we dream our...&c) of a railway viaduct. (Not a good idea, as you'll see later.) I arrived and chatted with some of the other extras whilst we waited for costume. The shoot was late starting due to them filming until late the previous night. They'd been filming people climbing into a mock-up of a Lancaster bomber tail, over and over again, so that they could digitally optical-print it into thousands of bombers, as one of the other extras, Henry, told me. According to the others, who were playing the bomber crew (lucky swine), a complete chunk of a Lancaster cockpit had been bought and moved over to Germany for the filming. They're now trying to sell it. Look out for it on Ebay.
Costume took a while, as we had only a few trailers in which to change in. This didn't apply to the star of the show, whose name I can't remember, unfortunately, so from hereon in, he's Johnny Fly-boy. He was somewhat distant, which was probably due to him apparently getting sunstroke from sitting in the Lancaster cockpit during filming too long. He had his own caravan to relax in, with a big TV in there as well. Make-up didn't involve any make-up at all, just having my hair swept back into a 1940's position. I looked in the mirror to see Oliver Hardy peering back at me. Another fine mess you've gotten me into.
My part, as the landlord, required me to pretend to serve drinks and operate a beer pump (which didn't work) behind a rather-hastily constructed bar. It'll probably look like nice wood on TV, but in reality it wasn't up to much. The "beer" I was serving was Malzbier, and the "whisky" was actually peach iced-tea. Behind the bar with me was an actress named Lena, from Norwich, who was playing the bit-part of the barmaid who is having a bit of an affair with Johnny Fly-boy. (I was not supposed to like Mr. Flyboy for this reason.) For some reason, when they were doing his and her close-ups, with the camera behind the bar, I had to remain in position, but to one side, even though I wasn't visible (although I was asked by the cameraman to remove a bottle at a specific point, presumably to show I was there). I was basically right next to the focus-puller (who pulled focus with a remote-control unit) and the props lady, who had to pass over a crushed bottletop at a crucial moment.
The whole scene went something like this : The bar is alive with servicemen, and the bar staff are busy. Everyone's having a whale of a time, except moody old Johnny Flyboy, who, for some reason, is bouncing the bar-billiard balls round the table. Henry (mentioned above), who was the epitomé of the eager young airman, is rushing round trying to get people to bet on Johnny Flyboy. In the corner of the bar is a crude wooden effigy of Hitler, with an open mouth. Henry is trying to get the other airman to bet that Johnny Flyboy will throw three balls into Hitler's mouth. After getting everyone to contribute, Henry approaches Johnny Flyboy, and persuades him to do the bet. Johnny Flyboy throws the three balls into the Hitler effigy, not missing once. He throws the last one whilst looking over his shoulder at Lena, the barmaid. He announces the drinks are on him (More work for me) and rushes over to the bar for a quick snog of the barmaid. The phone rings. He's late for a meeting. He pulls a trick with a bottletop on one of the other crew to make him pay for everything and then rushes out.
This started with me out in the pub, serving people and collecting glasses. I had to ask some of the extras if they wanted a drink. I got fed up with this after about the fifth take, and started to try and make the extras laugh, with comments like "The cat's pissed in your hat, sir". (I love to bring a little tension to my workmates lives and otherwise liven up a boring scene.). Meanwhile, Henry's doing his collecting bit. I have to cross back to the bar, passing Johnny Flyboy moodily bouncing his balls, and squeeze past him. (It's all in the master shot, I promise you). I then go back to polishing glasses. Beer glasses, that is, not mine. I couldn't have any glasses on for this. Johnny Flyboy then throws the balls. In the film he's a dead-shot, but on-stage he was hopeless. He managed two out of three once. The rest of the takes, he missed.
If you're wondering how many shots we did, we usually did three takes of each shot, starting with a wide shot from the right-hand side of the bar, then a wide shot from the left-hand side of the bar. This then went to close-ups from behind the bar, then close-ups from in front of the bar. At least one whole chunk had to be redone, due to a hair in the gate of the camera. Add to this the fact that every half hour an ICE (Inter-City Express) passed over, completely ruining the sound.
This only seemed to take about an hour or so, but when we went outside, it was dark, to our surprise. The set was lit from outside with large arc-lamps to simulate daylight.
The next scene involved a slight change of wardrobe for me, due to it being next day. Half the extras were off, because they were supposedly lost over enemy territory. Lena was also absent, supposedly because she's in mourning for Johnny Flyboy, who got shot down. That gave me my big chance.
The scene : post-raid, Johnny Flyboy's mate, played by an actor named Paul, who was a bit more chatty, is propping up the bar and drinking whisky, poured by yours truly. Everyone is obviously a bit upset, as Johnny Flyboy has been shot down, presumed dead, and obviously owes us all money. Especially me.
Paul, who is also very upset, presumably because he's owed money too, jumps up and proposes a toast, telling me to turn off the wireless which has magically appeared behind the bar, for some reason. I give him my best Paddington Bear/Tony Hancock stare, because I'm not used to being told how to run my establishment, and then switch it off.
And that's it. That's my big moment. A stare, and switch off the radio. I got the full medium close-up treatment. Three takes. And then it was a wrap, at one in the morning, and because all the bloody strassenbahn stop at half-twelve I had to walk all the way to Deutz station and get a taxi home.
So much for Hollywood.