The gates surrounding Kensington Gardens are forbiddingly tall. Gorgeous cast iron edifices. London based Location Manager, Rupert Bray, had emailed instructions to meet him at the Queen’s Gate entrance off of Kensington Road. I’d ridden the Underground to the Knightsbridge station and strolled along the outskirts of London’s most well known park toward the Albert Memorial. It was cold. Scarf-hat-gloves-November-in-London-cold.
London is my favorite city on the planet. Always changing, always the same. On this visit I’d arranged to catch a glimpse of some location film work. With guidance from the former head of Film London, Sandy Leiberson, I was able to arrange a “meet up” with Rupert who was managing a BBC/Eight Rocks and Drama Republic co-production with Sundance TV. A six-part mini-series with Maggie Gyllenhaal, entitled An Honourable Woman. They were filming all night in Kensington Gardens. Gunfire was on the call sheet.
As I strode along the bustling Kensington Road I could see a Bebee light towering above Hyde Park and the adjacent Kensington Gardens. This beacon of light was the only illumination besides the decorative lights that shone upon the Albert Memorial. Otherwise Hyde Park’s vastness was a black void. Drawing closer to Kensington Gardens I spied a cluster of white 5 tons and trailers surrounding the Memorial. Made me smile. Old school, a small compact base camp.
A young eager assistant garnered the help of a security guard and opened the ornate gate. No sooner had he shared that the set was that way, via an extended arm and pointed finger, his walkie “spoke” and he was on the move.
The set appeared to be at least 400 yards into the core of Kensington Gardens. The Bebee lit up part of the cement path. The rest of the way encased in pitch dark. I chuckled aloud. Heard the bemoaning in my head if that set were located in LA. Clicked on my small LED flashlight and started up the darkened path. 10k lights in the far distance were my focal point.
Half way to my destination I heard my name uttered. Squinting into the darkness a tall man with a walkie talkie to his ear walked toward me with his gloved hand extended. As Rupert and I continued along the path we discovered a camera cart. He grabbed it and rolled it along with us as we approached the set. “Won’t the camera person be upset you moved his cart?” Felt foolish when he answered, “No, helping a mate.” Class hierarchy may still prevalent in UK society but not with this crew on this set. As the crew worked quietly the camaraderie showed.
Yes, it was cold. Yes, it was night, but the equanimity prevailed while dolly track was placed, scrims built. Squawkies and conversations muted. No hurry up and wait. No heaters to huddle near. The lead actress impressed as well. Wasn’t driven to set in a golf cart. Walked the 400 yards with nary a complaint.
Following our arrival Rupert was needed back at base camp. He had introduced me to the Royal Parks site rep, Holly Baird, so I inquired about filming in the Royal Parks. Permits are issued after an application form is submitted and a site recce (walk through) conducted. With the close proximity to Kensington Palace, I was bemused. How long it had taken to obtain permission for nighttime gunfire near the residence of the newly born future King? “A matter of days.”
The use of firearms in the UK is far less prevalent than in the US. That reality is reflected in their scripts and productions. Unless producing a film like Lock, Stock and Barrel, firearms aren’t often brandished. Were Inspectors Barnaby or Morse armed? Later that night as the bad guy pointed a revolver at Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rupert noted “You don’t see that often.”
Similar in many ways, a site fee, a rep, safety precautions, there are differences. Los Angeles has nearly a 175 City and County parks. Royal Parks manage 8 parks as well as Brompton Cemetery and Victoria Tower Gardens. They issue their own agreements and permits, with location fees based on 4 hour blocks of times. Filming hours are not restricted. Location costs are negotiable depending on the length of the project. The permit process takes 5 days although that time frame is not set in stone. http://www.royalparks.org.uk/business/filming
I was leaving for Belfast early so had no intention of staying through the night. Thanked my hosts and made my way back to the white glow of base camp. Feeling in my feet returned. After a quick visit to loo, (Honey Wagon) it was back out the impressive gates to Kensington Street. Making my way toward Kensington High Street Tube station I encountered an armed police patrol unit. Armed not with pistols but with AK 47’s. Briefly surprised, it made sense. Kensington Palace was near by. London assurance.
Claudia Eastman is a Los Angeles based Location Manager and Scout.