The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall for ever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won’t hold up the weather.
(Louis Macneice, ‘Bagpipe Music’)
The Ditch is an outdoor film. We hope to harness the natural power and atmosphere of the British rural landscape to lend a vivid and compelling backdrop to the action of the film. It’s every bit a film about man (or woman, in this case) against nature as it is woman against woman. Not a second of it takes place under any man-made cover. The forest, the undergrowth, the holes where the rabbits live, the hedges where the partridges nest – they are our sound stage.
And this is Britain. It rains in Britain.
When bigger-budget productions than ours are planning their shoots, they can get insurance to cover this sort of thing; or, even if they don’t, they can budget for contingency measures so that the weather doesn’t seriously affect the shoot. I saw, several years ago, film footage made by a crew who were shooting an ad in North Africa. The footage was of a sandstorm which was blowing furiously across the desert landscape. I asked the editor I was sitting with why they’d filmed it. He explained it was for insurance purposes – they had to be able to prove to the insurance company that the weather was too severe for filming, in order to be covered.
We don’t have that kind of insurance. Even if we could get it, we couldn’t afford it.
So I’ve been perusing the weather forecasts online with the same kind of zeal a small-time investor might show in checking the movement of his share portfolio in the financial pages every day. When I discuss forecasts with my other half, she always comes up with the same line: “Oh, they always get it wrong.” This is a common misconception – in my experience, weather forecasters get their predictions about 80% right, about 80% of the time. Which, given they’re using more sophisticated equipment than a bit of damp seaweed, is pretty reasonable.
Anyway, the current situation has given me the opportunity to examine several online forecasts and develop a feel for how they work. BBC Weather, Metcheck, The Weather Channel, The Weather Outlook, WeatherOnline, Netweather… they all do long-range forecasts of ten to sixteen days ahead. I’ve been looking at them every day. And here’s what’ll make my partner feel smug – they ALL SAY DIFFERENT THINGS. One forecast says there won’t be any rain at all in the area the weekend we’re shooting; another reckons heavy rain on the Saturday, then changes it to the Sunday the next day, then decides there won’t be any at all. How do they arrive at such radically different conclusions? Where are they getting their data from?
What do you do in that situation? And how much worrying should you do about something you can’t control?
Still, there’s one thing a producer does have control over – the budget. One of the steep parts of the learning curve on this production has been the things I have to learn to account for. It’s amazing what hidden costs emerge from the woodwork (or camerawork). Only this morning I’ve been thinking about on-set catering, literally going through the things we might need, pricing every bagel, trying to work out the best way to purchase water (oh, yeah – we have no running water on set; it’s true living-off-the-land film-making). As soon as someone makes a suggestion, my first thought has to be, can we afford that? I’m not talking about complicated things like lighting rigs. I’m talking about fire blankets, rubber gloves, coat hangers, tissues, pens, sandpaper, kitchen roll… Every extra person on set – how many cups of tea is that? They’ll have to have somewhere to sit – do we have enough chairs? Better make sure they have an umbrella in case the weather defies the more optimistic forecasts (although they can damn well bring their own, I’m not budgeting for that). Big film-makers (I mean famous and high-ranking film-makers, I don’t mean film-makers who are particularly tall or fat) have staff to do this for them. I have me – and as many pencils as I can eat.
My brother-in-law paid a visit yesterday and asked me, “so what does producing involve, then?” A few months ago I’d have glibly said, “I’m in charge of the production.” Last night, I didn’t know where to begin answering him.