IT’S my second day as an ‘actor’ and ahead of me and the rest of the cast and crew is a gruelling 15-hour day of shooting, culminating in some of the most complicated scenes in the film, Dark Waters.
The movie is, according to director Andre Gale, coming together nicely, with two thirds of the filming already in the bag.
While it is only my second day – my character, Johnno, only appears in three scenes – Gale has spent several days filming with the professional actors, predominantly with leading man Dafydd Brooks, who plays Niall.
Today’s scenes take place in the protagonist’s home and are being filmed in a house in Llangollen.
I arrive at 9am to find Gale and screenwriter Andrew Stevenson already in the house, positioning props and furniture and discussing the look of the room.
Meanwhile, special effects expert, Russ Hughes, of Awen Creations, is preparing his box of tricks for some dramatic scenes scheduled for later today.
Also on set early is Stephen Giles, an actor who frequently treads the boards at Wrexham’s Grove Park Theatre.
Stephen, who plays one of the bad guys, has been very helpful to the amateur of the group, reading through the script and giving me various pointers during my first day of filming.
He and I start the day with a run through of my lines and, one by one, the actors arrive.
Andrew Welsh – who plays the bad guy, Cormac – has made his way up to North Wales from London.
Dafydd Brooks, I discover, has spent the night in ‘Niall’s house’ in order to absorb himself into the role.
I feel way out of my depth – but Stephen assures me there will be plenty of takes to get it right.
We’re on scene 42, take six. The director is meticulous about getting a shot just right, and then it must be taken form various different angles.
My key input into this particular scene is to throw an empty beer can at Niall while reciting a single sentence.
The words aren’t a problem – I’m even managing to avoid the Australian accent I somehow produced on the previous day’s shooting.
This amused the director enough for him to ‘cut’ in order to regain his composure and was, of course, met with rapturous laughter from a room full of thespians.
Getting the projectile to find its target, however, is proving more difficult. It takes a few attempts but I eventually get it right and the scene continues fluidly from there.
The day’s filming moves on and, with darkness having fallen outside, it is time for Russ to prepare for the final scenes of the day.
Without wanting to give too much away, let’s just say that, in Stevenson’s script, things don’t end well for a few of the characters and that Russ’s materials for today include prosthetic limbs and a good deal of fake blood.
Acting is not the ‘walk in the park’ I had once supposed.
Apart from the long days on set, learning the script, judging timing and so on, folding your leg back at a 90 degree angle for some 30 minutes while a fake version is applied and then savaged is pretty tough work.
The resulting camera shots are, however, very impressive.
I spoke to Russ after the shoot to find out more about his work.
“I got involved in special effects when I was at college studying film-making,” he recalled.
“One of my tutors at the time, Ed Evers-Swindell, was making a feature film called Infestation and he asked me to play a zombie for a few days.
“While on set, I fell in love with the special effects and the two girls working on the film were kind enough to teach me a few things.
“As soon as I got back to college, I knew I wanted to make more horror and sci fi films.
“As time went on, I taught myself special effects and, through university, did more and more on the special effects side of things than actually holding a camera.
“That’s when I started my business – awencreations.co.uk – making special effects. Soon afterwards I was asked to head the special effects department on a feature film, Expiry Date, which is also where I met Andrew Gale.”
Russ adds: “I learned my trade though trying out new make-up and pushing myself to make more realistic effects.
“Last year I was taken on by the godfather of special effects in Hollywood, Mr Dick Smith, whose credits include The Exorcist and all three Godfather films.
“He taught Rick Baker and Stan Winston who’ve also been giving me pointers.”
“I work on film and television mostly and, over the last year, I’ve been working on a number of feature films, including Dark Waters, which I came on last-minute through Andrew (Gale).”
Russ’s work can be complicated and time-consuming but he relishes the challenge.
“What I love most about special effects is the constant problems that have to be overcome to make the effect work.
“A lot of planning will be done but sometimes problems arise and you have to figure it out with what you have around you. I get to work at some beautiful locations too but the 4am start isn’t always fun!”
Filming of Dark Waters will continue into the summer months. I’ll keep you posted as to how things develop.
See full story in the Leader