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There is always a more elegant solution

Truobles, shooting in Ireland in 1987

I like this picture. We're on a tidal estuary somewhere in Ireland on Troubles in 1987. The couple are actually just the stand-ins for Emer Gillespie and Ian Charleson, who starred. The wooden thing is called a rostrum, and allows for a higher camera viewpoint without the expense of a crane. (It's actually one rostrum on top of another, braced for strength.) On occasion, grip John Murphy (That's him on the right) used to put a dolly on top of a rostrum and use the jib to give the effect of a crane if we wanted a small movement and it wasn't a crane day.

Of all the grips I ever worked with, John was certainly in the top three. If you wanted to get a camera somewhere, he could - and was always thinking three steps ahead of the game - and could time a dolly move to perfection. Funny, too - but could be refreshingly direct. We're all dressed for bad weather; that's DOP Gabby Berestain (r) and Focus Des Whelan at the camera. Des went on to operate about two weeks later on Troubles , and I went from loader to focus - my first gig. The trolley thing is the soundmixer's cart. Taken on my trusty Olympus XA.


Most of Troubles was shot in and around Markree Castle in County Sligo, with interiors at Ardmore Studios in Dalkey. The castle had suffered greatly from neglect, and was made safe while we took it over for the shoot - plaster used to fall from the ceiling during takes. Based on a J G Farrell novel (read them; they're all great) the shoot was a miniseries of four hours - so with a three month schedule and only single camera, we had to keep up a good pace. My first taste of Panavision, too. The whole thing actually turned out to be one of the better projects I worked on.

We were shooting above the entrance hallway at Markree Castle where there was a snooker table - also the site of the end-of-picture crew snooker championship, won by Jack, the boomswinger. Anyway, the scene is with Ripon Spencer, the dissolute son of Edwrad Spencer, played respectively by Breffni McKenna and Ian Richardson. The shot was this: Mid shot of Breffni who throws a knife at a dartboard. Des whip-pans to dartboard where the knife sticks in. Simple, huh? Only it didn't really work becasue for some reason we were all attempting to make the shot work by filming it for real - and the takes started to pile up as the knife would not go in.

There was a little bit of tension, until a voice - I think from a runner or junior member who would be not expected to speak - who suggested the knife should already be in the dartboard, Breffni pretends to throw another knife and the 'thunk' is put on the sound track. There was then a sort of hollow empty pause because it was so blindingly obvious. Christopher said 'brilliant!' and that's what we did.

The point here is that there is usually a more elegant solution waiting in the wings. Whether its trying to make a shot work, an engineering issue, a social situation or even something of global significance - there is usually a more elegant solution, if you can step back from the problem - or get some fresh eyes.

Recalled 29th April 2020

They'll be more about Troubles later on, I guess. Here's a bonus picture:


Troubles, shooting in Ireland in 1987

Back in the studio at Ardmore, just South of Dublin. The gentleman director Christopher Morahan talks to Ian Richardson and Ian Charleson. Christopher was always unflappable, Richardson always professional and Charleson liked a laugh and a joke; we got on well. He wore one of Emer Gillespie's earrings in his nose for the first rehearsal of the scene with them at a restaurant - actually upstairs at the famed General Post Office, O'Connell Street. Picture credit: Me. The trusty Olympus XA again.



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