Tuesday 15 November 2016

Letters, Puddings and Drama: On the Set of 'Poldark' Series 3

Poldark, series 3, bottle yard studio, set visit, aidan turner, eleanor tomlinson
Poldark set. Photo: Official Poldark
There are a couple of things at the top of my 'Everything About Filming' list that I think are essential to know when visiting a set. One is that it takes a great deal of time and effort to film just a minute of a drama. The other is that the studio can be cold. I mean, really cold. So when I find myself on the way to The Bottle Yard Studios to do a report on the filming of Poldark series three I wrap up warmly and prepare for an intense day.

My visit begins with a look around the Nampara set with floor runner Ben Tabiner. The detail in the rooms is wonderful, although I have to admit my favourite place is the Nampara courtyard, simply because I don't expect it to be there. The studio is vast: honestly, they have a motorhome in there and it looks tiny in so much space. Today they are double-banking which means in the studio next door the second unit are busy filming on the Trenwith set with Heida Reed (Elizabeth) and Jack Farthing (George Warleggan).

I take a seat behind the make-up team where I can watch the action on their monitor as filming on the Nampara set starts. Looking around me I see Aidan Turner (Ross) in one corner thanking a member of the crew. He then walks out of sight and the next time I see him he's standing behind me fiddling with his boots. He stands on one leg and removes a boot for a moment and I'm impressed at just how easily they slip on and off. How do they make them like that?

Aidan is then called on to the set where Eleanor Tomlinson (Demelza) is already seated.
Aidan Turner on the set of Poldark Series 2
They talk to each other about how the scene fits into the plot so they know how to load their words. Aidan bends his head forward then throws it back to clear the hair from his face, although it's not long before the make-up team arrive to sort him out. He makes some comment that has everyone laughing despite their complaints that it's really too early for jokes.

The actors are sitting side by side and try being further apart then closer together. Aidan says he feels he's, 'Sitting like a cowboy,' and can he cross his legs or will that look odd on camera? Last year for the filming of series two I was told that Aidan and Eleanor would get their scripts at the weekend with any amendments added the night before filming: this on top of a twelve hour day on set, so it's hardly surprising when both actors fluff their lines a bit at the start. But things soon settle down. This scene carries some dramatic news and everyone decides it's a 's**t' moment so, each time Aidan says the last line of the take there's a pause then everyone on set says 'S**iiiit'. It's funny but it perfectly sums up what we, the audience, will be thinking when we eventually get to see it on TV.

At the end of filming the scene, Aidan comes over and watches it back on the make-up team's monitor, a particular habit of his and something we've all seen in photos, although he tells me that, at this stage, there's nothing he can do if he's not happy with it.

The next scene takes place over a meal and this is proving a challenge in itself. Ron Dowling, the stand-by props man, tells me that food is his least favourite prop because it requires so much attention. (How do you make a pot of tea steam for take after take?). He's very hot on health and safety and bins all the food when a scene is over. 'They're always eating at Nampara,' he sighs then adds tongue-in-cheek, 'The props man in the other studio only has a walking stick and some cards to look after.'

Today it's puddings causing the problem. I'm talking with producer Michael Ray when the issue comes up. The crew were making puddings until 4 a.m. but, by the time they're needed, they've flopped and can't be used. This is a bigger problem than it first appears as there's a line in the script that refers to them. Shall they leave it out? Debbie Horsfield is consulted and it's decided the line can remain for, whilst in the eighteenth century 'pudding' was something very particular, there are dishes on the table that represent the modern understanding of the word.  And so the line is saved!

Poldark, series Two, Aidan Turner, set visit, Bottle Yard Studios
Aidan Turner on the set of Poldark S2
Photo: Evie Bowman
During the day cast members Luke Norris (Dwight Enys), and Jack Farthing,(George Warleggan) say 'hello' and I get the chance to talk to producer Roopesh Parekh.  Aidan very kindly comes to talk now and again. I ask him about the rape-not-rape scene: it took a day to film and, no, he didn't watch it on TV. When I say that, regardless of the controversy, it is a difficult scene well acted, he looks non-plussed and I fear I may have embarrassed him. But then the conversation moves on to series three and he shows obvious delight in all the action and adventure it involves. You can hear how much he values team work and it's apparent from his behaviour on set that this is so, as I watch him doing a quiz with the make-up team (he seems pleased to come out as age 27!), talking to everyone at the refreshment table as he makes a coffee, and having a laugh with the cameramen.

Filming moves on to the next scene and there's another problem for the props man. Should the letter arriving at Nampara have a seal? While someone goes to check with the production office Ron explains that, if it has a seal then they'll need some 15 letters, one for each take where the letter is opened.  I can tell he's hoping for a 'No'.

Back to the scene and I talk to Ron Bailey the sound engineer. He explains how he tries to get the full picture in sound: so in Cornwall he'll have microphones by the waves and in the heather to pick up background noises, as well as the actors voices. In this scene there's a creaking floorboard. The sound of Caroline (Gabriella Wilde) walking across the room seems disproportionately loud to the rest of the scene as her dress rustles and shoes click. And that's with something on the soles to dull the noise. I'm assured it will all be fine by the time it reaches our screens!

The day is drawing to a close but Eleanor still has a scene to shoot. I catch her as I'm about to leave. She's looking amazingly bright and happily has a quick chat before throwing me one of her stunning smiles. Totally disarmed I head out into the night and it's some time before I realise I forgot to ask her that vital fan question. Which side of the bed is she sleeping on in Series Three?

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