Open Up

I was working at my computer, headphones on, listening to my Sunshine playlist (Bob Marley ‘Sun Is Shining’), when everyone in my office started getting up. I took my headphones off. ‘Is it happening?’

‘It’s happening.’

“It” involved pyrotechnics. My headphones were off and I was out of there in seconds. There’s nothing that gets everyone here more excited than when stuff gets blown up.

Every time there are big, explosive special effects on set, it’s always kind of like a class trip- we go outside, pair up with friends, get all giddy, everyone looks slightly different because you aren’t seeing them sitting at their desk… and, of course, the bad kids hang out at the back smoking cigarettes…

We headed straight down to the set to watch as the Special Effects crew did the final set up.


As they got closer to being ready, we all had to leave the set and go outside to watch on the monitors. Hey, let’s play a ‘Where’s Wally‘ type game. Can you find Alex Garland? (Yes, I’m expecting another email from him now… but I don’t consider it a photo of him if I can’t see his eyes. ;)


We waited and waited. Not realising we’d have to wait so long, we hadn’t all worn our coats. We started to get cold so shoved our hands into our pockets and jumped around a bit. We passed the time by talking about the last couple special effects explosions, describing them for people who had missed them. Suddenly, firemen appeared and jumped into action connecting hoses to the fire truck and taking them into the studio. Whenever there are explosions, firemen are required to be on hand in case something goes wrong. Of course, the special effects team spends several hours setting up the explosions so that nothing will go wrong, but the firemen need to be there nevertheless.


Within minutes, the cameras were rolling and we were told to cover our ears.


BANG! After all of the waiting around, it always seems to be over so quickly. I immediately ran up to the studio door to take a photo and was promptly yelled at because… well, basically, the set was on fire, it hadn’t been made safe yet and only special effects crew and firemen were allowed in.


The risks I take for you guys… I don’t know…

The fire was put out in seconds and the studio filled up with smoke. It smelled like someone had just blown out a candle.


Everyone said goodbye to each other and slowly wandered back to real life feeling slightly let down. The explosions are never quite as big and exciting in real life as they are on film…

Still we’ll all be out there again for the next one hoping for an even bigger bang.


When filming started way back in September, pretty much all of the men were clean-shaven. There was the odd beardy, but, you know, one doesn’t expect anything other than that from the Special Effects department. ;)

A few weeks ago, however, I started to pay attention to the shaving habits of the men around me when I got my first glimpse of stubble. I deduced very quickly that on a film set stubble=stress. I noticed that when a normally very clean-shaven guy was having a difficult time, he’d not shave for a day or two until the stress had passed and then he’d turn up for work with cheeks as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

After a week or so of the odd stubbly day here or there, I noticed that several guys would turn up to work clean-shaven on Monday morning, but by Friday would have a pretty full beard on the go. They didn’t shave at all during the week, but would leave their shaving until the weekend so that they could start the new week afresh. I decided that the moment men stopped shaving on the weekend and started turning up to work on a Monday with a beard that things will have tipped over the bristly edge and really started to get stressful.

Last week, for the first time, I noticed several beards on Monday morning. They’ve been doing six day weeks, 12 hours filming each day and, frankly, I’d guess that the last thing anyone wants to do on their only day off is waste any time at all on shaving. Not everyone has succumbed, but a large percentage of the men are, at the very least, stubbly for several days per week…

Alex Garland, however, has been cultivating his ’stubble look’ from day one… so no one really knows if he’s stressed or not. Veeeery clever move on his part. Very clever.

The only two men I’ve noticed who have *never* had stubble:
Andrew Macdonald and Danny Boyle…

I’m afraid, however, I have no data available on the women-on-production’s legs.


There’s a door right next to the entrance to Stage 5.

Wander in.

Take the stairs on your right and just stop a moment. Now, listen for the sounds… music, talking, shouting… screaming sometimes… You might hear the same sounds repeated over and over again. They might sound backwards to you. Don’t worry.

Follow the sounds up the stairs to the very top. The only way you can walk now is down the little hallway into the large, dark room. Really, don’t worry about the sounds.

Walk into the room. It smells of cloves. You’ve found the edit suite. This is where Editor Chris Gill and his team are based.


The sounds you’ve heard will more than likely have been from someone viewing the dailies/the rushes (delete as appropriate depending on whether you use American or British filmspeak). After the film comes back from the lab, the images and the recorded sound have to be synched up. That is what the clapper board is for- along with showing which scene and which take is being shot, when the clapper loader ‘claps’ the top down there is both a visual and an aural link which can be used by one of the Assistant Editors to get the pictures and sound in sync.

Chris is in editing every day and has edited quite a large number of scenes already. Early on in the shoot I asked him how he thought the film was coming together, he circumspectly answered that as long as things continued to go as well as they had been then he’d be very happy. I decided that Chris, more so than most people here, would have the best idea about the final outcome of the film as he is watching everything that’s been shot.


Now, when Chris is asked how things are going, he’s pleased to answer ‘very well indeed’ and is equally pleased to show off his work. I’ve seen quite a few scenes from the film already… and… well, Producer Andrew Macdonald thinks I’m too “gushing” when I talk about the film, but, I can’t help it, everything Chris has shown me is AMAZING!… But, for you, Andrew, I’ll try and be more measured. *ahem*

Everything Chris has shown me is rather good.


Andrew also teases me about being an Alwin Kuchler, Director of Photography, fangirl. I’m pleased to report that I was told today that the edit team are big Alwin fans as well.

Chris is already using music and sounds in his edits which is unusual this early on. I was very excited to find out this afternoon that he’s been using some sounds I sent to him in the rough cut of one of the scenes. About a month ago I made a CD for him of some recordings of the Aurora Borealis that were released on my friend’s record label a few years ago. This afternoon when I went for my regular visit to the edit suite, I heard the distinctive sounds of the Aurora Borealis coming from Chris’s room. He told me they fit perfectly and that Alwin loves the scene so much he’s going to ask Danny Boyle not to change it. Chris told me that he can’t imagine the sound department being able to recreate the Aurora Borealis sounds, so I gave him my friend’s email address so they could get permission to use them in the final film. :)

Another little sound tidbit for you space nerds: in another scene Chris is using the sound of Sputnik


380 THz (3.8×10^14 hertz) to 750 THz (7.5×10^14 hertz)

Danny_Alwin_lightsI’ve written a bit about how Alwin Kuchler, the Director of Photography, is playing with light in just about every shot. He’s had lights and lasers shining directly into the lens. There are lens flares, burn-out and distortion… He has filmed some of the most astonishing shots that look as if they’ve been through Visual Effects already yet he’s only used light…

One only has to spend about 10 minutes on set before one hears the name ‘Reuben’ called out in a German accent. It’s Alwin calling Reuben Garrett, the Gaffer. Alwin always wants more light.

When I’m on set I often hang around Stephen ‘Math’ Mathie, the Lighting Desk Operator. The lighting desk has a nice big monitor so I can see what’s happening on camera… even if it’s Alwin lying on the floor with a light meter…


Today, I asked ‘Math’ how many lights he thought have been used on the film. As one would imagine on a film about a mission to the Sun, shot entirely indoors on eight different sets, there are going to be a lot of lights. He said that there were a few thousand:

1000 on Stage 5
200 on Stage 8
50 on Stage 11
150 on the Airlock
1000 on the Oxygen Garden
600 on the Flight Deck
2-300 on Stage A

He said this was a higher than usual number as instead of using ‘film lights’ they are using mainly practical lights. The sets are built with lights in them- in the ceilings, the walls and the floors- and those are used instead of big lights on stands… which is a good idea as there isn’t any room for them on the cramped sets anyway. This means that the lights are already set when they arrive and it’s then up to Reuben and Math to work out exactly what the lights need to do for each shot… And then, of course, for Alwin to ask for more…



Chicken and Rice

I’ve never worked on a film before. Apart from the thrills I get from seeing Danny Boyle in action, ‘discovering’ the remarkable Alwin Kuchler Effect, falling in love with Mark Tildelsey’s designs and chatting to the cast… if I’m completely honest, it can be really rather boring. There is a lot of standing around. Some days it’s taken literally hours to set up a shot… so hours and hours and hours of standing around…and waiting. Yes, the end result is amazing and beautiful and makes me go all gushy about Alwin, but, boy, it really can be boring.

I’ve just come back from the airlock set… I was waiting and waiting and waiting for a scene I’ve been waiting weeks to happen… I’ve seen the animatics for it, seen the stunt rehearsals, spoken to every single person involved in creating the shot and today is the big day when it’s finally going to be filmed.

I waited. And waited. And waited. Danny and Alwin were deep in discussion with Richard Conway, the Special Effects Supervisor. Then they had a rehearsal with the actors. More discussion. Another rehearsal. Discussion. Rehearsal. Discussion. Technical rehearsal. Discussion. More discussion. Then Troy Garity, Cliff Curtis, Chris Evans and Cillian Murphy were stood down while there were more discussions.

Cliff wandered off the set. He has a way of just…. disappearing… and no one ever sees him leave.

One minute Chris was there, the next… gone.

Cillian went back to his dressing room, probably to listen to music.

Troy stayed on set and started reading a magazine. He’s not been feeling particularly well for the past few days. He’s come down with the same illness I have, so I chatted to him for a while about fresh ginger and sweat lodges then we compared symptoms- he’s only just got over the headaches, my cough is worse than his.

More discussion on set.

I decided to go out and get some fresh air and a drink. I bumped into Alex Garland, had a chat and then wandered back in.

Nothing had been filmed.

I spoke to a couple of the people on production about the script, Alwin’s shots, Cillian and Hiroyuki Sanada (specifically: the changes from early drafts; how amazing Alwin’s shots are; how being able to stare at Cillian all day, isn’t such a bad job to have; how Hiro is missed by everyone). One of the Special Effects guys came up to me to get my email address because he wanted to send me some photos to put up here.

Still nothing was filmed.

They’re now eating dinner…


They’re running behind- three days? four?- and must complete four different shots by the end of today. They’ll finish very late tonight… and I won’t be here to see it.


Maybe you were a child. Maybe you were a teenager. Maybe you were an adult and should have known better. Maybe you were on a beach. Maybe you were in the mountains. Maybe you were in the middle of a city. Maybe it was summertime. Maybe it was winter. It happened to me once in the autumn. I didn’t realise it could happen in the autumn.

Maybe you thought you had protected yourself. Maybe you didn’t think you needed to do anything because it had never happened to you before in your life. Maybe you didn’t realise it was happening. Maybe you didn’t think it was as bad as it turned out to be. Maybe it was worse than you could have ever imagined.

Maybe it made your friends laugh at you. Maybe it ruined your holiday. Maybe it kept you awake all night. Maybe it hurt you so much you couldn’t do anything except lay down in bed. Maybe it made you cry. Maybe you even had to go to hospital.

Maybe it happened to you 20 years ago and you still bear the scars. Maybe it happened to you loads, but your body could handle it. Maybe it damaged your DNA, but you don’t know about that yet. Maybe it caused you serious, life-threatening health problems decades later. Maybe you wish you would have listened to the warnings.

I was 10 years old. Outside all day. Playing on the beach, playing in the forest. I was wearing only a swimsuit. I don’t think anyone thought of protecting me. By that evening the damage was done. I was hurt, crying, raw. No one could do anything to ease the pain. Maybe I was given an aspirin, I don’t remember. I couldn’t sleep that night. There were huge, painful blisters on both my shoulders. Second degree burns. The damage is still visible to this day.

When did the Sun burn you?

Cast Photos

I really must reiterate that I am unable to just take photos of cast members and put them up on the website. All of them have photo approval within their contracts and as DNA Films are very kindly allowing me to do this blog, I have to follow those rules. Even the snaps I took yesterday of Hiroyuki Sanada having birthday cake with Cliff Curtis and producer Andrew Macdonald have to go through the approval process…

There are several reasons for ‘approval’. One) if the whole entire world was going to see a photo of you, wouldn’t you want to be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to it? Two) the publicity department need to make sure that I can actually use the photos – maybe a film magazine has bought one of the pictures of Chris Evans to use on the cover of their December issue and if I use it here right now, I’d mess the whole thing up. Three) there are loads of TV programmes that are going to do things on the film and, again, we have to make sure that someone hasn’t been promised ‘an exclusive’ that I’d completely mess up by posting a photo here.

I have, however, just spoken to Maya, my link to the distributers Fox Searchlight in LA, and told her that you guys really want some new photos of the cast members. So, don’t worry, we are working on it.

2014 Note: If there are any photos of cast members on posts earlier than this, they are a new addition and were not available on the original site.

Celebration and Goodbye

Today is Hiroyuki Sanada’s birthday. 御誕生日おめでとう, Hiro! He wasn’t filming today, but arrived on set for a bit of birthday cake.

Not only is it Hiro’s birthday today, but it’s also his last day on the shoot. It’s rather sad actually. The cast has really become a tight knit group and now one of them is leaving. Whenever I speak to a cast member about how they’re getting along, they all talk about how they lived together for a while before they started filming and how they did activities like scuba diving and a Zero G flight to prepare for their roles as astronauts, but which helped to bond them. They always talk about how close they’ve become… and Hiro is no different. When talking to him, I sensed that he really will miss his fellow cast members rather a lot and was already talking about when he will be back.
Hiroyuki has been in more movies than one can possibly imagine. He’s a superstar, a megastar, an MBE, for goodness’ sake. Still, he is the most charming, delightful man you could ever hope to meet. I really hope this isn’t the last we see of him.