THINK OF any Hollywood production and you immediately think of stars, diva tantrums, and so on. But having spent a number of days on the set of the €75 million TV series 'The Tudors', I must admit that perception would be totally wrong.
From the minute I arrived at Ardmore Studios in Bray recently, where The Tudors has been based for the past four years, I found everyone, from staff in the production office, to grips, electricians, camera operators and assistant directors – even the star of the series, Jonathan Rhys Myers – as helpful and courteous as could be.
The series, which depicts the life and loves of King Henry VIII, and which featured actress Maria Doyle-Kennedy (who grew up in Enniscorthy) as his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, has been a huge success worldwide and in doing so has also shown the world what the Irish film industry is capable of doing.
My chance to get on the set came about through Bagenalstown based artist Laurence O'Toole, who has worked on many films over the years, including such blockbusters as The Commitments, Saving Private Ryan, Michael Collins and the Count of Monte Cristo, and his girlfriend, Jen Griffin, who worked as an accountant on The Tudors. Thanks to their help I was afforded the opportunity to experience at first hand all that goes into making a hugely successful television series.
As with any new adventure I felt like a fish out of water on arrival at the Ardmore studio but within minutes one of the assistant directors had taken me in hand – not literally – and began explaining the very basics of the business, such as who does what, where to find equipment, how a scene is put together and all the other work which the audience never sees.
I was immediately struck by the attention to detail for everything on the set. It is incredible. If you think the sets and costumes on the show are elaborate what you see on your television screen doesn't really do them justice. Walking onto the set is like stepping back in time to the court of King Henry, even down to the dust on the furniture.
Walking through the wardrobe department I saw rows upon rows of costumes and over 200 baskets containing trinkets and all sorts of jewellery.
Each of King Henry's wives had their own style, hence there was never a question of over-lapping of costumes, and as all his wives were going to appear in a dream scene near the end of the series, even though some of the actresses had not worked on the show for a couple of years, their costumes were kept in
Out on location is another matter entirely. First impressions are of the enormous amount of equipment needed. An entire fleet of trucks are first to arrive, carrying tonnes of equipment, lighting, cameras, props, temporary road, generators – you name it – not to mention the miles upon miles of cables, and all the workers needed to create whatever scene the director has in mind.
Next come the actors, extras, makeup crews and assistant directors, – all arriving in a fleet of taxis – and caterers, complete with a mobile canteen – an old converted doubledecker bus.
To some the attention to detail might border on the boring, but to a film buff like me it was pure entertainment.
What also amazed me was the friendliness on the set among all departments.
'I see you are back to your old self again – young and sexy,' remarked one of the crew to King Henry – a reference to the fact that for several previous scenes he had worn a lot of make up to make him look old. 'Young, at least,' the actor replied. Naturally I was keen to have a photograph taken with the man, but how does one approach the star of a €75 million show? This was his last day of filming for the entire series so it was now or never. As he ducked into his tent just after shooting a segment of his 'dream' scene I managed to pluck up the courage and ask for a photo. Expecting a ' no' but hoping for a 'yes' I gestured to the camera. Just imagine my relief when he stepped forward. Quickly handing the camera to a nearby grip to do the honours, I stepped forward, not paying any attention to the fact that the sun was shining directly into our faces. But ever the actor the king quickly changed positions to allow for a better angle – and a better photo for me – checked the photo was OK, before hopping back on set to complete the scene.
Anyone in the business will tell you that timing is everything and thankfully I had chosen my timing wisely because after the scene was shot someone noticed something was not quite right, which meant it had to be done all over again – leaving the king with a scowl on his face to say the least.
Before I knew it the day quickly drew to a close and with it my involvement with The Tudors. All that remains now is to wait in anticipation for the time the two final episodes are shown and to see the difference between reality and make-belief.