Before April 2016 the biggest crew I’d worked with was 17 people. As I set foot on the set of T2: Trainspotting as Second Unit Director later that month, this instantly changed. Walking into the purpose built film studio at Bathgate, I was struck with an unshakable metaphor; the production crew were an army of ants, each assigned their specific role, each efficient and hellbent on achieving their goal.
From day one I made a conscious decision not to IMDB anyone, allowing me to take each and every character at face value. That said, it was hard not to feel at least a little taken aback as I took a fly draw of my fag and turned around to be met by Ewan McGregor, asking how I was getting on.
The first step of my T2 journey involved many pre-recce’s, where a coach load of production personnel- followed by a Range Rover for the big cheeses- moved from location to location. My role was to go over the script, assessing different approaches and thinking about how to co-ordinate various crew combinations. From here, the visual effects maestros stepped up; a true sight to behold. Watching them enter a completely new environment, take stock and then replicate that same environment, down to a tee, in a purpose built studio was a masterclass in how big budget productions are pulled off.
On set, I was constantly watching Danny and noting who he was speaking to- consistently learning from his in depth knowledge and visceral language. He’s forever searching for the subtext in each and every scene, testing alternate editorial wipes and reimagining new ways to film the reveal. Throughout the full filming process he kept up an ongoing conversation with Anthony Dod Mantle, who in turn was always speaking to the lighting technician, Peter. Working with the second unit, the thing that I learned the most was the huge change varied lenses, gradients and filters can affect; experimenting with these on a daily basis was a delight.
Co-directing a four camera shoot on Princes Street, surrounded by what felt like 8,000 members of the public, was one of the most adrenaline filled moments of my time on set. Co-ordinating such huge numbers of people with budgets easily enough to cover a full film at stake was beyond a baptism of fire; but one I will never forget. I learnt the importance of teamwork on-set; how to work with full cast, crew and production teams; and the necessity of injecting a scene with energy. Never was this better illustrated than when directing the younger Renton, Begbie and Spud; a particular highlight of the project was filming the night time chase scene through the city centre, during which my direction proved instrumental in securing the final take- as for how that was achieved, you’ll have to ask me face to face to get that one! But believe me when I say some simple tricks can instantly inject a scene with the dynamism and vitality to take it to the next level and ensure it stays well clear of the cutting room floor.
It’s always hard to put your all into a scene which doesn’t make the final cut, but my time spent on set helped educate me in what it takes to create mind blowing takes. As Danny always says, every good film is made up of small sequences which are built into a larger narrative; each must be strong enough to stand on its own to make it into a multi-million pound production such as T2. From the first take to the rough cut to the final production, every film’s process is a journey and one which I’m now delighted to be able to say I can undertake with foresight and understanding. The film industry in Scotland may be small but I truly believe we can create great work together; come along to my “Introduction to Directing” workshop and I hope to instil in you the same sense of inspiration and enlightenment I was lucky enough to experience whilst filming T2.