Earlier this year, we worked in partnership with Silverprint Pictures and ITV Studios to offer an opportunity for a director to work alongside Lee Haven Jones on four-part drama, The Long Call.
David Allain joined the cast and crew during pre-production and over the course of 12 weeks became embedded in the production team, shooting pick-ups, 2nd Unit and even dialogue.
We talked to David about filming under lockdown, being mentored by Lee and the challenges and rewards of British weather! Read our interview below.
How was pre-production?
I started by joining director Lee Haven Jones, producer Angie Daniell and the HoDs on tech recces in Devon. Seeing the locations really helped me start understanding Lee’s distinct vision for the series. Returning with them to Bristol, I attended meetings with cast, set builds, final recces, and an emotional online table read. It was exciting to see the last pieces coming together!
What was your first day on set like?
Lee was incredibly generous with giving me scenes and sequences to direct throughout the shoot. Even on the first day, I got to capture a couple of small shots between main unit scenes. It was great to meet the wider team including Charlie Cowper, who operated B-Camera and was the 2nd Unit DP. There was a great atmosphere, which only got better as the weeks flew by.
Tell us about working on location in Bristol and in Devon.
Early on, Lee gave me shots to pick-up and then small scenes to direct. Being present for the whole shoot, I had a strong grasp of the shooting style, and was always ready to jump on anything that needed filming. During prep, Lee identified a few key sequences he wanted me to direct. Among other things, these included flashbacks of Young Matthew’s Brethren upbringing and present day Matthew’s early morning swims. Working with Lee and DoP Bjørn Bratberg, we agreed how the flashbacks would mark a departure from the present day visual language. It was exciting to be given this to run with, and I worked with Angie and casting director Sam Jones to cast the people appearing in the flashbacks. We shot most of those in Bristol. As the weeks went by, I was given more: in Devon, there were larger chunks for me to direct with my team often splintering away from the main unit to capture various scenes, drone sequences, and even some dialogue.
How was it working on a long shoot during the height of COVID restrictions?
When I joined the prep, we were very much still in lockdown. We shot for seven weeks in Bristol, and it was only toward the end that things started opening up. I quite enjoyed the lack of distractions, being able to focus on our project. We shot for three weeks in Devon, and things were largely open. It was nice to end the shoot by the sea. And despite government restrictions lifting, the team continued to follow protocol, which seemed to blend a good combination of safety and common sense.
Which part of the shoot did you find most challenging? What was the most satisfying moment for you during your time on the shoot?
The protagonist, D.I. Matthew Venn, lives by the sea and enjoys morning swims. Despite filming in June, the weather remained unpredictable and threw our plans into question. We were scheduled to shoot all the swimming in one day. We had three boats going out from Ilfracombe Harbour, our lead actor, a stunt double, a drone, plus a small unit move to a beach along the coast to shoot more there. Wind, rain, choppy waters, or even a drop in temperature could have each ruined our plans. On a tech recce a few days before shooting, a location we’d chosen months before was now submerged by high tide. Fortunately, Location Manager Toby Elliot knew of an alternative, and the team’s keen eye on the weather forecast paid off. The most challenging day of the shoot turned into one of my best days of filming ever. Even with the weather now on our side, we still had to wrestle with choppy waters and capture enough variety across the footage to provide swimming sequences for all four episodes. We first shot from aboard the boats. Later, Bjørn and I got into the sea with our actors, and eventually finished on the shore. I’d compiled a lot of references and pretty extensive shot list so that Lee would have lots to choose from in the edit, and despite the challenges of shooting at sea, we finished with everything we’d set out to get.
You joined the team in post – can you tell us a bit about your experience?
Partly due to COVID, the edit happened almost entirely remotely. The team shared some cuts as they progressed, and I got to see Lee and Bjørn again in the grade. About a month before the show’s broadcast, the team was reunited at a cast and crew screening. Given COVID had prevented us from having a wrap party, it was brilliant to see everyone there.
What are you up to next?
Since wrapping on The Long Call, I’ve directed a mini-pilot for a BBC comedy due out in November, and directed a short film called Revelations. The short was a winner of the Directors UK and ARRI Challenge ALEXA, but the shoot was postponed by almost 18-months due to COVID. It’s great to now have it in the can. I’ll finish post on that shortly, have a couple of potential projects bubbling, and am excited to see what the year ahead holds in store!
Photos: David Allain.