Running has taken me to many strange places but perhaps none more so than Lee Valley Leisure centre on a cold wet, dark, December morning at 6am and the warmth of the Curzon Cinema at Mayfair in London some five months later.
Last year, I was contacted by a casting assistant to see If I would be interested in taking parts as an athlete in the background of a soon to be shot film. I had a bit of experience of film extra work when I was a student and so decided to apply. it was a shot to nothing, it was years since I'd done anything creative. I knew from experience that unless you ticked all the boxes for the requirements that the Director was looking for and made yourself freely available at short notice I probably wouldn't have been selected to take part. I thus ticked boxes indicating that I could do most sports and was available more or less when ever the Director wanted me. Off went my application form accompanied by the picture which illustrates the start of this blog. I was half surprised to receive an e-mail some weeks later confirming that not only had I been picked to take part in the film but i had also been selected to take the part of an athlete in the GB team.
Fast Girls is a film about a white girl from a settled, perhaps privileged background that has an intense rivalry and dislike of a black athlete from a troubled background from an inner city estate. Both athletes are placed on the same relay team, there are fireworks before they make friends and learn to compete together. The film follows a simple plot, its family friendly has a brilliant sound track and should do well at the box office as a 'feel good' film ahead of the Olympics.
I arrived at Lee Valley at 6am after waking at the YHA at Chesnut about an hour earlier. Film sets are strange places. The quiet of the Lee Valley sports complex car park was broken by the sound of generators brimming away at the back of the large film equipment lorries and the adjacent actors caravans. After meeting one of the crew I was directed to the breakfast van. I knew from experience that film extra work involves lots of waiting around but the quality of the mobile catering makes up for it. I helped myself to a full English breakfast and wandered still in the dark back through the lorries flanking each side of the roadway to the double decker van which I had been asked to wait in, it was very very cold. Soon after breakfast I was taken to wardrobe and fitted out with a flash pair of Adidas spikes. I had been asked to wear Adidas clothes and the wardrobe director seemed satisfied with my black leggings and running top. The inside of the wardrobe van was laden with all manor of sports gear. A whole lorry full of quailty sports gear ready to kit out the cast.
I was then taken into the sport complex to wait to be called on to set. The sun was now starting to rise. Lee Valley is one of the training facilities for the GB athletics team. The quality of the facilities were second to none. During the day I saw various elite athletes including long jumper Chris Tomlinson arrive 'for work', and train. The athletes can take a coaching session or do their own drills on the 400m indoor track or upstairs along a 100m straight. Physios work adjacent to the track and masseurs are available as when an athlete decides they need to be pummelled. Also adjacent to the track are stretch and toning sessions, again freely available to athletes that want to take part. "What a great life", I thought. The athletes arrived at 9am with the same familiarity of any other 9-5er and it was strange to see first hand, how, for these select few, this really was their day job.
|Action! (Marlon in foreground)|
Sadly adjacent to all that was going on, things for me were taking a down turn, my decision to tick all of the boxes on the application form in an effort to get the part came back to haunt me big time. I was asked to wait with two other male athletes. Both were big, black, strapping, ripped, tall athletes. I dwarfed in comparison to them. I felt inadequate merely sitting next to them, then the Assistant Director paid a visit and things got much worse. "Hello, you must be Leon the long jumper" she said pointing to the first colossus, "and you must be Marlon, the triple jumper", her finger then swirled around the air a couple of times before landing squarely pointing at me "and you must be Paul the high jumper!". I kind of smiled or maybe grimaced. The last time I high jumped was at high school. I didn't even know how to set the bar. I couldn't remember the fosbury flop technique and I wasn't sure my body would stand up to it in any event. I had imagined that they would have wanted to me to run around the track a few times in the background not compete in the high jump, I simply wasn't up to it. I couldn't back out, I had ticked all the boxes promising that I was a top class athlete at most sports including high jump. I had to face the consequences. The Assistant Director left after explaining that we would be called soon to go outside on to the track to be filmed doing our respective sporting disciplines. It turned out that Leon and Marlon were younger than me although their bodies looked far more developed. They were both excelling at their respective sports representing their counties and competing to be selected for the national team. Both were right at the top of their games. I remember them asking me at one point what my diet was like. "was it high carbs or high protein" I wasn't brave enough to confess that I was a steady recreational runner and so went with it, "yeah, high carbs and lots of fruit and fibre". Every time I stood up I had to suck my beer belly in. I rounded my shoulders and sucked in my cheeks in a vain attempt to compete with their chiseled tuned bodies. I made frequent trips to the toilet where I phoned Tracy who was at work, pleading with her to look up youtube videos of forsby floppers to remind me of the technique. Marlon and Leon had asked me if i would accompany them in a drill of "high knees" to warm up when we got outside. I went back to the toilet to phone and find out what they were and what it involved. Make no mistake I was petrified. I was about to face humiliation on a major film set. Filming takes time and time is money, I knew the Director wouldn't tolerate a joker in the background trying to forsby over a bar a few inches high with no technique. I honestly questioned whether it would be better to run back to the car and drive off. "I won't see these people again" I thought. in the end I rode it out deciding to keep to my commitment, thank fully the weather saved me during the morning period, it was raining and freezing cold outside and as the film was set in summer filming was postponed for lunch. Lunch was similarly good quality stir fry followed by sponge pudding and custard, I was too nervous to enjoy it.
After lunch I was pleased to learn that filming had been rescheduled because of the weather and instead of external track scenes we would be shooting inside. I was involved in a scene where I had to sit in a rest area talking to Marlon as the lead actors did their thing adjacent to us, the camera was behind me as I mimed. The scene was shot and re shoot a few times and then I was back to the waiting area where I sat for the rest of the day. I left Lee Valley at about 5pm the feeling of relief that my lack of high jump skills hadn't been noticed was immense. I drove north out of London chuckling to myself at the closeness of my shave with embarrassment.
Two weeks ago i was surprised to receive an e-mail from the Assistant Director inviting me to the cast and crew screening of the film. I spent yesterday morning at the elegant and traditional Curzon Cinema at Mayfair watching one of the first showings of the movie that is due to be released on the 15th June. The film's well worth a watch, the best part for me was the music and the simple script. The director spoke before the film to thank the cast and crew. At the end of the show there was a rapturous applause which i hope is reflected in similar satisfaction when the film comes to the big screen in a few weeks time. The final surprise came as the titles rolled and my name appeared in the credits I hadn't expected that, thankfully I was wasn't credited as 'lead high jumper' The whole thing was a great experience the crew and cast were very friendly and I hope the film does well.