The glamour of television
THIS year has seen me doing quite a lot of filming, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been making shows in Italy, northern Germany, Bavaria, the Czech Republic, and even London. For those outside the weird world of television, this type of work and travel all sounds very glamorous, but there are times when it emphatically is not.
I’m aware that this may sound like the gripes of the over privileged, but I hope you will soon see – that at my level of engagement with the TV industry – the experience is very rarely as swanky as many might think.
Unless you’re a megastar on a big bucks production, forget the idea of flying business class. Nope, it’s easyJet or RyanAir for you pal, or if you’re lucky, it’ll be the heady delights of BA. Also abandon the idea that a limo is going to pick you up and whisk you to the airport. You’ll be driving yourself, often at Very Early O’Clock, because the director wants you to arrive in time for a full day’s filming. No club lounges at the airport of course, and inevitably your flight will be delayed for hours, meaning that all you can do is drown your boredom in drink, and hope that the production company will pick up the tab. (They probably won’t.)
If you’re lucky, you’ll be met by the crew, and you won’t have to worry about how you’re getting to the hotel. But often, you’ll have to drive yourself there, which means all the usual faff of dealing with car rental agencies, and then driving for some two hundred miles across northern Germany while trying to stay awake.
This is when things can get better, but not by much. As the ‘talent’, you’re often given the best room available, but of course that’s all relative, as you’re not staying in the Ritz, but more likely in the equivalent of a Premier Inn, which means that instead of getting the view of a grubby courtyard, you’ll get the full panorama of a motorway and a cooling tower – as I did in Brno.
Or then again, you may indeed get a suite, but one decorated like a creche in Miami (see top), complete with a bathroom featuring a jacuzzi bath but where the light didn’t turn on. Oh well. You can’t have it all.
In North America, film and TV crews get fed royally. Thanks to some punchy union rules, each set boasts what’s known as a ‘craft table’, which features every foodstuff known to man (except fruit and vegetables), and upon which you can gorge without limit. However, on most British sets, you might just get a banana and a sandwich from Pret – but only if you ask nicely. European crews typically have more time for a decent lunch, and drinking alcohol even seems encouraged. Nevertheless, it’s not all good news, as the buffet at one hotel in Germany shows…
The filming itself
I’ve already written about what it’s like being a talking head, and for the most part the process can be repetitive, tiring, occasionally frustrating, and often it can be cold, as it was when I filmed in Peenemünde on the Baltic in early February.
Or then it can be too hot, as it was when I filmed in Sachsenhausen one June afternoon in 2017 for my series Nazi Victory. However, when it comes to filming in concentration camps, you are fully aware that to complain about the conditions would make you the most callous and insensitive dickhead going.
Yup, you guessed it, the chances are that your flight will be at some antisocial hour. I took this bleary selfie a few months back at 0457 one morning at Berlin Brandenburg airport, after having just dumped my hire car.
By 0536 am, the terminal was packed.
I was in Heathrow by 0830 that morning, and by 0919 I was having breakfast in a greasy spoon near – of all places – Woking, ready to do another day of filming.
What I want to stress is that I’m not complaining. I just want to show that the process of making television programmes at my Y-list level of celebrity is far from glam. I get why, because the margins on most productions are tight, and there’s no point in being a diva and asking for business class tickets and chauffeurs. The only thing worth haggling about is the fee, but that’s another story.
Despite the early starts, the crap airlines, the delays, the long drives, and sometimes the filming process itself, I still regard myself as the luckiest man alive when on a shoot. You get to see great places – often the types of places mere mortals can’t see; to meet and work with fantastic people who often end up becoming friends; and yes, in the evenings, you often get to let you hair down. It’s like being on a holiday with a great bunch of mates, with occasionally having to do a bit of work – for which you get paid – to justify being there. In short, it’s great fun – and what can be more glamorous than that?
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