USA shoot, 8th - 17th Aug
Day 1 - First day of shooting for Episode Four, now in New York City. Various circumstances threatened to thwart our plans today, but the crew emerged victorious. A bad day on the stock market meant that, whilst we were trying to film on the steps of Federal Hall on Wall Street, the rest of the world's media were also camped out in their droves. Then in the afternoon, we were due to film a scene with Janet Schwartz our genealogist on a bench in Central Park, just as the heavens opened... A full 6 hours of torrential rain meant that we had to relocate to the canopy of a nearby café. Nevertheless, we were all thoroughly soaked by the end of the day.
Day 3 - Today in Bangor, Maine was supposed to be our day of shooting at the Stetson Wind Farm, however bad weather meant that climbing the wind turbine that day was going to be impossible. So instead, the crew spent the day holed up in a delightful bed and breakfast hotel, eating delicious home cooked food from owners Steve and Susan.
Day 4 - An early start and we all woke up to a beautiful sunny day, certainly worth waiting for. The crew all undertook special safety training to learn how to properly climb up the tower of a wind turbine and to evacuate in an emergency. Then the crew, plus me with minicams strapped all over, climbed up the twenty stories of ladder to reach the top, finally standing right up on top of the platform. To get the wide shot on top of the turbine we sent the Assistant Producer up to the top of the next turbine along with a second camera and we could talk to each by radio from one tower to the other - quite a weird feeling! Very tiring and slightly terrifying, but worth it for the breathtaking view from the top.
Day 5 - In Loudon, New Hampshire and the team spent the day filming at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, following driver Will Power and the Penske Indy Car race team. We had incredible access, filming with the race engineers in the garage and in the pit lane during the race. It was particularly fascinating to interview Will Power's race engineer, David Faustino as he gave us a tour of the car explaining all the amazing technology that hopefully gives them the cutting edge. One of the highlights of the trip came for me when I got to take a ride in the back of a two seater Indy Car for a few laps of the track at speeds of up to 200mph! A hot, dusty, noisy day made for difficult filming conditions but so exciting to be able to get behind the scenes at an event like that.
Day 7 - Another very early start and first stop the Library of Congress in Washington DC, the world's largest library. Here we were filming a piece about the invention of the printing press and the Gutenberg Bible. We filmed with one of only three bibles like this in the world from the library's collection and it is so valuable that it had to arrive under police escort. This was only the second time that the Gutenberg Bible had been brought out of storage for filming and so this was quite a rare and special moment, even for the staff of the library. It certainly was a privilege to get so close to possibly the most famous book in the world. We then took a trip out of town to film with Stan Nelson and to see a real printing press in action, including learning how to cast our pieces of movable metal type.
UK shoot, 17th 24th August
Day 1 - This morning began with a battle against the jet lag, having arrived at our hotel at 2am the night before after a flight from the U.S. and struggling with a five-hour time change. However our spirits were brightened by a fascinating day at Bletchley Park, the secret home of the British code breakers during World War II. This was the place where they cracked both the German Enigma and Lorenz codes, potentially shortening the War by up to two years. I was particularly in my element, as a computer nerd this place was something of a Mecca for me. It's interesting to see that this place is slightly crumbly at the edges and is to a large extent run by volunteers. It's critically important that this place is kept running and is not allowed to close!
Day 2 - Today was action packed as we crammed in a session of adrenaline fuelled indoor skydiving in Milton Keynes, a three hour drive down to Chichester and an afternoon of being made up in prosthetics to make me look like I have the Black Death. There were a couple of surreal moments in the barbershop when the barber's real customers started coming in through the door, to be greeted by a film crew and me looking more than a little bit unwell... None of them appeared to be perturbed though.
Today marked the 30th birthday of Assistant Producer Lucy Haken! The crew celebrated in style with a trip to Chichester's finest Indian restaurant for an overload of delicious curry and a bottle of champagne.
Day 3 - Today we were filming at the Weald and Down Open Air Museum in Sussex England, a farm that specialises in demonstrating medieval farm buildings and techniques. We were blessed with glorious weather and an early start meant that beautiful light combined with an idyllic setting meant perfect shooting conditions. The museum had arranged a ploughing demonstration with a prehistoric style scratch plough and also a medieval heavy plough and harnessed each to their team of four traditional working oxen. We were joined by medieval historian and BBC 'Victorian Farm' presenter Alex Langlands who proved invaluable in his expertise in getting the best performance out both the plough and the animals. There were a few frustrations during the day when the oxen decided to stay either resolutely stationary or stormed ahead faster than the cameraman could keep up, however for the most part they were surprisingly cooperative and not at all shy of the cameras.
This was in fact the first time that ploughing with oxenhas been carried out in Sussex for over 100 years so it was quite an event for all involved.It was a very enjoyable day and it's going to be a lovely sequence
Day 4 - From here a trip down to Bodmin in sunny Cornwall and another day of perfect weather conditions. I got my first chance to fly in a microlight. What a wonderful way to see the stunning coast of south west England. The aim of the sequence was to see from above the different shaped field patterns that reflect the change in farming practises over the last 1000 years. It's so much clearer to see from the air than you can ever understand from the ground.
Meanwhile director Nathan Williams flew with Castle Air in their helicopter. Their high tech gyro mounted 'cineflex' system means that the camera mounted on the helicopter remains completely stable and can be controlled from inside, giving the opportunity to shoot some breathtaking shots. On the way home cameraman Piers Leigh found time to stop by to see a litter of puppies containing what will become the new family dog! Very cute indeed.
Day 5 - Here's where our run of good weather luck ran out... We began very early at 6am on Berrow Beach in Somerset to film a sequence of me piloting a land yacht. Unfortunately, though the sky was blue, the wind was almost none existent. Pretty unusual for a British beach and not ideal for a morning of land yachting. However, in typical 'Link' crew style we persevered and managed to get enough gusts to shoot the pieces to camera we needed.
A brief detour via the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol and then the afternoon was spent on Brunel's SS Great Britain. Its fabulous ship and we were very lucky to get the rare opportunity to see the enormous engine running. As the heavens opened, quite a lot of time was spent cowering from the rain and running out onto the deck to catch the brief sunny spells for filming.
Prague shoot, 25th-28th August
Day 1 - Today was the first of our shooting days in Prague in the Czech Republic. Its fantastic medieval architecture was the perfect backdrop for our scene about rise of the European city in the 1300s and its culmination in the Black Death.
The afternoon was spent beneath the city streets, down in Prague's sewer network. I and the crew all had to don full overalls and thigh high rubber boots for what proved a rather smelly but fascinating journey underground. We also had an animal handler with us who brought along 2 tame rats for me to use in this segment. As it turns out, I kept rats as pets when I was young and so I loved it! We were all struck by the magnificence and intricacy of the brickwork in the sewers. It's amazing to think that those engineers a century ago took such pride in work that only a handful of people would ever see.
Today's highlight however was actually probably a culinary one. The 'mixed steak platter' that the crew ordered to share turned out to be a sort of metal tree which they brought to the table with types of meat hung on it, which they then proceeded to set on fire - a flaming meat tree! Awesome!!
Day 2 - Final day of the shoot, in Kutna Hora, about an hour away from Prague and home of the Sedlec Ossuary. The Ossuary is decorated with the bones of 40,000 people, dating back to the 11th century. We had access to film in the ossuary after closing time which allowed us to light the space and really create an atmosphere.
A dampner was put on the day with the news that a hurricane was hitting New York, meaning that my flight back home was cancelled... So that meant an unexpected trip for back to the UK with the crew. Luckily though I managed to get a flight out via Brussels the next morning so it all ended happily ever after.
Go team Episode 4!!!