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Queen Victoria's Empire : About the Series : Sapper


Sapper

 
Series Line Producer

Q: Can you tell me what your job entails?

A: Working closely with directors to help them realize their vision within the budget and schedule set. Once the script is finished, I break it down into locations where each sequence can be shot, and try as much as possible to use the same location for many many different scenes. For instance, we spent a great deal of time at a stately home in Hertfordshire called Wrotham Place. This house was used not only for all the royal palace scenes, but was also dressed for the Gladstone and Disraeli scenes. It is also my responsibility to control the budget, hire and manage all the staff and general act as a buffer zone for the directors to get on with their work and not to worry about the day to day management of the production. I liase very closely with the commissioning editors -- in this case, it was DDE, History Channel and Channel 5 -- to make sure the programme they believed in enough to commission stays true to their vision.

Q: What sort of productions have you worked on before?

A: I have worked on lots of large-scale historical documentaries, which all had elements of drama reconstruction in them. For instance, "Finest Hour" for the BBC, "Forces of the Wild" for WGBH/PBS and "Vietnam War" for Channel 4/Discovery Channel.

Q: Were you familiar with this period of history before taking on the job?

A: Not really, and this is despite having studied history at university. For some reason, we always missed the nineteenth century. Crazy really because now I have spent a year of my life immersed in the period I realise how important a period it was. The nineteenth century saw the most amazing technological advances, such as the invention of steam, the exploration and discovery of so many new parts of the world, and beginning of a new economic world order that has survived to this day.

Q: Through working on the series, have you changed your perceptions or ideas about anything or anyone from the period?

A: Yes! David Livingstone. I had always seen him as an interfering missionary, who didn't really do any good at all. I can now see what an amazing man he was, to have pulled himself out of a very poor and deprived background in Scotland, to teach himself to read and write, send himself to medical school and then decide to become a missionary and end his days in the middle of Africa. An extraordinary man.

Q: How did you decide what to leave in and what to leave out?

A: For me, unfortunately it was always money. Although Paul and Paul would have amazing and incredibly creative ideas, I would always have to be the horrible money person and say sorry guys, we can't afford this or that. Some of the things on their wish list included more steam train shots (we shot most of the train scenes at the Blue Bell Railway line, where they shot the "Railway Chidren"), but I know they would have loved to have many more trains to have filmed, more extras for the Charge of the Light Brigade sequence -- we could only afford 16 men and 16 horses -- through the magic of post production we managed to double up the actual number the viewers sees, but it would have been great to have had the full 600 men Lord Cardigan had! I also had to limit their wishes to what locations and countries we could film in. I know they would have loved to have gone to the Sudan to have filmed the General Gordon scenes -- in fact these scenes were filmed in many different countries (but never Sudan). It was far cheaper to film the exterior of the Governor's Palace in India (where we were already filming something else), the Nile is in fact the Ganges, and Gordon's room is a disused office in the Kings Cross area of London.

Q: What was the biggest challenge during filming, and why?

A: Every day seemed to be a challenge. I suppose it was the day we decided to have two film units in one location - because the location was so expensive we thought we would try to film as much as possible there in one day. This meant I was managing over 60 crew and cast members, all with conflicting needs and problems. As we started at six in the morning and finished at gone midnight, it was an exhausting day but also one of the satisfying as we managed to film an incredible amount -- all the scenes with Gladstone talking to crowds, Azimullah coming to look at the slums of industrial Britain, the factory scenes, General Gordon finding a child in an alleyway, the printing press scene, the Great Exhibition scene -- and I am sure I have missed something. It was a very busy day.

Q: What about the post-production?

A: Securing Donald Sutherland as our narrator. Once we got through his mirage of agents, he was incredibly helpful and supportive of the project. A real joy to work with.

Q: In hindsight, what would you have done differently?

A: I wouldn't have volunteered to be one of the extras. I had to wear a full Victorian costume including corset; this was not a pleasant experience, especially as the director (who will remain nameless) kept me hanging around for my "big" scene for ages. You can see me at the start of programme two, boarding the train ready to go off to India.

Q: What is your favorite part of the series?

A: When Livingstone discovers the Victoria Falls. I think we really capture the wonder he must have felt to have seen this amazing natural sight. It really is the smoke that thunders.

Q: If Queen Victoria was alive today and watched the series, do you think she'd approve of it?

A: Parts of it, but not all. I think she would have liked the way we portrayed Albert, but would have hated the way we talked about the later part of her reign.


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