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crew filming King Lear
Maya Vision crew filming
"King Lear"
Pre-production of "In Search of Shakespeare" started in March 2001.

We filmed in short bursts over 18 months, shooting as much as possible in the order that it would eventually be used. This of course meant many trips up the M40 motorway from London to Stratford. It was the same crew who had lugged gear from Baghdad to Macchu Picchu, from the Yellow sea to the Black Sea on various previous productions so it was a big challenge for them to make the journey from London to Stratford-upon-Avon look as gorgeous and as exciting as our previous locations! Around this time, Mike bumped into Michael Palin in the lift at Belsize Park. His series on the Sahara currently was going out on BBC2 and he quipped to Mike, "I hear you're doing a series on the M40!"

It did seem like that sometimes! We got to know intimately all the houses owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the dedicated staff who look after them. I'm sure there was a huge sigh of relief that we hadn't burned the houses down with our fake fires and filming lights and they could go back to normal working hours. All the staff were fantastically helpful and knowledgeable. Also in the Midlands was Baddesley Clinton - a wonderful old house full of priest holes and Elizabethan sewers which, of course, we managed to get both Mike and the crew into.

We tried very hard to convey and shoot "Elizabethan" London and found pockets of it lurking in Bishopsgate and Deptford. The National Monuments Record was a valuable source having hundreds of photographs of Victorian London which gave us a look at Elizabethan London - well at least areas which survived the Great Fire of 1666. Filming a production of "Twelfth Night" at Middle Temple was amazingly fortuitous timing. Exactly 400 years ago to the day there had been a performanceof "Twelfth Night" by Shakespeare's company in the exact same hall. It was too good an opportunity to miss.

The RSC Tour was the highlight of the shoot. Filming at The New Inn in Gloucester, the only remaining four-galleried inn where we know that Shakespeare's company actually played, was a thrill. The actors were similarly inspired by the surroundings, treading the same boards in front of a packed house was an experience they said they'd never forget. Under the wonderful direction of Greg Doran, we performed 24 extracts from different plays to live audiences in four locations - two of which were genuine Shakespearean theatrical locations!

What started out as a fairly modest shoot turned into a six-vehicle tour, (two transit vans of costumes, a 50-seater coach, lighting truck, camera kit truck and production vehicles).

Shooting wasn't all action-packed, though. Many shoot days were spent in libraries and archives working hard creatively to make 400-year-old documents look exciting to the unbiased viewer. It's surprising how long it can take to shoot a piece of parchment.

Fun and games over, we settled into the post-production. Gerry Branigan our editor had been cutting as we were shooting. A fantastic day was spent in a large recording studio listening to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recording the music by our inspirational composer, Howard Davidson.

When asked if he was worried conducting 40 musicians and hearing it performed for the first time, Howard remarked, "Not nearly as much as I am about my French 'O' Level exam I'm taking tomorrow!" Hearing and seeing the new score put to pictures in the dubbing studio was fabulous as so many scenes just sprung to life or brought tears to our eyes. The schoolboy reading Ovid cut to beautiful English countryside shots and the music is one of my favorite scenes - so much greater than the sum of its parts which is what great television and film music can do.

One hundred weeks later we delivered the finished shows to the BBC and enjoyed a mid-summer screening with all our contributors, crew, friends and family in the little arthouse cinema in Stratford-upon-Avon.

A great finale to a wonderful series and experience.

Sally Thomas
Line Producer on "In Search of Shakespeare"

You can see Maya Vision's own site on the production of "In Search of Shakespeare"...

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