Shooting Obstacles and Serendipity

Something happens when you’re filming outdoors in a public arena. Every time, and I’m not exaggerating here, every time you’re ready to go, you’re presented with an obstacle. The actors are ready, the camera is up, the sound is clean, there’s a break in traffic, the sun is diffused behind a cloud as if expertly placed, Simeon’s finger hovers over the big red button… and one of the following happens.

1. A pedestrian will cartwheel through the background
2. A car will park directly in the back of shot
3. A mentally unstable pedestrian will stand nearby and continuously moan
4. A dozen American tourists will float into the background and take photos
5. People with kids, dogs, cats, or bags will want to walk by really slowly

I’ve got a bunch of laminated cards to hand people if they ask what’s going on

All the above have happened to us so far. And it’s one of those things you can’t change or complain about. We’ve decided to set the film 80% outdoors so we’ve brought those factors onto ourselves. And they’re really not that bad, we always end up getting what we need. It’s a matter of waiting. We’ve never asked anybody to move or be quiet.

Actually, we have. Abby kindly asked the children to stop cartwheeling through the background. I kinda sympathized there though, they wanted to be on film, how cool!


Nick’s playing a central character in the film. He’s been in The Hobbit as Percy, Jack and Chops episode 3 as Jack Cannon Senior (my character’s father), and will be seen in the upcoming bio series about Ed Hilary as Sir. Ed’s stepfather. Yesterday was his first day on film (yay!) and he brought exactly what the character needed to the screen. He’s perfect. We had the entire Sunday scheduled to shoot with just Nick. Permits had been filled out, I’d met with Nick and discussed the character’s journey at length, and Nick had packed various costume options for the day. We had eight pages of dialogue planned.

Nick Blake
Nick Blake as Richard

7am rolls around. I get a phone call. I’m dressed, the make-up’s on and Simeon and I are packing the camera gear into the car. Nick’s on the phone. His daughter in law has gone into labour.

“But we don’t have to drop everything,” Nick said, remarkably calm.

“Nick, it’s a birth, that’s kind of a big deal,” I said.

“She’s two weeks early. We weren’t expecting this,” he said.

“It can’t really be helped, can it?” I quipped, keeping my voice light, doing my best to mask the black cloud of crippling defeat that accompanies news of this ilk.

“But… we can still shoot until things get serious,” he said.

“Are you sure?” My heart lifted. We could still get the day done!

We filmed at the bus stop for a couple of hours, then things got serious, and we called it quits. The baby was born an hour or so later. Me and Simeon celebrated with a late breakfast at Scorch-o-Rama and clinked our coffee cups to new life and new plans.

Simeon Duncombe 2015
Cheers Simeon!


We found ourselves with seven hours of light, cameras and permits, but lacking a key cast member. Time to roll with the punches and make a new plan. I txt two of our younger cast members and received a txt that one wasn’t available. Understandable. I was texting saying ‘Drive to the city and shoot a scene with us!’

Michelle was at work where she’d already received a few stern words about her recent days off on weekends (sorry, Michelle!) so we couldn’t shoot with her.

We looked at the wall schedule (which is looking impressively slim right now – not much to shoot!) and found one scene that only needed me and… the character of a Gardener. Time to get on the phone.

Thank you to everybody who answered my calls. I’m started to think, judging by the eternally ringing phones I’m hearing, people see my name pop up on screen and ignore it. Fair enough.

But some people answered. They helped. Richard Falkner gave me the number of Kate Logan who I called and texted about borrowing some overalls and a trowel, to no answer. A few of my favourite actors in Wellington expressed their desire to be involved but were unfortunately not available on such short notice. One was running a dumpling stand at the school fair (hope it went well, Miranda!).

Simon Smith, my very good friend from being Gandalf’s stand in on The Hobbit while I was Bilbo, sent me approximately two dozen contacts that could work. I was sitting on my laptop searching Facebooks and ding, ding, ding, went my iMessage app, notifications appearing on the top corner of my screen. I called a few of the names I recognised, then my phone vibrated.

It was Simon, but for some reason the message came through to my phone, not my MacBook. I checked it. It was the name Lyndee-Jane Rutherford. I thought, ‘aha, Lady Fate has come to the party’. Having promised myself to spot any signs that may come my way, I called Lyndee-Jane despite never having met her.

“Sounds cool!” LJ said (we called her LJ after a while, jumping straight to nicknames. Cute, ay?)

“Yes, it is cool, would you be interested?” I asked, keeping my hopes high and expectations low.

“…” Her silence killed me. “Totes magotes! I have a couple of meetings. Could you pick me up in an hour?”

I punched the air. “Of course! You rock!” Then I thought, shit, I gotta find gardening gear.

I paced. I visited the neighbours. Nobody home. I txt around and asked.

Brrrrrrr – my phone vibrated again. Kate Logan had responded. This is what it said.

Sure thing. Items are on doorstep by garage. I’m about to head out now. Pop over and grab them. Drop them off later when your done. Good luck.

Two people I’d never met endeavoured to help us on the strength of Wellington connections and friendships.

Lyndee-Jane Rutherford
Lyndee-Jane Rutherford as our Gardener

One hour later we were at the location shooting and this sounds cheesy, but LJ brought something magical to that character. The scene is half a page, but we must’ve elongated it to two pages by the time we were done. The improvisation was too good not to use.

It was ten times funnier and beautiful than I could’ve imagined. Lyndee-Jane was hilarious! A director of theatre, she got the vibe of the scene and went to town on it. Me and Simeon watched the footage when we got home and collapsed into tears. Every take is golden.

After dropping LJ off, we decided the light was right to get a couple of transition shots. However, what we wanted to get was to be filmed in the Botanic Gardens and we didn’t have a permit. It costs a minimum of $200 for a location fee to shoot there and we couldn’t afford that. That could go toward lunches for cast and crew! So we went a bit guerilla. Don’t tell anyone.

After our day, we felt proud, despite not getting what we set out to. Obstacles and serendipity had contributed to another surprising and unexpected day, with unexpected footage being captured.

A very big thank you to Richard Falkner, Kate Logan, Lyndee-Jane, Simon Smith, and Amber Varde (Simeon’s understanding partner, who has put up with me stealing her boyfriend every single weekend of the year so far). I’ve never been prouder of setting up a life in Wellington. These people rock.