Wanderers, there are a lot of TV series filming in the open air and in publicly-accessible locations these days, and thanks to the internet it’s never been easier to find out if the next day’s shooting is just around the corner from you. Film shoots tend to be harder to find, but it’s possible to run across them or spot a cast member revealing where they’ll be working later that day. This means that if you want to, if you really really want to, you can sometimes slip along there and find yourself in a position to watch your favourite thing in all the world actually being filmed. It’s not a new thing, but as I say, the internet is making it far easier to find locations these days.
Sometimes, this is a really rewarding experience. Merlin fans could turn up at the Château de Pierrefonds in France – better known in the series as Camelot – and watch scenes being filmed thanks to a handy bit of French law which prevents the castle from being closed, even to film a massive spoiler. The cast may have found it a bit weird to be performing to cameras, groups of French schoolchildren, and travelling fans all at once, but the rules for being near the set were made clear, the Assistant Directors kept things under control, and the filming got done. The series got made, fans got to see what a working TV set looked like, and for the most part nobody got in the way or bothered the actors. Since it was established that the castle courtyard couldn’t just be closed for the duration of filming, everyone involved in making the show knew that there would be fans there (at least after a few weeks on location for series two) and was prepared for it. Fans were aware that it was an unusual opportunity, kept quiet and out of the way, and didn’t give away any plot points they may have discovered. This was widely considered to have been a successful arrangement.
Sometimes, though, we fans forget that while it seems impossibly glamourous and exciting to us, a day on set is a day at work for those actors we claim to respect and admire so much. Imagine having a crowd of people following you around at school or work all day. Imagine if that crowd, or part of it, got between you and the coffee machine, or stopped you from getting to your locker, or monopolised the photocopier. If fans aren’t careful, that’s how a set visit can leave the actors feeling. If there are constantly a hundred pairs of fan eyes watching them or, worse, cheering at them between takes and asking for photos, cast and crew alike can become quite stressed and exhausted – they’re both put under more pressure by having to do their jobs in front of an audience and frustrated by having takes spoilt or delayed by fans trying to interact with their idols.
Wanderers, we said it in ‘What if You Run into Someone You’re a Fan of?‘, we’re saying it now, and no doubt we will say it again: if somebody is working, stay out of their way. This means not interrupting them, not hindering their progress, but sometimes, I’m afraid, it means going away and leaving them to get on with it. If you’re hanging around taking photos, for example, and the person you’re photographing is visibly hiding their face from the cameras, especially using signs inviting photographers to go elsewhere, it’s probably a sign that they have had their fill of flashbulbs for the day and that you might be wise to leave or at least put the camera away. Even if you think it’s the paparazzi that are the problem, it’s probably kinder to those people you admire if you respect that they’ve had enough and stop doing whatever it is they’re objecting to.
The most essential thing if you come across a film or TV location shoot is to do as you’re told. If you turn up and start watching and a member of the crew tells you you’re in the way, ask if there’s somewhere more convenient that you can stand to watch, or if they’d rather you left altogether. Sometimes, there are really sensitive technical reasons you need to not be in a place – you’re standing between the action and a sunbeam machine, for example, or the sound recording is picking up the noise of a small crowd fidgeting and breathing when the scene calls for an echoey, abandoned car park – and the crew don’t often have time to explain these reasons to every fan present. But actually, that’s largely irrelevant – even if there was no technical reason for you to be far away from a scene, by being there you have effectively walked into someone else’s place of work and should be prepared to comply if they ask you to walk out of it again. Similarly, if you’re asked to stay quiet, moved to a different location, or asked not to photograph or blog about what you’re seeing, you need to cooperate.
The other thing to bear in mind, really, is that a filming break is not an autograph break. If a break is called, actors will probably disappear like smoke into wherever is serving tea or coffee (especially if it’s raining!) and that is absolutely fine. There aren’t many breaks in a filming day, and it’s hard work; if the actors approach the fans to talk or sign things then that’s great but it’s a sign of them really, really going the extra mile for you. It’s like sacrificing your only lunchbreak at your work to do a spot of telemarketing for your company – that’s not so much a break as a change of work type. Many actors are happy to do that, but it’s their choice and if instead they decide to get some food inside them, warm up, and have a quick glance over their script again, that’s not something to complain about. At the end of the shoot, if they choose to go home (or are bundled into a minibus to move to the next location!) without talking to you, that’s fine too. It’s definitely not a reason to get angry or tell everyone the star of your favourite show was horrible to you. You’re not entitled to anything in this situation, and acting as if you’re owed something is one of the things that will get your entire fandom a terrible reputation – and fast.
Sometimes, fans will be asked in advance to stay away from filming, either on a certain day or in general. Technically, there is nothing to stop you turning up and trying to watch anyway – it’s just really rude. In practice, you are likely to be turned away on arrival, and the shoot may well be taking place entirely behind high fences and screens just in case. If people are asked to stay away from filming in advance (for example, if the director or producer tweets ‘please stay away from the set, thank you’ on the morning of the shoot) our advice is to stay at home or do something else. Failure to follow instructions will not get you the attention of the people you’re a fan of, especially not in a good way. Of course, if you don’t hear about the request until you arrive and are turned away, the rules are once again to do as you’re told and leave. You don’t have to feel bad about trying to have a look as long as you do so knowing there are no guarantees and don’t make extra work for the crew by deliberately turning up against their wishes.
Wanderers, we’re immensely privileged to have the occasional opportunity to watch TV or movie magic happen right in front of us. If you get the chance to do so and want to check it out, though, you need to be considerate and respectful of the people whose workplace you’re visiting. They have a lot to do if you want your next series on time, after all! That’s not just the actors, either – the crew are working really hard and deserve just as much respect. They’re all working hard to make something you love as good as it can possibly be. So if you visit a location shoot, follow instructions, try to be aware of the mood the cast and crew are in, and stay out of the way. That’s how the system keeps working.