Working for different film, TV, and theatre production companies, I have been based in various different stores and seen the facilities utilised by some of my colleagues for their personal kit. They vary in location and quality, but a couple of them have rented shipping containers on private land. It looks to be a convenient and reasonably low-cost option – shelved and racked on the inside to accomodate tools, equipment, and other occasionally essential gear.
One memorable job involved a visit to my friend’s lock-up. He has, or had, a place located down a side-street near Glasgow’s River Clyde. The short street was run-down, despite its proximity to the city centre, with the building that ran the length of one side displaying no intact windows. All were broken to some degree or missing entirely, with boards plugging the gaps behind the remaining shards. On the other side, two high Victorian buildings were both boarded up too.
Between these monuments, a connecting single-storey entranceway had been demolished, the rubble still piled high and adorned with illegally-dumped beds, mattresses, and other such junk. Our container was one of a dozen lined along the grounds, accessible by unlocking some Heras perimeter fencing, of the “mesh” type seen around every outdoor music event you have ever been to. Unfortunately, our ingress was prevented by half a dozen fly-tipped fridges. The abandoned white goods littered the kerbside directly in front of the only gate, and inevitably we would have to move them. “Let’s have some fun,” my friend said. “There’s spraypaint in the back. I’m thinking ‘robots’.”
We left the cab of our van, and manhandled the appliances into position. We stood them upright, and I dragged one onto its side and shunted it between others. Lying prone, I took rogue circuit boards and pipes and stuffed them into the door – the poor refrigerator’s guts spilling forth.
With our path cleared, the gate was duly opened and we walked the short distance to the line of units. Andy – everybody in this industry is called Paul or Andy, in my experience – proceeded to the first blue cabin in a line of red ones, their vibrant colours long since faded. He jammed the key into the padlock, and it yielded with ease. Removing it, he swung open the first of the double doors.
His store contains shelves and racking, powertools and crates of assorted gear, workspace and associated art implements. None of that was visible. There was only one thing in the container – a silver hatchback. The vehicle comfortably filled the space, and I became acutely aware of my surroundings. It was dark and wet, a Glasgow evening in a deserted and vandalised area – us alone by the ruins of an old building, by a length of shipping crates. Is this not how films start? I joked that I had better not find a dead body inside, shining a torch into the rear window and peering through. In my head, somebody silently appeared behind us, two bullets swiftly ensuring we could never speak of our discovery.
It was not much of a discovery, although I must admit I gave the interior only a cursory glance. I had no desire to lay my eyes on a corpse, nor on any conspicuous plastic sheeting. This was close enough to an abandoned docks to put me in mind of a dozen crime film cliches. The greater question, for Andy at least, involved the contents he had expected to see. The key fitted the padlock perfectly, and he had to wonder if his possessions had been stolen, then replaced with a car. It seemed an odd way to commit burglary, and was quickly discounted.
He had only been to this location twice before, and all he could recall was that he had a blue container. Resecuring Box Number One, he tried his key in Box Number Two. This padlock complied as well. In we went, retrieving the items for which we had come, while light-heartedly pondering our abilities to hotwire the motor next door – evidently these two containers had locks that shared an identical cut of key.
With our gear subsequently loaded onto the van and the location secured. we grabbed tins of spraypaint. This would be a fun end to the day. Andy set about giving the fridges eyes and mouths, and I liberally applied red – blood – to the deceased one. I tried to give it crosses for eyes, but the rain lying on it its surface hindered the effort. It was like painting a puddle, if you have ever attempted that or can imagine how ineffective it would be. Nevertheless, a few photographs were taken to preserve the moment, and we quietly disappeared into the night. The killer cannibal robot refrigerators stayed behind, gathered around their fallen victim.
I don’t generally consider meetings in my line of work as claims to fame, as I’m sure I’ve explained here previously. It’s something of a given, working in theatre, film, and television, that you are going to have minor brushes with celebrated faces and personalities. There are plenty of people out there who will regale you with tales of how they “worked with” some famous actor or comedian, when what they mean is that they positioned lights to shine on them, or rigged a PA so they could be heard, or some other far more mundane interaction which doesn’t merit the implied collaboration of that phrase “worked with.”
I’ve met a few blowhards too, who will drop the names of everybody they can think of, just for the sake of it and, I guess, to make themselves seem interesting. I’m not interesting, not in the slightest, but I do at least try and write up my experiences in a way that will hopefully be broadly entertaining to read. I can tell from the site stats that nobody reads any of it anyway, yet. So it doesn’t really matter what I write here.
I was working on a film called New Town Killers, which stars the actor Dougray Scott. I am fine with dropping his name, because – for all his international success – my greatest claim to fame regarding him is a family connection: my grandmother was his godmother, and she stayed close friends with his mum. It is very hard to be phased by a big-name Hollywood star and once widely-rumoured new James Bond when you know your aunt has long claimed (embarrasedly) to have accidentally dropped him on his head while babysitting him.
We were dressing a set in an empty office block and, if you’ve seen the film, it was for the squat – a dirty, graffitied mess of a flat. We piled in all manner of salvaged cupboards and units, a filthy mattress, couches and furniture, broken bits of bikes, traffic cones, and all kinds of other things that made the place look lived-in but not cared-for. A street artist came in and did some very big pieces on the walls, and we all added to it with tags (or “menchies” in local parlance) – if you look very closely, you can see my spraypainted initials in the back of several shots.
Under instruction, we scoured the disused building we were in, looking for any abandoned items we could dress into the set. I had already gone on a mission to get flyers and posters from local clubs and so on, and these were used to cover windows and provide further background detail. I had also found, while scouring the various floors, an unused Health And Safety sign, of the type required to be displayed in business premises by law. I added it on the wall beside the flyers, but I knew it couldn’t stay – it looked out of place, was too noticeable.
It was about this time that the director arrived on the set, to see for the first time how we had transformed the space. The film was being directed by Richard Jobson, and I was more excited about his involvement in the piece, on account of my teenage punk fixation and on account of his previous career singing for The Skids. He walked into the room and looked around, happy with what he saw. It was at this point I was putting up the H&S sign, and realising it couldn’t stay. I had an idea, though, that might help it blend in.
He took a call on his mobile, and sat down in a manky armchair in the middle of the room. While he was chatting, and unsure how it would be received, I got the biggest permanent marker I could find, and – in large black letters – wrote “BOLLOCKS” in block capitals diagonally across the poster. It was at this point he interrupted his conversation to say distractedly to the person on the other end “Sorry, I’m just watching someone write ‘bollocks’ on the wall, and I wish it was me.”
So that was the time my rebellious attitude to authority was approved by the guy who co-wrote and sang “Into The Valley.”