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10 years ago today: I was a zombie in “Shaun of the Dead”…. on my birthday.


June 10th is my birthday.

10 years ago I had a very unique birthday celebration. A friend was on the production staff of a film they were calling “Shaun of the Dead”, and myself and my friend Graham had been invited to be extras on a couple of different occasions. The first one was back in May 2003 when we headed for North London to do some location shooting, which resulted in me being immortalised for literally three or four frames of film as “man at bus stop.” Some of my finest work. Obviously I impressed with my background artiste skills and so – surely nothing to do with our friend on the crew – we were invited back for a night shoot in New Cross in which the zombies were to surround a derelict pub, which had been refitted on the outside to act as “The Winchester.”

Shaun of the Dead: "The Winchester"

Our friend had advised us of a 6PM call, so we arrived in New Cross slightly early and, it being my birthday, had a beer to kill time. We swung by the town hall which had been commandeered as a unit base, to find it swarming with other eager extras, many of whom seething with pure nerd energy, waiting for the action to begin. We found it a bit overpowering, and when our friend told us that realistically we wouldn’t be needed till at least 9pm, we repaired to a nearby pub and decided to have some birthday pints – all in keeping with the theme of the film, or so we thought.

You can guess the rest… our call time kept being pushed back and back until we actually closed down the pub, and we were beginning to look like zombies before we’d even had any makeup. Speaking of which, it did occur to us that we hadn’t had any makeup applied yet. We waddled back to the unit base, which by now was swarming with nerd-zombies, who had all queued to get makeup from the handful of makeup artists. However, when we went in for makeup we were the only people left to adorn. Graham and I ended up, for expediency’s sake, with three women apiece working on zombie-fying us, and I remarked that my birthday was looking up!

Shaun of the Dead: Graham getting made up

Unfortunately now we were in zombie makeup, drunk, and with the call time being pushed back and back into the wee hours, we devoted our energy to practicing our zombie walk on the pavement with the casting director, James, himself in zombie getup as well, and idle hands being the devil’s tools, we soon noticed the dodgy off-license down the road. We soon convinced the proprietor to open the beer counter up for us (for a monetary consideration) and before you know it there was a queue of bored-looking zombies buying Red Stripes and wobbling up and down the road to the unit base.

Shaun of the Dead: Graham and Me

Graham and I realised they had actually started shooting some of the main actors, so we snuck through a park and watched the “White Lines” scene where Shaun and Ed see the “wasted” punter – actually a zombie-fied casting director James – ambling down the road. I was glad nobody caught us spying on this shot as we would have made quite a picture, hiding in a hedge, covered in blood and holding tins of beer.

Shaun of the Dead: Filming the "White Lines" scene outside the Winchester

I am ashamed to say that by the time we were actually required to perform our duties as “background artistes”, swarming a car outside the pub, and doing a classic zombie swarm shot surrounding the pub, Graham and I were very much the worse for wear, having the times of our lives, but not necessarily being completely attentive to all the instructions the director and first AD were bellowing out. We were background zombies – we didn’t have the physical wounds and special contact lenses given to the foreground zombies – but somehow we always seemed to end up near the front by the time the swarm had “swarmed.” Occasionally this resulted in an annoyed “cut” and an instruction for the background zombies to remain in the background! Consequently I am not sure I have ever identified Graham or myself in these shots, though it’s hard to tell given we all look alike!

Shaun of the Dead: Graham, Me and James (the casting director)

(We were invited to the crew screening later that year where I apologised to Edgar Wright for letting the side down – I begged extenuating circumstances).

When all was said and done, it got to 4:30 in the morning, we were finished shooting, and marooned in New Cross, needing to get back to North London. So what did we do? Why, a night bus, of course. Upon boarding we realised that we had never gone back to unit base to clean up, and thus we were still in full zombie getup. I have never had so much room on a bus before or since.

Shaun of the Dead: Method Acting

Did we have fun? Yes. Did we make a good show of ourselves? I am not so sure. But am I sure that I will never have a birthday party like that, ever again.

My thanks to the crew for their indulgence and the opportunity to have been a tiny, broken part of this cult classic.

January Snow in Queen’s Park

January 18, 2013 1 comment

Snow is a rare(ish) thing in London, so when it arrives, two things happen. The first is that all transport systems immediately fold under the pressure at the first snowflake. The second thing is that everyone, yours truly included, rushes out to take pictures. Here are mine.

A Queen's Park Winter

Hardcore Sketching, Queen's Park

The Girl in the Red Coat, Queen's Park

I will resume normal Japan-trip service shortly.

Seething as I am asked not to take pictures on my own street!


I just dashed off this fun little missive to the location manager, sub-manager and Brent Council Film Office contact for the location shoot that is going on across the road from me right now. Try to gauge my mood here.

Update 30 minutes later – wow, that was quick, they have replied to my letter – see the bottom of this post.

To whom it may concern, 
 
Hi, I live on [my] Road, and, having been on a film set before once or twice, was naturally interested to see a location shoot rock up on my humble street (despite lorries loudly arriving post-midnight last night).
 
Whilst on the way to do some shopping I whipped out the iPhone to do a casual snap of the film crew in action, to show my absent girlfriend later, when I was approached by one of the gentlemen from [Security Firm Name] who asked me not to take a photo. I was standing on the public pavement at the time. 
 
I am a photographer on the side and am, as you will see, very protective of photographic rights. I’m going to get pedantic here, but you need to hear it.
 
I explained to him that I had every right to do so, as I was on public land (see http://www.photographersrights.org.uk/page6/page6.html) and furthermore he was a visitor on my street, not the other way around. 
 
He tried to explain that there was a “custom” of not taking photos of film crews, which was a new one on me. I said he did not have the right to ask me to stop – not even a policeman’s badge, much less a high-viz jacket, would give anyone the right to stop me taking a photo from a public place – and he demurred that I had the right to take the photo, but then he had the right to wave his arms around in front of me (which he did not do) in order to prevent the photo. I admit that this is technically true, but he would have been harassing me if so and the police might have got involved. I was called “argumentative” for sticking up for my rights. Damn right I am. 
 
The point of all of this is that you are filming in a public environment, and so am I. You have a permit, I don’t need one. For your information I took an oblique photo (not video) of the crew, no cast members, and nothing plot-threatening (to be honest, rom-coms are not my cup of tea). But that is not material. As long as I am standing on public property, I could have had my professional camera out, shooting right into the action, and been within my rights. 
 
I understand your desire to protect copyright and prevent plot details leaking, and I am excited to have this sort of action in my street, but your desires do not outweigh my rights, and I am not going to be cowed by some guy because he happens to be wearing a vest. 
 
Thanks
Luke Robinson

This was the admittedly very conciliatory and friendly reply, sent within thirty minutes. Fair play, I am a bit less seething now.

Hi Luke

Thanks for your email.

You are quite right, we have no right to stop anybody from photographing on the street, we only try to avoid flash photography or sounds ruining our shots, but that’s all, and this is usually just a request.

I am surprised that any of my security crew would have stopped you from using a camera in the street, only to ask you to be careful not to use a flash or something similar.

Please accept my apologies if this has caused you any inconvenience at all, I can assure you that this is just a misunderstanding, I will ensure that this does not happen again.

Photos from London 2012 Olympics Day 14 – Men’s Basketball Final (USA v Spain)

August 14, 2012 1 comment

I was extremely fortunate that a certain friend of mine decided to move home to Australia, and equally fortunate that he had a kind thought for me, as I ended up with his tickets to the USA v Spain basketball final on the last day of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

As usual in the actual Olympic venues there was no problem bringing in my 70-200mm F2.8 and 1.4X extender – and these were juuuuuuust about enough to capture some of the action from our seats in the rafters.

Panorama of the North Greenwich Arena during the USA Spain Olympic Basketball Final, August 12th 2012

Rudy Fernandez scores for Spain in USA Spain Olympic Basketball Final, August 12th 2012

Mexican Wave, USA Spain Olympic Basketball Final, August 12th 2012

David Beckham and sons enjoy the action, USA Spain Olympic Basketball Final, August 12th 2012

LeBron James goes for a slam dunk, USA Spain Olympic Basketball Final, August 12th 2012

It was an unexpectedly close match, with a lot of action on both sides of the court, and if you went by audience volume alone then it seemed like Spain was winning for most of the time. (I must say that thirteen years absence from America makes me slightly cringe to chant “U-S-A” like a pumped up frat boy, but I managed it.) There were the expected celebrities – although no Jack Nicholson – and the expected results at the end. USA 107, Spain 100.

USA team call a timeout with 30 seconds left just to celebrate, USA Spain Olympic Basketball Final, August 12th 2012

USA team walk off victorious, USA Spain Olympic Basketball Final, August 12th 2012

Arnold Schwarzenegger stands for the US national anthem while Boris Johnson looks on, USA Spain Olympic Basketball Final, August 12th 2012

USA team, Olympic champions, stand for national anthem at medal ceremony, USA Spain Olympic Basketball Final, August 12th 2012

As usual these and more shots of the match (and the Olympics) can be found over on Flickr.

Also, I would like to echo the sentiments of many, many others when I say that the Olympics was a real pleasure to host in London, and my didn’t London pull it off? So many emotional moments, so many shared highs and lows, and now back to the sordid business of normal life. I was very fortunate to go to a few events, and was happy to share the fortune with others by giving some tickets to those who had missed out. We will not see the like of these Games in our town again, at least not in our lifetimes. So it was truly special to be here, and I am thankful for it.

Now, if they had only not bolloxed up the closing ceremony…

Photos from London 2012 Olympics Day 7 – Men’s Hockey + Olympic Park

August 6, 2012 1 comment

On Friday, August 3rd 2012 we returned to the Olympic Park to see the Men’s Hockey matches, Spain v South Africa and Belgium v South Korea. Though we arrived late due to underestimating travel time, we still caught some of the first match and all of the second. The atmosphere was merry for the Belgium / Korea match, as while there were a fair few Belgium fans and a smattering of Korean fans, the vast majority of the crowd were neutrals who took up the Korean cause as the supposed underdogs – cue curiously British football-style chanting of “We love Korea, we do, we love Korea, we do… ohhh Korea we love you.” Mexican waves abounded. And the hockey wasn’t bad. We joined the throngs afterwards ambling back towards the park towards Stratford and got to see the Stadium, the Orbit and the other buildings in their full night-time regalia.

Spain wins against South Africa in Men’s Hockey, Olympic Park

Olympic Men’s Hockey: Belgium vs South Korea

Belgium fans watch Olympic Men’s Hockey: Belgium vs South Korea

Olympic Men’s Hockey: Belgium vs South Korea

R.U.N. Outside Copper Box, Olympic Park

ArcelorMittal Orbit by Night

Olympic Stadium and Orbit by Night

There are about double the number of shots here shown in my photoset over on Flickr – go have a look.

I also did a cheeky little 360 degree panorama on the iPhone from inside the Riverbanks Arena which you can see here.

Photos from London 2012 Olympics: Day 3 – Olympic Park


The big gig is here. Despite many weeks and months of hand-wringing about expected meltdowns in London’s transport system, fears of a security catastrophe, and the shambolic ticketing website – of which your author has been a vocal critic – in the end, the twin factors of Mitt Romney sticking his foot in it, together with Danny Boyle’s bonkers and brilliant Opening Ceremony meant that most of London collectively decided to park the cynicism for a while and get behind the Games.

Speaking personally, we did reasonably well on ticket allocation. We were allocated Men’s Boxing Final in the initial lottery last year, got given Men’s Basketball Final tickets by a very considerate but absent friend in the last week, and managed to score, by persistent refreshing and the occasional head smacked against the desk, both Men’s Preliminary Round Hockey tickets and ground pass tickets to the Olympic Park.

It was those last Park tickets that actually came first chronologically, which was handy as it allowed us to have a look around the site without any pressure to be in any of the venues at a particular time. Photographing the Park was a funny beast; it’s all so massive that you are tempted to just do panoramas the whole time – but the volume of people in-shot all the time makes this a complicated prospect. So I mostly settled for detail shots rather than sweeping landscapes. We are back in the Park this Friday for the hockey so I hope to revisit some of these.

Olympic Stadium and ArcelorMittal Orbit
Olympic Stadium and ArcelorMittal Orbit

ArcelorMittal Orbit, Olympic Park
ArcelorMittal Orbit, Olympic Park

Wildflowers along the canal, Olympic Park
Wildflowers along the canal, Olympic Park

Nicole Cooke MBE being interviewed by the BBC, Olympic Park
Nicole Cooke MBE being interviewed by the BBC, Olympic Park

R U N, Copper Box, Olympic Park
R U N, Copper Box, Olympic Park

Norway Fans, Olympic Park
Norway Fans, Olympic Park

Storm Gathering over the Basketball Arena, Olympic Park
Storm Gathering over the Basketball Arena, Olympic Park

Park Live East Screen, Olympic Park
Park Live East Screen, Olympic Park

Wind Turbines at Sunset, Olympic Park
Wind Turbines at Sunset, Olympic Park

Sunset reflected on the Water Polo Arena, Olympic Park
Sunset reflected on the Water Polo Arena, Olympic Park

More to come…

Photos from Notting Hill Carnival 2011 – Day 2

August 30, 2011 3 comments

After our abridged visit to Carnival on Day 1, we walked down from Queens Park to Notting Hill on Monday psyched up for a full session at Day 2. The mood was slightly subdued by grey skies and unseasonably low temperatures (think 17C) and, I suspect, quite a few hangovers from Day 1. But you can’t stay subdued for long once you get sucked into a mas parade full of exhuberant, brightly attired dancers with ear-to-ear grins. This time we mostly hung around Kensal Road, Golborn Road, Portobello, Westbourne Park and, to finish the day off, Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues where we were treated to a somewhat ramshackle ska set by his band, The Trojans. As usual Day 2 was a bit more crowded and edgy than Day 1, but aside from a handbags-at-dawn flareup at one of the soundsystems we didn’t see any trouble to speak of. Biggest drama of the day was, as usual, where the shortest toilet queues could be found.

Mas Explosion, Golborn Road

Cheeky Mas Dancer, Golborn Road

Gaz Mayall, Gaz's Rockin' Blues

Dude and Dudette

Mas Dancer, Kensal Road

The photo below might be my favourite from Day 2 – two pirates from one of the mas crews did a double-daggering on a giggling bystander right in front of one of London’s finest – and the cop couldn’t help a fit of the giggles as well. (Generally daggering at Carnival is good-natured but I could see how it would get mightily annoying from a female perspective…)

Double-Dagger and Laughing Cop, Kensal Road

That’s enough of Carnival for now, but if you’d like to check out the rest of my photos then head on over to my Notting Hill Carnival 2011 Flickr set.