As I alluded to earlier in the week, I had a special little day planned for yesterday. The people at the BBC who make the TV show 'Casualty' invited me to Bristol to have a behind the scenes look at the shooting of one of their episodes.
I've been a bit critical of Casualty in the past, the ambulance and hospital staff often do things that drive me crazy – I'd scream, “Why did you do it that way!” at the telly. It's why my mum wouldn't watch it when I went to visit her.
All that has now changed…
The day started badly when I ripped my favourite jacket, possibly due to having to get up at an unholy hour on my day off. The train journey was uneventful with the exception of a 'trespasser on the line' and I was met at the station by the member of the crew who arranged the visit. She then drove me to the filming base and we walked to where they were actually shooting.
Did I mention that it was raining? Not a problem as I'm used to it, but I wondered how the cameras would work in the wet.
*Everyone* on the set was really nice to me – some of them had even heard of me as the BBC has some copies on my book in their library.
The scene that they were shooting was a young man being hit by a van, and the van then crashing into a skip. The ambulance would arrive and take him to hospital. There are some pictures of the shoot on my Flickr page.
And I've even shot and edited together my own humble video (using my cheapish, oldish camera and iMovie).
I met up with a local ambulance crew who were doing a bit of overtime covering the filming, it took about two minutes before we were swapping stories and moaning about patients and they did a good job of looking after me. They drove me to the catering van and explained some of the things that were going on. They also gave me the rundown on what is happening in their trust…
I also met the show's ambulance consultant and he explained how it is a struggle sometimes to get things done right from an ambulance perspective. He gave a couple of examples – for instance, in the van crash in real life we would take the patient out through the back of the van on a long board rather than swinging him out. Unfortunately there just isn't room for the cameras in the back of the van and as it was the crew were racing against the fading daylight. So because of the pressures of filming certain corners are cut concerning the correct ambulance way of doing things.
So now I'm going to have to take into account money, drama, the size of cameras and the sun going down before I moan about an episode.
To be fair, the crew know that it isn't a hugely accurate programme, but at the load that they work under (two overlapping episodes every ten days) I'm amazed that they do as well as they do.
- The catering is bloody lovely, I wish I could eat half as well at my day job.
- It takes *ages* to film one shot and moving equipment between shots takes a lot of time. It took all day from 9am to 6pm to film a sequence that will probably last less than a minute in the programme.
- The crew do care how good a job they are doing.
- There was a very scary doll in case the stunt didn't go too well – it wasn't needed in the end because the stuntmen did such an excellent job.
- The producer was roaming around filming things for the Casualty website – I probably made a complete fool of myself.
- Even close-up the makeup is astoundingly realistic.
- 'Real' ambulance crews are the same all the country over.
- There is a real 'Tom Reynolds' in Great Western Ambulance Service.
- On the set it looks like the assistant first director does most of the work – she definitely did most of the shouting.
- In order to keep the amount of rain on the van consistent there was a man who kept spraying it with water.
I've also got to hand it to the actors who play the ambulance crew – after a minutes instruction, a rehearsal and a filmed 'take' they didn't do a bad job at what is a very tricky manoeuvre. (Although I do know why you never see them in the process of
struggling with putting their gloves on…) It seems that they only learn how to act out the ambulance skill a couple of minutes before they have to perform. Perhaps I could offer my services to run an 'ambulance boot camp'…
I did have one good idea on the way to the site, born perhaps of not enough caffeine. If they cut the length of the programme by five minutes, they could then use those five minutes to teach 8 million people some basic first aid (and perhaps even when it is inappropriate to call an ambulance). Failing that they could always shorten the National lottery programme by five minutes…
It was a really enjoyable day and I was very impressed by the friendliness and professionalism of everyone involved. I consider myself very lucky to have been given this chance to see filming.
Thank you BBC.
For those that don't know much about the programme there is the superb website www.holby.tv that is very professional and surprised the hell out of me when I found out today that it was a fansite. I thought it was an official BBC website.
UPDATE: Link added to the BBC Casualty site as I rather shamefully forgot to put one in. (Probably because I wrote this at silly o'clock in the morning).