The second and final part of my edited production diary for Status Quo’s charity single video In The Army Now 2010, originally published in From The Makers Of… Vol. 11 No.1, December 2010.
Thursday July 15th, Bulford Barracks, Wiltshire (cont’)
We start filming playbacks again. With the band playing in the background, a squad of troops is marching towards the camera and past it. But we don’t think the spacing is quite right and repeat the move with the ranks closer together. It looks impressive. Which is exactly when Griff, the regimental mutt, decides it’s his turn. From nowhere he bounds through the ranks, wagging his tail. Miraculously the troops don’t even flinch, and straight-faced keep marching. The rest of us are in stitches. Griff proceeds to bound back up the square and disappears behind the bands backline (not to have a pee, I’m praying) and eventually Francis gives up playing and goes to make a fuss of him. It’s a lovely moment. You can’t stage something like this. Nor the moment when I notice a rifleman, in only beret, briefs and boots, is boogieing around holding the SQ drum facia in front of his nether regions. From where we’re filming it looks like he’s stark bollock naked.
We need some reverse-angle shots, filming the soldiers from behind the band. I explain to the band what the set-up is. I look away for a moment and with lightning speed, Francis, Rick and Rhino have all turned their mic stands around and are still facing the camera.
“Like this, John?” calls one of them. Har har.
But I still have another trick up my sleeve. During the next take, the Sgt Major barks, “Strum rifles!” The troops immediately get down to some serious air-guitar playing with their rifles – they are really going for it! The band collapses. The Sgt Major gives the order to return arms and, in a beat, all of the smiles disappear and they’re at ramrod attention again. To see the band applauding them remains my favourite moment of the shoot.
We have finished on the parade ground. Or so I thought. Simon Porter, mightily impressed with Sgt Major Drake, wants me to record him hollering the “Stand up and fight” line from the song. Whilst we set this up, the band spends some time with a soldier who’s lost both of his legs in combat.
With Sgt Major Drake in the can, as it were, we all head off to the rifle range. After a much-needed cuppa, it’s time for gun shots. Literally. The soldiers decide it is ok to let Rick have a go on a General Purpose Machine Gun. What were they thinking? And even though the gun is firing blanks (if you’ll pardon the expression) it has a hell of a recoil, as Rick discovers when he looses a few rounds. Truly shocked, he shouts something along the lines of “My Gosh!” [When Lt Col Sharpe sees this is in the off-line version he tells me “I do hope you keep this in.”]
Andrew steps forward for a go, and seems to be enjoying himself. In fact most of the Quo entourage start warming to all of this and, whilst I’m trying to film the soldiers firing at targets, begin lobbing smoke bombs and stun grenades. It’s beginning to look, and sound, like World war 3.
The last shots of the day are no less noisy. Bugle lessons. Rifleman Martin C- has foolishly volunteered (or more likely been volunteered) for this task. Well, it’s a dirty job and someone’s got to do it. Before he coaches The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boys of Company Quo, we film him playing Sunset on a balcony. And however corny this may sound, I find it profoundly moving.
These sentiments are rudely shattered when Status Quo has a go. With a truly hilarious amount of puffing and panting, they gamely try to play along with Rifleman C-. It is a true cacophony [see here] and quickly descends into chaos. By the time Francis decides to use his bugle as a telescope, I decide it’s a wrap. The Army appear to have enjoyed every minute, and so do the band. But there is a final stark reminder of the realities of Army life. Returning to the broom we’ve been allowed to store the equipment in, my crew and I are greeted by the sight of a coffin on a trestle. It is evidently there for ceremonial rehearsals. What can you say?
Friday 16th July – Bovington Tank Museum
Overnight the wind has gusted at 60mph and rearranged the hotel garden furniture. In the car park. It is a grim start. The tank arena is already looking like The Somme, mud splattering everywhere as the vehicles are marshalled. Everyone is summoned together for a Health & Safety briefing by Bob, the steward. It’s made clear that this is not a game. You can’t win an argument with 56-ton tank and the visibility for the drivers is not perfect. Everyone entering the arena has to wear fluorescent jackets and be accompanied by staff. I spend a lot of time worrying about photographers who are getting perilously close to the tank. To get my own back I keep shamelessly poncing cigarettes from Patrick Cusse (well it was too bloody windy to roll them).
After more press calls, we can get down to work. Band members do circuits in various tanks and seem to be having a ball. Especially Rhino. I can remember thinking I hope he doesn’t break anything. We used Rhino’s tank for some crane shots and he really gets into it, hollering to the driver “No, that way!” I know the band think promo shooting is all ‘hurry up and wait a minute’ but there’s really no way to do these set-ups speedily. And they remain patient whilst I confer with my two crews via walkie-talkie.
It’s time for lunch. Trotting back to the main building I see Rick sat on a bench, chatting with a soldier. They are both looking at a combat memorial, and I can see Rick’s genuinely in a very thoughtful mood about what this means. I leave him to it.
The PR machine is still in full flight. Francis is giving a video interview and various folk want more photos. It just doesn’t stop.
Now it’s time for the ‘money shot’. The band is to witness a serious petrol burst explosion. No one is allowed to be closer than 50 metres. It takes at least 20 minutes to set the charge, and for good measure I’ve got two pyro charges set for simultaneous detonation (to give us some additional smoke). The charges will be fired from a control tower, requiring a lot of walkie-talkie cues from the personnel on the ground and myself. There is no larking around here. If this goes wrong, someone could get seriously hurt.
The band is very patient while this laborious set-up is readied. And we rehearse the camera crane shot a number of times, with our target tank practising its manoeuvre over hill in the foreground. Some of the band get out of the personnel carrier and are just milling around. It’s at this point that they ambush me. I’ve just started tucking-in to a Snickers bar when I find I’m surrounded by Francis, Rhino and Rick. They’re all staring at the chocolate bar.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, somewhat unnerved.
“Nothing” says Rhino, “It’s just that we’re ‘avin’ that!”
He whips it out of my hand, takes a bite, hands it to Rick who takes a bite and then promptly passes it to Francis who downs the lot, handing the empty wrapper back to me with much amusement. Amidst all the genuine concerns about explosive charges, I never once imagined the real threat was being mugged by Status Quo.
Fortunately the money shot goes like a dream. The petrol bomb goes off with an almighty bang, to gasps from the many spectators. I have it covered with three cameras, including one on the barrel of the tank, and it looks great. But now I need a reaction shot of the band. So I have them popping up and down out of the personnel carrier roof like a bunch of Meerkats, whilst I shout “Bang!” All this in full view of the many spectators. You had to be there.
It is an experience I will never forget, and always be grateful for.
Special thanks to 4-Rifle, Simon Porter, Status Quo, Pip Williams, Bovington Tank Museum, Rowan Bray (Prime Focus), Peter Fincham (ITV), Help For Heroes and my crew who worked so very hard: Robin Fox, Patrick Smith, Daniel Russel, Paul Ritz, Mark Gardner, Jonathan Dennis and Larry Catford.