"A LIFE IN THE DAY OF PENNY EYLES"


Penny Eyles speaks about a normal day
working as a Script Supervisor

Getting up at 5.30 every day used to make me physically sick, but I don't think about it so much now, except when I go to exotic foreign locations, where the director wants to catch the light and you wake up at 3.30am thinking, "Oh, no!".

I need an hour to have a cup of tea and wash my hair, which seems to clear my brain.   When you're filming you don't have a social life and you run out of basic supplies, so I sometimes resort to washing  my hair in washing-up liquid.

Film sets aren't remotely glamorous places.   Ken Loach and Terry Gilliam are both very keen on gasworks - and no one lurks around street corners like a film crew.
 
Even indoors, it's often cold and grubby, so I'm a great believer in thermal underwear.   When we were filming on the frozen Gulf of Finland for 'Orlando', I went off to Lillywhites and took out a mortgage on a ski suit.   I have scripts and maps ready by the front door, and then I drive along in the dark, enjoying my quiet time.

You can always tell a film location by the huge vans for make-up, lighting and props.   Location breakfasts are bacon, eggs, black pudding, sausages, hash browns, mushrooms, baked beans - you can get fat on filming.   I just have scrambled eggs, toast and fruit.   Most people eat in converted smelly old double-decker buses, but I prefer to squat on the pavement.

When we shot 'Dangerous Liaisons' in Paris with Stephen Frears, all we had for breakfast was disgusting coffee and a croissant, but we had real banquets for lunch as we went from chateau to chateau.   But I prefer working on little films.   Big budget films mean much more pressure.   The studio has high expectations and the money goes on flights on Concorde - it isn't reflected in my salary.   I certainly don't yearn for Hollywood:  there's too much bull****.   Filming there for 'Waterland', the make-up caravan was bigger than my house, and people were standing around next to each other in circles, talking to each other on radios!   I was much happier in Russia, on 'Orlando', where the camera truck looked like something out of the first world war.   I also enjoyed working with a woman Director - Sally Potter - for the first time.   The film business is full of men and women doing very traditional jobs, so I was interested to note that the sparks treated her as "the governor".

My job is to look after the continuity of a film.   You're like a filing clerk of everything contained in every single frame:  you know what the actors are wearing, whether the action makes sense.   We play an important part but we are very much the Cinderellas in a profession where there are a lot of Ugly Sisters.

On 'Sammy And Rosie Get Laid', Frankie Barber insisted on changing her hair at one point, which meant she left home and arrived at a restaurant with different hair.   I was rushing around pointing this out, but sometimes the Director tries to keep the actors happy.   Unfortunately people notice when a film isn't working and I find it achingly boring at parties when people point out mistakes.

First the Director rehearses with the actors, cameraman and lighting.   Then stand-ins are used to work out the shots, which I write down.   I'll have checked the action makes sense, so if it's raining outside there's water on the windows and the actor arrives looking damp.

I'm pretty consistently on the set.   My job is very concentrated, and I work in total isolation, although everyone tries to keep everyone else out of trouble.   Working on 'Monty Python And The Holy Grail' with the late Graham Chapman, who was often very drunk, I'd turn round and think "Crumbs, he's taken off his armour again!"   American actors come from a film background, so actors like John Malkovich will try to accommodate the camera.   The English are more used to the stage and can be a bit "That's your job, luvvie".

I find the sex scenes very boring, and I can get impatient when an actress is to reluctant to take off her clothes.   You think, "Would you please do what you're paid to do, so we can all go home".   There's a lot of rolling-up of sleeves and the crew become like dental nurses, doing everything without making eye contact so as not to break the actors' concentration.   For the first kiss between Daniel Day Lewis and Gordon Warnecke on 'My Beautiful Launderette', Stephen Frears said, "come on, lad, you've got to do it".    Gordon sighed, "I always knew I should have been  a computer operator!"

Period costumes make everything slower and more difficult.   On 'Dangerous Liaisons' the actresses were in terrible pain with their corsets, but they were delighted with the uplift.   Between takes a French wardrobe girl would dive between Glenn Close's skirts and be fiddling around untying strings in her nether regions.   What a totally absurd profession!

I never get a lunch break, and around 7 you begin to flag, particularly when you're filming until 10pm.   But, being freelance, you're only as good as your last job, so you have to keep up the pace.   Once a grip came in having crashed his car.   He'd been so tired he'd fallen asleep going home.

As soon as the assistant director says, "Its a wrap", everyone scuttles off.   I finish my sheet - how much screentime we've shot - and hurl myself into my car.   At home I have a large glass of red wine and watch News At Ten.   I'll read the Evening Standard in bed and go to sleep - with a sleeping pill if I'm feeling frantic - about 11.30.   I have a recurring dream that I'm living in a house in which I don't inhabit every floor.   But perhaps that's because I'm not using every part of myself in my day.

(The Sunday Times Magazine 1995.   Interview by Ann McFerran.   Photograph by Tim MacPherson)