Friday, 25 March 2011

114: C is for Cockney

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The A-to-Z of the GFFA.

"Before we go any further, we should move down to the other end" he said to his companion. "That open door is letting in a terrible George Raft". He was looking at me now. "...draught." he said with a slight grin.

Christopher Lee was talking to me. Christopher Lee had just used Cockney Rhyming Slang to me. I smiled, nodded and continued the relocation to the other end of the soundstage.
6th April, 2001.

Count D.

How did this happen?
Okay, as briefly as I can make this: I don't work in the movie industry, I'm a graphic designer. In 2001, I was living in Kent, sharing a flat with my BFF (and fellow Star Wars geek). He doesn't work in the movie industry either, he's a mechanical engineer. He was designing arcade machines at the time. Not video-games, but the ones with the cascading coins, grabbing arms and conveyor belts. One of the supplier reps of these conveyor belts was visiting his office in March 2001. He mentioned to him that his company had made a massive conveyor for installation at the famous Ealing Studios. They were using it to make the new Star Wars film. Now in this situation, you want to play it cool. The rep might be bullshitting, or might be mistaken. Even so, you don't want to start drooling like an excited puppy, just because someone's said the name of your favourite film series. My BFF played it cool. As it turned out, the rep must have been trying to sweeten a deal, because he arranged for BFF to go to Ealing and 'help out' for a day with one of their guys operating the belt.

Understandably, he was going pretty hyper inside. It could go belly up at any point, of course, or could just have been an empty promise (it's worth saying now that the themes of "trying to play it cool" and "being aware that it could go belly up" apply for more or less the rest of this blog entry). Anyhow, in late March 2001, BFF did indeed get to visit Ealing Studios in London, where Lucasfilm (under the name JAK productions, named after GL's three children) were filming pickup shots for SW Episode II: Attack of the Clones. He signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement, played it cool all day, and that evening he told me everything. Spoilers? Don't care in that situation, thank you.

And that was that. Until he spoke to the chap from the conveyor company again, and managed to swing another day on set. But because he'd been there before, he didn't need to be accompanied by their people. He could take someone else if he wanted. He asked me if I'd like to go. Which, I suppose, is a bit like asking a smackhead if he'd like to visit a heroin refinery. We went to Ealing Studios on Friday 6th April, 2001.

The JAK Productions visitor's pass.

After a 5am set-off, I slept in the car and had an IV-drip of coffee and Diet Coke for the rest of the day. We arrived at Ealing for a 7am start, and I did my very best to "look like I'm supposed to be there". Given the nature of my 'real' job, and given that there were now two people on-set who actually had nothing to do with the production, I'd made us polo-shirts with the logo of the conveyor company on them. Y'know, so we'd "look all official". As it turned out, we looked like the most official people there. George Lucas was on-set (obviously), as were Rick McCallum, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Anthony Daniels... and Christopher Lee. Also visiting the set (but not working that day) were Kenny Baker and Warwick Davis.

After the initial shots with the conveyor were taken and approved (to be detailed in another entry), the conveyor was used as a static soundstage. Christopher Lee was present early, but not needed until the afternoon, so he sat in the crew area with a young lady, with whom he was engaged in conversation. The chatting was frequent enough between shots that I think she may have been a journalist writing an interview piece. She could have been a relative or friend, of course, but she was listening very intently to what he had to say, and body language didn't suggest a regular conversation. Maybe he just has a way with the ladies. I dunno. She was pretty hot, that's all I'm saying.

Either way, it was in between set-ups, and equipment and machinery was being moved around and in and out of the stage. With this in mind, the massive hangar-door was open, and it was April in London. Which is to say, it was indeed quite breezy.

What then happened was the interchange as detailed at the start of this post. Christopher Lee doesn't speak in a Cockney accent of course. He speaks almost exactly the same as he does in most of his roles: clearly and refined. Along with Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing, he's of the generation of actors that are/were complete gentlemen. It should also be pointed out that he didn't need to explain to me what he meant by "George Raft". Not that Mr. Lee was to know that I have a low-level obsession with rhyming slang, or indeed that I wasn't an American member of the crew, to whom the slang may be an enigma. With the best will in the world, it's not that difficult to work out. Although bizarrely, I didn't know who George Raft was at that point. I know now, obviously, and it's a phrase I use to this day. Although any (and all) rhyming slang I use now is followed by a three second gap... then word I meant all along. That's how the professionals do it.

Oh, and George Lucas said hello to me on his way to the toilet, but that's another story.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and close that door...

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

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• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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