Tuesday 13th Oct 2015
If there’s a famous person in the room, you’ll know it.
They have their own gravitational pull. Heads turn slightly, the energy changes and you can feel the anticipation like goosebumps on your skin.
This is my first time watching a Fantastic Beasts scene being filmed on set. We’re sitting in a huge, cavernous hangar in the half-light as beautifully dressed extras are shuffled into position. Make-up artists are on standby with beauty gadgets slung around their waists like tool belts, ready to sketch in a last-minute eyebrow or smooth a rogue strand of hair.
Important people scurry around, getting cameras and lights and people and jacket collars in place. It’s a logistical tango, every person moving in sync to get the set ready for action. I’m transfixed.
Colin Farrell’s empty chair is right next to me. It is more charismatic than most of us can ever hope to be, this chair.
You know the ones I mean: those black canvas chairs with a name printed in white. All caps. Eddie Redmayne’s and Katherine Waterston’s chairs are sitting unoccupied about 11 me-sized steps away. They’re also surprisingly captivating for furniture.
I’m wondering if actors keep their special chairs after each movie and make their dinner party guests sit in them at home, when Colin Farrell walks in – his floor-length black coat whipping at his feet. He’s taller than expected, or is it just his costume playing tricks?
The studio doors heave shut behind him and we’re all in the dark. Someone yells ‘Quiet on set!’ and I stop breathing for at least four minutes straight. I’ve checked that my phone is switched off nine times and it genuinely occurs to me that my heart might be beating too loudly. There are at least 100 people on this part of the set right now and it will not be me who makes a noise. Oh no, I’m as quiet as a mouse who’s just accepted an important ‘how many marshmallows can you fit in your mouth’ challenge.
The camera switches on. Action happens.
Now, I can’t tell you exactly what goes down in this scene. Partly because I have no idea what’s going on and partly because it takes so long to get the perfect shot, we’re sitting there 25 minutes while the same frame is done over and over and over. But I do know this much: it’s a very important moment for Newt (Eddie), Tina (Katherine) and Graves (Colin) in New York. Very important indeed.
With perfect precision, Katherine Waterston gently places a significant object on the floor. Colin Farrell arches an eyebrow with extreme meaning. Other exquisitely dressed actors act and react to the same gestures until a fragment of the scene is done.
This process, according to an extremely reliable insider, happens over and over for hours and then days and then months until the minutes on film are stitched together in an editing suite to make Fantastic Beasts.
It’s painstakingly detailed, this film-making business, but beautiful. I could sit here all day and watch Katherine carry her object to the right spot, but it’s time to go.
It’s time to walk the streets of New York in winter, without leaving the UK. Obviously, I’ll tell you all about it. You’ll just have to come back and read more of my dispatches.