Here, one of the LJMU's Liverpool Screen School's Film Studies and Creative Writing Students, and now LJMU graduate, Benjamin Jones shares his take on what life was like on set of a major film production, what he learnt and his advice for LJMU students hoping to get into the industry...
Hello, all new and returning film students! My name is Benjamin Jones. I graduated from LJMU in July 2021, with a dual honours degree in Film studies and Creative Writing. I grew up in the Lake District, Cumbria but fell in love with Liverpool when I first arrived for an open day four years ago.
In 2020, I was granted the chance to work on the set of The Batman during the location leg of principal photography. The shoot was on my radar since before the Covid-19 pandemic. Trailers, set pieces and shooting cars, all marked with the Warner Bros. logo had been delivered to Liverpool around Janary 2020 and I remember thinking it would be incredible to be a part of the shoot. The pandemic shut everything down and the shoot didn’t go ahead.
Fastforward to mid-September 2020 and I received an email through my LJMU email, advertising the need for location marshalls/assistants on a major feature production. It didn’t even click that this was for The Batman until I read an Echo article about Liverpool hosting a major production in mid october.
When the call came through, they confirmed it was latest Dark Knight adaptation and it took me at least five minutes to process what was happening.
At first glance the job description described managing location’s equipment, keeping the set tidy between takes and helping around where required. However, the actual tasks were much more than I expected. On the first day, we were tasked with moving costumes, of which there were at least a hundred for the extras that were being shipped up from London. Filming in the time of Covid-19 meant it was safer to transport extras already screened for Coronavirus up from London rather than hire local talent. We moved everything from Gotham police uniforms to journalist props, the occasional ball gown to very heavy fireman turnouts. All very exciting which made it to difficult to contain my inner comic fan’s enthusiasm.
The second day we were tasked with moving more costumes, this time for the starring cast, but also setting up dressing rooms. I’m fairly certain one of us was holding the Batsuit in a cardboard box for a split second before the Head of Costume removed it elsewhere.
An NDA prevents me from revealing too much, but a memorable moment occurred on that day. My colleague Katie and I were finishing up some final touches before heading down to finish for the day...
We accidently ran into leading man Robert Pattinson and his assistant. I nodded to him and we maintained our professionalism for about twenty feet, until he was out of sight, before we freaked out. I was grinning for the rest of the day.
The main part of the shoot, however was where the real gritty stuff came. The shoot took place across three locations: St George’s Hall, Anfield Cemetary and the Liver Building. Call time was 7:00am each morning. Three of us were placed into a hotel with other location’s crew, costume assistants, catering staff and security and we were ferried between the set each day to prevent coronavirus halting production. Masks were mandatory at all times, specialist covid assistants wandering around to ensure this rule.
As for the work, our main job was to ensure that the set was clean, removing bins and waste. However, when something requiring numbers and manpower came up, we were called on to do so. This included moving ‘video village’ to set up another shot, collapse set pieces for the day, fetch any equipment needed by the location’s team etc. By far the most gruelling task was setting up a vehicle track for a star car to drive along. Each time the shot had to be reset, my colleague Jake and I along with a half a dozen others reset the plates to stabilise the road for the car to drive along. There was also a night shoot, involving a rain machine and neon advertising screens, but I can’t say much more about this due to the crucial nature of the scene.
All in all, I got to interact with some truly amazing people, from assistant directors, prop masters, extras, behind-the-scenes photographers and a script supervisor.
My course at LJMU had already prepared me for the etiquette that must be shown on set, no matter who you are talking with, to recognise equipment and how to handle it correctly as well as to communicate clearly to prevent confusion or mistakes.
As for me, my desire and drive to break into the fim industry have never been higher. I don't think it’s possible to put into the words the feeling of being on such a major film set, but it’s one I never want to give up.
I’ve now built up a bit of a portfolio of productions I’ve been a part of. September 2021, I performed similar work for BBC crime drama, Silent Witness. Not as intense as the work for the Batman, but no less thrilling and exciting, again working with an incredible crew. More recently, I’ve worked on two independent productions for local directors, one a feature film along the lines of Burlesque, the other a sci-fi short.
As a career path, it’s my ambition to become a script/continuity supervisor, combining my love for scriptwriting and development with my desire to be present on-set during production. I have a keen, near obsessive eye for detail, a skill perfect for this role. I hope to attend a training programme for this soon when I have the funds.
I have some advice for present and future LJMU film students hoping to enter the industry:
1. First, get some practical and heavy duty footwear. Trust me on this. Standing around and walking for hours on end in terrible shoes, your feet won’t thank you for it.
2. Courtesy and enthusiasm are as useful as any tool or skill you have. They get you places and attract people’s interest to create a network for yourself.
3. Know your limits and don’t be afraid to ask for help. This shoot taught me that while indepenece is commendable, teamwork really does make the dream work. A film cannot be made, or at least made well, if you don’t have the people and the skills behind it. I worked alongside three brilliant fellow students, Katie, Jake and Joanna and I’m sure they would agree.
Good luck and happy filming!
You can read the full news story about the four LJMU Screen School Students on our website here.