" You can't bring a wolf into a girls boarding school"....
Some might say that sums up my latest photo shoot in a nutshell really. Back when Georgette McCready the editor of The Bath Magazine asked me if I wanted to collaborate on a Game of Thrones inspired fashion shoot, I'm not sure she expected me to come good on my suggestion that " we really need a Direwolf" However thanks to the joys of the internet, one Facebook post later and I was in business.
The original plan for the shoot was for it to take place at Bath's well known and much loved folly Beckford's Tower, however having been caught out by the joys of an English climate in the past, shooting outdoors even a week after the end of August meant that we needed a plan B.
Plan B being the aforementioned girls boarding school which quickly developed into more of a plan A once my collaborator and stylist Felicity Keefe and I started mapping out how we were going to make a fashion shoot look Game of Thrones-esque, whilst also fulfilling the brief that it "not be too Goth like".
Ok.. well that's a no to ravens and skulls and their ilk then? but a few hours spent on Pinterest and we realised that we just might be able to pull this off with the help of some theatre friends and their handy stash of props and also by calling on Candida at Savannah Home who's beautiful shop is based in the centre of Bath and who had previously loaned me some incredible chrome and glass orb like chandeliers for my recent Darkness Falls shoot. Fortunately you can't really go wrong with some out sized urns if you're doing a G.O.T based shoot, add in a great looking wood and iron chest and some sumptuous velvet cushions and you're starting to get a set that might just look the part.
It was around this point that a fortuitous impromptu drinking session in The Garrick's Head pub next to the Theatre Royal laid the groundwork for what is really the high point of the whole story. Us boys were adamant that we needed the Iron Throne or at least a throne with with a flip load of swords sticking out of it.. Felicity who also art directs with me was less than convinced. However never underestimate the power of too may G&T's and a text was duly sent to my good friend Mark Chapel, it being Mark that had helped me build a full sized shipping buoy and half of a wrecked boat for my Kate Bush inspired shoot entitled The Ninth Wave. Never in a million years would I have guessed that not only would Mark rise to the challenge but would exceed my wildest dreams and produce a throne that would not have looked out of place in the TV show. When you realise that he built this beast on the frame of an existing chair with a very tall back that came from shall we say an " interesting" background and only with toy plastic swords purchased from eBay the whole undertaking assumes a rather amusing air.
My dear friend Diana Favell co- runs Shakespeare at The Tobacco Factory in Bristol and it was she who loaned me the other gorgeous throne that can be seen in the shoot together with a host of candlesticks, mugs and assorted old-y world-y nick knacks. We also fairly raided Bath Theatrical Costume Hire's array of swords and suits of armour and all manner of Night's Watch style leather and chains but sadly time and the constraints of shooting in a vertical format for a magazine meant that a vast majority of it couldn't be used or set up in the time we had to shoot. However their passion for all things Game of Thrones is such that we may well be collaborating on an ensemble piece featuring the men of G.O.T as well as the gals so watch this space...
We now fast forward to the recce to The Royal High School in Bath where our intrepid editor had persuaded the lovely Jenna and the school to let us use an indoor space in the event of rain at Beckford's Tower. It wasn't long however before Jenna twigged exactly what we were trying to achieve and gamely suggested she MIGHT be able to get us the use of the drama studio housed in a magnificent chapel in the grounds of the school. A number of pleading emails and phone calls from me later and she had made it happen, although our evening get-in to rig the kit the night before the shoot quickly resembled a scene from Phoenix Nights as we discovered we had been double booked with a twenty piece band.! Trying to set up shoot like this with sword thrones, smoke machines, dozens of props, armour, swords, two huge paintings that Felicity had created for the shoot and then had to be fixed together and a complex drape and stand system was made somewhere between impossible and hysterical as the band belted out a rather English version of some cult disco classics as we rigged.
I guess I should have known from this experience that the shoot the following morning might be a tad challenging. Although we didn't have time to rig any lights during our serenaded get-in we did at least get the throne assembled and the paintings rigged and the props and outfits unpacked. At this point I must give a big shout out to Felicity who did a quite amazing job of finding high street outfits that would not look out of place in a Game of Thrones style environment. In the end the outfits she chose looked beautiful and she accessorized them perfectly. Her task was made even more enjoyable by the loan of some quite stunning pieces of jewelry from my good friend Alexandra May, who's shop on Margaret's Buildings in Bath is veritable wonderland of exquisite jewelry and good taste. Alex has exciting plans for her emporium so keep an eye out for news in the coming months.
Unlike most of my shoots my usual team of tech types were not available, this being a week day shoot and they being employed elsewhere. Thus it was down to my long suffering partner Sarah to help me get my vision realised and in quite a short time at that. Fortunately I had received an email from the daughter of a friend of Sarah's asking if she could assist me on my next shoot.. yes you can Missy! Hope was invaluable when it came to everything from adding and subtracting props, moving bits of set and lighting the special candles I had ordered from a company that makes candles for just about every moody looking film and TV show you have ever seen. These beasts don't blow out like a normal candle, being comprised of three wicks wrapped together and extinguishing them whilst not covering the set in wax is no easy task!
It is also about the time that I should mention the models. Jo Wright who graces the cover of this month's The Bath Magazine was, like Angelica who is featured in the middle of the three models in the shot at the top of this article, a somewhat last minute addition to the shoot. A change of availability of the previous models necessitating a mildly frantic search for models who not only has the gravitas to pull of a " Cersei or a Sansa or even a Melisandre" but who also had the kind of hair that would work without the need for gazillion pound wigs like the real TV inhabitants of Kings Landing. We were fortunate to be put in touch with Flora Katsouris from Mustard Models who had the kind of look that was suited to our Melisandre character, but in Jo's case she could give Cersei and Sansa a run for their money and despite her complaining to me about what a hassle her amazing locks over the years i think it's safe to say she's not complaining this week at least!
Jessica Ayliffe from Bath Academy of Media Make-up did a great job on make and hair, a last minute addition to Angelica's recently shortened locks being a particularly good call.
But what about the wolves I hear you cry?...
Oh all right then...
The aforementioned Facebook post had gamely been answered by way of a lighting friend of mine ( thanks Jon B!) who put me in touch with a lovely lady by the name of Mandy Partridge from Surrey Search and Rescue dogs. I have to admit, like the throne I never expected to be rewarded with such a perfect outcome. Nook who is the youngest of the three dogs who arrived with Mandy is actually related to the Inuit breed used in Game of Thrones, how's that for authenticity? and Moon and Ace who is featured on the cover with Jo were just perfect as my Direwolves.
However in all the excitement I might just have forgotten to inform the school that there were three wolves arriving that morning.. oops! As you can imagine faced with the prospect of three dogs who were largely comprised of wolf DNA running around their very proper girls school The Royal High were not exactly keen. The words "risk assessment" were coming back to haunt me (see last month's blog) and in this case the lack of one in particular. There was shall we say a heavily underwhelmed element on set that morning when I tried to explain that yes... I was planning to use the dogs INSIDE as well as outside at Beckford's Tower. " why" ? seemed to be the most popular question, closely followed by " you are kidding right?"
Anyhoo Jenna gamely agreed to go and see if it was even remotely possible to let the dogs out and onto the set for five minutes. Eventually the Headmistress appeared and was totally charming and I had my OK.. The problem was that in the rush and chaos that inhabits any fashion shoot I appeared to have been the only person to have received this rather crucial update. There thus followed a rather stressful five minutes where Ace celebrating his new found freedom after three hours in a van cage promptly set about re adjusting most of the set with either his tail, his paws, his nose or a combination of all three, to the consternation of just about everyone on the set!
This was followed by me trying to direct and photograph Jo and Ace whilst all the while being being informed by a not updated Felicity that " this is a really bad idea and you're p***ing everyone off!" Nonetheless discretion being the better part of valour I called it a day after only 4-5 shots. The irony is that I was convinced that the whole wolf saga had been a total failure and achieved nothing except upsetting most of the team and nearly trashing the carefully laid out set, so imagine my surprise when I received an email to say that not only was the front cover going to be my shot of Jo on the sword throne but that it was going to be the shot with the hound!!!
You live and learn I guess and the moral of the story would seen to be trust your instincts. Chaotic canine action aside I knew in my gut that the set up we had created together with Jo and her amazing " Sansa" like hair simply cried out for one of the dogs to bring it to life. Now it would be churlish of me to say something like I told you so at this point, but...
I TOLD YOU SO!!
It's only fair to say that with lighted candles ( albeit lit very sparingly) smoke ( that had to be used unbelievably sparingly to avoid setting off the sensors) and of course the wolves, The Royal High School could not have been more tolerant or supportive. Considering they had a drama class coming through the door at 3.30pm that day they had to trust that we would somehow get our mini Kings Landing clear of the floor space in time, which I'm glad to say we did.
After all the madness of the indoor location it was something of a relief to jump in our cars and head to Beckford's Tower for the final part of the shoot. By a miracle the cloudy weather that had hung around for most of the day thus far and was indeed forecast for the rest of the day, suddenly cleared and the beautiful golden hour light that all us photographers crave appeared in all it's glory. As we had agreed to keep the soles of the lovely Ted & Muffy boots scratch free, there was something of a return of the comedic element from the previous night as I spotted various locations and enticing light scenarios unfolding which necessitated a frantic dash by our two remaining models Angelica and Flora ( Jo having had to leave after rocking her Sansa look) sans boots trying to balance on one leg whilst Jessica from The Bath Magazine attempted to get their feet into said boots and NOT touch the gravel which surrounded the whole area!
Fortunately Nook and Ace our Direwolves had chilled out somewhat by this point and refrained from dragging our lovely models across a graveyard and as can be seen from the pictures were a model of good behavior for their new found mistresses.
Conscious that Mandy and Kate and the Woofers had a long journey ahead of them I called it a day and we packed up our traveling kit and prepared for the rather larger task of packing up back at The Royal High. it was suitably late by the time we had ferried all the kit home and I still had no idea that my "wolf" escapade would turn out to be worthwhile. I'd be lying if I said I though we had it in the bag that night as despite the generosity of The Royal High, once hair and make up and outfits were finished we only had just over two hours to shoot before we had to start packing down to clear the floor by 3.30pm and as poor Jo was supposed to meeting a friend who had traveled all the way from Cambridge to see her and who had fallen foul of Bath's notorious bus gate cameras, I had to rush at breakneck speed to complete her shots before she dashed off to rescue her rather distraught pal. My lighting approach is firmly based on my experience of shooting films and theatre and rock & roll shows and it doesn't sit well with being rushed, but in the end when I went through shots I was pleasantly surprised and with Jo's help (as she's not just Bath's answer to Sansa Stark, but a very talented photographer and editor in her own right) we got some really beautiful shots.
The story came full circle this morning as I literally encountered the delivery man from The Bath Magazine on my doorstep as I was taking my son to school, so I was rewarded with some crisp new copies of the magazine with Jo and Ace looking fabulous on the cover and if I say so myself it looks pretty cool!.
The Bath Magazine October issue with the Winter Is Coming fashion shoot is out now.