Shooting in a Ghost Town
Ghost Town.jpg

Remember the characters of Will Smith and Tom Cruise, alone in two fictional versions of an abandoned New York (in I am Legend and Vanilla heaven respectively)? Probably the most famous British version is Danny Boyle's 28 days later, Here, Cillian Murphy's character Jim wakes up alone in an empty London and desperately walks through the central area to search for survivors.

How do you do that in London after the blackout period is almost over and film festivals are creating new categories for quarantine short films? How You are not Danny Boyle and cannot afford to replicate the famous double decker image on his side in Trafalgar Square. How do you create an abandoned center in London, where an average of half a million people come by every day?

As Boyle emphasizes, cities are "weird without people" and that is exactly what you need to grasp. Other big budget shoots like Survivors, Triffid Day, and subjects can close large urban areas, but you need to figure out how to work around this.

My solution was to start recording my micro short shortly before the block was announced at 6 a.m. in March. My main character David Dooner plays a businessman, Si, who arrives early in Piccadilly Circus and is ready for work. Like Jim, Si is all alone in Piccadilly Circus and looks at the Eros statue, although we didn't have the budget to plaster it with the haunting images of missing people 28 days later does.

Si was on a "digital detox" outside the city and has no idea why London is so quiet. He is busy thinking about the work ahead and calls his assistant instead of having to dodge the morning swarm as usual. He goes to Leicester Square undisturbed. He sees a copy of the default and starts to see what's going on.

It was one of the strangest shootings I've ever made. The bright early morning sunshine shone on quiet streets to create an eerie calm. Surrounded by no one but a few homeless people watching us from the benches, some joggers and some interested street sweepers, we filmed in a completely empty zone.

One of the professional challenges of shooting just before the lockdown was that I couldn't find a crew, so I had to shoot it myself. We had to get to places with reduced transportation, so we cycled into town and brought food containers with the closed supermarkets and cafes.

Another technical challenge was that central London was amazingly clean given the lack of people and a lot of busy street cleaners, which meant we had surreally clean streets. This forced us to distribute newspapers on the streets to create chaos as if thousands of people had panicked the streets. Although of course we collected the newspapers and then put them back in the stands!

Si stumbles into Chinatown and sees the famous street of restaurants boarded up. There are only endless signs on the windows that read: "Closed because of government legislation." In panic, he shouts in the empty streets: "What legislation? What's happening?"

David Dooner said:Shooting in a deserted center of London just before it was closed was a surreal experience for me, which I probably won't be experiencing again soon. When we were filming in an empty Trafalgar Square, I didIt really helped me to put myself in my character's mindset and what he would really feel at that point. The scene in which he feels lost through Chinatown represents his total despair and loneliness.

From a continuity point of view, David's costume had to become sweatier and dirtier than Si ran through London when he finally desperately slid down a wall to collapse on the floor, so the film had to be shot in chronological order.

After Si called his girlfriend in a panic and asked them to meet him in Brighton, we had to shoot the rest of them in Brighton, where he is attacked on the empty streets

Another of my favorite props was a 1 kilo silver bar that was borrowed from a friend and found the Si. I borrowed that from a scene in 28 days later Here Jim finds scattered money left behind by people who tried to bribe their way out of London before realizing it was pointless and dropped the money before running for their lives.

One final factor that brought home how perfect the timing was was that we didn't even have to create newspapers with forbidden headlines because they already existed in real life default and metroFront pages. Si finds discarded copies with forbidden front page clues: "Cities Can Be Blocked", "Worse Than Death" and "40,000" – – our true death toll ”. My personal motto is: If you don't even have to write your own headlines in ridiculed newspapers, you're in business and shooting a horror …


About Nina Romain

Nina Romain is living proof that small children in Alabama in the 1980s shouldn't be treated as tricks or treats – since they tend to be obsessed with the creepier side of Halloween! Half of their horror shorts are usually shot in Los Angeles and half in the UK. She is currently finishing her current LA found footage about a romantic Valentine's Day that is going terribly wrong, and hopes to be able to shoot a UK short film completely underground later this year. You can find them on IMDB.


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