BBC WONDERLAND

Production Design by Bruce Hill.

I could go on for decades about this job. I was brought in too late. It was an extremely ambitious treatment. There wasn’t enough money and there wasn’t enough time to prepare it. This was a large project that required Escher type designs built for real. Each scene led into another through doorways similar to Alice in Wonderland and we eventually end up where we started.

It was an immense project and took at least an hour just to explain the storyboard, let alone discuss how to achieve it! I immediately had to buy more time to work out how to achieve what was asked (they wanted me initially to start building the next working day leaving me just Easter to prep the builds). A potentially wonderful job requiring at least two weeks of preparation. Had the money been there it still would have been a struggle but they had less than half the budget that was required and were just hoping to find a way to do it more cheaply, with my help.

I managed to get a week’s delay (still not enough), making card models and photographing them frantically to explain my plans. It was still working out too expensive and it was suggested to move the production to Prague (which would cost less), but because of artist availability we had to start building in the UK instead. We had one day confirmed of a five-day build. I was literally drawing up the sets in the morning and building in the afternoon until it was completed. So many things had not been agreed prior to building that something had to go wrong, a very worrying time.

We had two large stages at Bray and for the first time in my career I felt the reins were let loose the build just had to be completed prior to pre light and yet nothing had been agreed, even the budget! An awful dilemma materialised, lots of changes on the first scene set everything else back and what started bad got even worse. The production overran by one day. Like every other department there was no time to finish and I was not happy with the overall look of the film. It was an accumulation of a great script building up and no one working out exactly what it could realistically cost resulting in a lot of it being loaded on my shoulders in the hope I could save it. I’m an art director, not a magician, is the only phrase that comes to mind. It’s such a shame because potentially it could have been brilliant. The sets looked wonderful, so everyone says, but we never felt good, because we knew how much it was costing (in time, money and late decisions) and what we would see. There wasn’t even enough time to film some of the things we built. One of the sets that had been taken down (to allow room for more building) had to be re built to film some missed takes.

The last, and extra day’s filming was all my body could take and I was confined to bed with major back muscle spasms that evening for the next three days (I’d been working continuously for two weeks between stages). The letters of blame soon followed. I thought I’d never work again. Fortunately though, it was only two and a half weeks before the next call so I consider myself lucky. I think the lovely Deborah Stewart (producer) suffered equally from the experience, never to be repeated, hopefully. The Director (Michael Goeghegan) was fantastic and easy going throughout but there was just too much to do in the time, I think we all suffered permanently. Never, never again within that schedule.