In the next instalment of our A Day in the Life series, we visit a film set with our Dramatic Rights Agent, Hannah Ladds. Over to you, Hannah.

Liane-Louise Smith, our International Rights Director, and I were thrilled to be invited to accompany C.J. Tudor on a recent set visit to see The Burning Girls being filmed. Optioning The Burning Girls to Buccaneer Media was the first deal I negotiated at the MM Agency when I joined two years ago, so it feels extra special that this is the first of our books to go into production. I should say from the outset that it is extremely rare for a company to option a book, take it through the development process and start filming within 18 months. TV production is such an involved process that it often takes years to get a project to the point where it is ready to film (if at all). Buccaneer have done an incredible job lining up all the elements and making every step of the process progress as seamlessly as possible, which is no mean feat!

We started our day at Marylebone Station and after I nearly gave Liane-Louise a heart attack by arriving exactly on time, we jumped on a train and headed out of London. A short train and taxi ride later we arrived at an old, abandoned school where the film crew were based for the morning. I’m not a complete stranger to film sets, having worked on several when I was starting out in the industry, but the level of organisation and logistics that go into the production before the cameras have even taken a single shot never ceases to be mind-blowing. Film crews are very much like armies. They sweep into a location replete with wagons (for hair/make-up/costume/dining/toilets/offices/kitchens etc.) and an array of tents to house equipment and people. They swarm over an area, completely transform it, yell “ACTION!” a few hundred times and then sweep onto their next location leaving only squares of yellowed grass and the trace of muddy footprints behind.

On this day, the crew were shooting a short scene between the two young leads in an abandoned cottage. Tony, the executive producer and co-founder of Buccaneer, generously acted as our guide for the day along with Oliver, the show’s producer. We found C.J. Tudor and, after having produced negative Covid tests, were shown to a tent to watch the actors perform from a monitor. A kindly runner bought cups of tea and we discussed with Tony how the shoot had been going so far (very well!), how long they had left of filming (another two weeks), when it was likely to air (still to be confirmed) and various other business-related matters. 

Between takes we were led from the tent to see the action happening up-close. The inside of the cottage had been transformed by the set designers in such a realistic way that it looked like the peeling wallpaper, scattered detritus and graffiti had been there for years (it hadn’t, I asked!). The space was tiny. One room held the actors and camera crew. Another housed the director crammed in the corner behind a bank of monitors and a script supervisor behind a smaller bank. Hair and make-up artists and various sound and camera technicians ducked and wove in and out of the two rooms between takes to adjust a cable or tame an errant strand of hair. As C.J Tudor sat with the director and watched her creation come to life, it was remarkable how the buzz of industry would suddenly fall silent as soon as the clapperboard-arm fell- like an elaborate game of musical chairs or grandmother’s footsteps. 

Whilst the crew re-set for yet another take, we snuck out of the cottage and accompanied C.J. Tudor to meet the publicity team who wanted to film an interview with her for the EPK (electronic press kit). Given this was a book C.J wrote two or three years ago and has had another two published since,  she did an amazing job, giving very eloquent and thoughtful answers. She didn’t appear to be at all flustered by the massive spotlight shining in her face or the camera recording her every word. This interview will be cut together with others given by the cast, director and producers and will be used for promotion nearer the show’s airdate.

Next, we were given a tour of some rooms which have been set up to stand in for the main characters’ bedrooms and a bathroom. So much effort had been put into every little detail, even down to the co-ordination of tiny accessories carefully placed to tie the colour-scheme together. I doubt this will even be noticeable on screen, but it’s emblematic of the incredible planning and thought process that goes on behind the scenes.  We then went to yet another room in the school which was being used for the day as a photography studio. A professional photographer was taking shots of all the actors in costume. Again, these will likely be cut together for the poster or used in other promotion for the show down the line.

This concluded our visit. Tony left to travel to the edit suite to check on how the post-production for the series was coming along and another runner gave us lunch. We ate standing in one of the tents as the rain started to pour and the crew wrapped up filming the scene and started dismantling their soggy equipment to move to the next location.

The whole process of filming is fascinating. It’s nowhere near as glamorous as people expect it to be. It’s slow and often cold and wet. It takes an unfathomable amount of time, effort and skill to get a project to that point, but once it’s there, it’s amazing to see each person working together like cogs in a well-oiled machine. For an author, I can only imagine that it must be a very surreal experience to see this legion of people working to bring to life the characters that you spent hours crafting alone at your kitchen table. In short, it takes a lot of talented people and sometimes sheer luck to get a book adapted for screen, but it will never not be a special experience to see it come to fruition.

A huge thank you to team Buccaneer, especially Tony and Oliver for showing us round, indulging our every question, sharing tips of the trade and making us feel so welcome. Fingers crossed that this is the first of many more set visits!