My adventure with getting a walk-on part on “Doc Martin” began in March, 2014 when I bid on it. The Haven breast cancer charity had offered three items donated by Martin Clunes for auction so that they could raise money to help those in need pay for their program. The three items were a blue suit worn by Martin Clunes during DM, a two night stay at The Bay Hotel B&B in Port Isaac, or a walk-on part. I had no interest in the other items and set the max I was willing to pay for the walk-on part. Then I waited until the last day of the auction. My daughter told me that nothing ever happens online until the last day of bidding. I actually couldn’t wait until the last minute after all because I was visiting my mother in NY and had to get to the airport. Luckily, I didn’t have to worry because after bidding a couple of times and receiving responses that I had been outbid, I went to my max and quickly got an email saying I had won. That was followed by a letter from The Haven telling me it was their first time running this sort of event and they had raised enough money to ensure that “5 Visitors and their families can benefit from our vital services.” Unfortunately, I have had far too many friends who have dealt with breast cancer; however, that made me feel good about giving to this charity.
I also received a letter on Buffalo Pictures letterhead and signed by Martin Clunes to confirm my award and was told on this letter to contact Philippa Braithwaite at her email address. I had a brief mixup when the email address they sent me turned out to have been changed, but it all ended well.
Philippa answered me but then turned all correspondence over to Katie Neal. (I have read Karen Gilleland’s blog, with her description of her walk-on part so I’ll try not to be repetitive. As you know, I am much more inclined to write rather than use pictures to report on various topics. My pictures wouldn’t differ too much from Karen’s, although I was there at a different time and during filming of other scenes. I’ll fill in more details wherever I can and add a few pictures from time to time.)
From the moment I found out I had gotten the walk-on part I started wondering if Buffalo Pictures would be contacting me to ask me questions about myself – you know, height, weight, age, ethnicity, anything. That never happened. Then I wondered if they would give me some choices of dates to be in Port Isaac. They simply left that up to me. Finally, I wondered if they would tell me what to wear, but I never heard from them about that either. It’s possible that they figured I should know that regardless of when I showed up, they would expect me to look as though it was a warm, sunny day. I, on the other hand, jumped to the conclusion that they would have something for me to wear. So, although I own light, summer dresses and sandals, I didn’t bring them. In the end I wore an outfit that was along the lighter side, but not nearly as summery as the other extras had on, and I was still cold.
Here’s how I’ll look. Blue sort of sweatshirt and pants. Director Charlie Martin(?) looking at camera.
I live in North Carolina where the temps start warming up in March. At the moment, we are enduring temps of around 30 degrees F warmer than in Port Isaac. I mean, when it’s 50 something F and the wind is blowing, it’s not beach weather to me!! We’ve lived all over the US, including Minnesota, and we know we get acclimated to wherever we live, but we’ve now lived in NC for 38 years and are used to being hot for at least 3-4 months out of the year. I have always seen college students walking around campus in flip-flops during the winter, but that will never be me! (I have to say that a little part of me wished I were of some unusual ethnic group – Asian, Arab, African-American, Indian, something. The show has had very few, if any, minority groups represented and I thought how fun it would be to shake things up, especially since they wouldn’t be expecting it. But I’m Caucasian like everyone else in the cast. Admittedly I did not see many ethnic looking people in Port Isaac. I did see a variety of ethnic groups in other places in Cornwall, however.)
The extras employed for that day were asked to wear particular types of clothing and bring changes. After breakfast we were all asked to line up so that our choice of clothes could be assessed. It felt a little like being faced with a firing squad and someone joked about that. Naturally, there was nothing at all frightening about it. The joking among the extras started early and kept up throughout the day. In addition, everyone in the group was extremely nice to me. I learned that many of them have been extras several times and in various shows. A few of us had teaching backgrounds and that led us to muse about whether teaching professionals are particularly drawn to want to try this sort of thing. We were all wearing coats and layers and only took them off when we had to.
Like Karen G., I, too, met Debbie as soon as I arrived at the Farm. By that time I had also been in touch with Glyn and Lindsay, Philippa’s assistant. My understanding is that Glyn is the person responsible for the cast. Debbie seemed more involved with the 4 babies being used and the older children too. As Karen G. mentions, Debbie and the rest of the staff continued to be very friendly towards me whenever they saw me. Thus, my day extended to my entire stay, and I continued to feel as though I was being treated as special even after the day on the set.
Debbie is the woman walking towards the camera
Here is a picture of me with the extras:
I’m between the white haired man with the beard and the other man with boots. My husband and I are such good photographers that I’m not even looking at the camera. In the other picture of me with the extras I have my eyes closed. I bet you’ll see some of these extras in the show. We were filming episode 5.
In the above picture we are all sitting along the wall across from the Old Schoolhouse Hotel and Restaurant (which doubles as the school in Portwenn) because we needed to gather in one spot. As we sat there, a parking guard came along and noticed the vans used for filming that were parked in front of the school didn’t have the proper permits to park there. She started writing tickets and some of the men thought it would be fun to harass her. She handled it well and retorted that we were being paid for sitting on a wall. Other people walked by and joked around with us too. Everyone enjoyed poking fun at everything.
Among the first people I saw when I arrived at the Farm that morning was Martin Clunes in jeans and a sweater, but I did not have a chance to talk to him at that point. However, once we were shuttled to PI, he was in the harbour area now dressed in his DM suit and tie. I was so caught up in what they were telling the extras to do and in being introduced to others in the crew like Hannah (who I believe assists the director) that I did not approach MC. My husband met me in town and he went up to MC and had a nice chat. Once I noticed they were chatting, I joined them. Peter told me later they talked about how we came to be there. In addition, it turned out that there was a scene being rehearsed that involved Joe Penhale (John Marquez) talking to a young girl sitting on the curb and staring. My husband is a neurologist, as you may remember, and recognized that she was supposed to be having an absence or partial complex seizure. In general, her behavior mimicked closely what might happen during one of those seizures, although she fell over and that doesn’t always take place. My husband also runs the Palliative Care and End of Life Program at UNC and thanked MC for his work with hospice in Dorset.
When I joined them, MC asked me about the charity that offered the part and we talked briefly about their work helping breast cancer patients. He has had a friend who was treated for breast cancer and survived, which is what got him involved. He once again mentioned the requirement in British TV that medical conditions be depicted accurately. I am not convinced that British TV is that much more accurate than American TV, although it may be a matter of volume rather than specific programs. My husband thinks DM does a good job of keeping things close to accurate, even though some scenes strain credulity. Of course, our soap operas are not accurate and some of the prime time shows can be a mixture. “House,” for example, started out using cases that were accurately presented, but then went off the rails. My husband was always very pleased that Gregory House demonstrated the use of differential diagnoses in trying to narrow down what a patient might be suffering from. He told MC that the first two years of “House” were good and he enjoyed trying to figure out what unusual syndrome the patient had. As it happened, we had watched some TV the night before and had seen a show called “Holby City.” It is set in a hospital and, from what I’ve now learned, has been on TV in England a long time (since 1999) and probably could be described as soap operaish even though it’s on during prime time. Believe me, they were definitely NOT being accurate. I couldn’t help myself and told MC about that show and that they were winging it. (I plan to write a post about British TV soon.)
We observed the scene with Joe Penhale and the young girl several times while standing with MC. He watched closely too and occasionally made comments. Once he told the young girl that there was a real neurologist watching and pointed to Peter. Another time he told her she looked really eerie. He seemed to be trying to make her feel at ease, which impressed me as something very nice to do. Her grandfather was there and we talked. He said she has acted a few times, is 13 yo, and would be in other scenes too. I saw her in one other outdoor scene where she becomes uncommunicative while standing near JH’s stroller. During this scene, ME taps her phone and asks her what she wants. I’m guessing other scenes might be when her parents bring her to see ME in his office.
Prior to the occasion when Joe Penhale is in that scene, ME is supposed to walk down the nearby alley and past JP. Penhale says “Hello Doc” and gets his usual “Yes” answer. During this sequence, several extras were used. Initially I was asked to stand midway down the alley and walk towards ME. I knew I should keep a straight face, but as he passed by me MC said “I’ll just scowl at you” and I struggled not to smile. Hannah immediately told me not to smile and we tried it again. As Karen G. mentions, each scene is repeated over and over no matter what. My assumption is that the director wants to try the scenes from a variety of perspectives and with various emphases so that he has several to choose from. After I walked up the alley, they switched me with another extra and did it again several times. MC left at that point and the scene with Penhale and the girl was repeated many times. During this scene I was asked to walk through again. This time I was to start walking when Penhale tells the young girl that she is legally required to listen to him. I continued walking past him and around behind him. I liked that scene the best and hope that’s the one they use.
Later that day, though, MC returned and they filmed that same walk down the alley again. This time I was asked to walk across the egress of the alley while a couple walked up the alley and other extras walked along the harbour area. We were all given different times to start walking after “action” was called. I walked 5 seconds after “action.” (The regular steps of preparing to film involved the actors rehearsing the scene with their coats, etc. on and getting pointers from the director. The assistant director would say “rehearsing” and make sure everything was in place, including the onlookers, then announce “turning over,” during which time everyone needs to make sure they are in position, and finally “action.” When they filmed the take, the same demands were announced. I have to suppose that the actors have had table readings prior to this during which they decided how best to say their lines because every actor seemed to know the lines by this point. Now and then they had to look at their sheets, but more often they knew their lines already and how they were planning to deliver them.
I need to stop here and say that the hardest working person during the time I was there was the assistant director. I wish I could tell you her name, but I do have a picture of her. She was utterly indefatigable. Every day, from 7 to 7, no matter what the weather or the location, she was moving nonstop and on her feet. She had her list of scenes for the day and she was the one who prepared for each scene with the help of a few others, and she made sure each actor was attended to. The day I was filming was also a day when Caroline Quentin was on the set. The AD clearly knew her well and they hugged, but that was true of several actors. She made each of them feel special and well treated while also keeping things moving. I can’t imagine how they could do the show without her and I think she must be totally exhausted by the end of each day. She must sleep all weekend and then get up and do it all over again the following week. She has to love her job!
The woman I’m referring to is the one with the long red hair and black top. Here she stands next to Janice, Morwenna, and Angela (CQ). (I have no idea why there’s a line across the bottom of the picture. Even more evidence of our poor photography skills!)
The next hardest workers are the camera crew and sound people. They use all sorts of equipment and sometimes set everything up only to have to take it all down so that cars and people can pass. Because PI is so small there is no way to block off a street for filming like they would in other towns. There are literally only 3 streets that will take you in or out of the village. Roscarrock Hill, the street that runs by the surgery building, ends in a cul-de sac even though it often looks like there are people and cars driving by the surgery on their way to some place. (If you look at Portwenn Online’s locations maps you can see that, but I never noticed until I was actually there.) If you walk to the end of Roscarrock Hill you get to the coast path and can walk up the hill to where some scenes have been filmed by the bench. If you keep walking, you arrive at a very steep natural staircase that takes you up to the top of a cliff and more path.
Anyway, the camera crew switch between steadicam on their shoulders to camera on tripod to camera on dolly in the wink of an eye, or so it seems. In many shots they use them all as another way to once again, I suppose, have options to choose amongst. They also disassemble it quickly. They all follow the party line that they are the ones imposing on the town and they don’t want to upset anyone by blocking the way. This is a lovely attitude, but it does give them headaches. Even though they all act very willing to move out of the way, taking screens and equipment off the road, I bet they secretly swear to each other about it. Constantly setting things up and dismantling them over and over has to be frustrating. It’s definitely time consuming. But these guys do it all many times throughout each day. I think they must all be relieved when they film on the beach or inside or in an alleyway. I have to say they do relieve the tedium of the day by messing around. I saw them playing games, fake wrestling, and doing things that men like to do to blow off steam. After all, there is a lot of standing around. On the other hand, sometimes they were fooling around when we were trying to see what the actors were doing and they didn’t seem to notice they were in the way.
During my day on the set I was never forgotten, which I considered quite astounding. I kept trying to stay out of the way, but Hannah often came looking for me and offered to have me see what they were doing either behind the director or in a myriad of other activities. Debbie found me for lunch, and Lindsay made a special trip in from the Farm to meet me. I couldn’t have felt more welcome and well treated. Lindsay is incredibly capable and extremely thoughtful. I was fortunate to have a chance to talk to her for a while and get to know her.
My only other moment when I was asked to be in a scene was during a scene with Mrs. T (Selena Caddell) and Angela (CQ). Angela works in animal rescue and was taking Buddy to see the doc. Mrs. T stops her as she heads in the direction of the surgery. I was told to stand on the street and look like I was talking on my cell phone. Other extras walked through the scene at different points. I felt the most superfluous during this scene.
Other scenes shot during that day included one with Penhale and the fish monger that I found very funny. They must have said their lines a dozen times and I laughed every time. The scene had to do with Penhale needing something to serve at a BBQ he was having. (Another day we saw the filming of the BBQ.) He asks the fish monger for a suggestion of what to make. He tells him he wants to be seen as a man of the world but still approachable. The suggestion is sardines. Penhale says he wants something more exotic and the new recommendation is Italian sardines. The idea of grilling sardines was funny in itself, and adding the notion of being a man of the world was priceless.
It was now getting to be 6 o’clock and they were still not even close to done. My husband had long since gone back to our rental house and I was definitely fading. I wanted to stay for the final shots, but they were with Penhale and Janice with the baby on the coast path where it would be hard to see anything and then I saw the shuttle bus heading out and jumped on. Almost all the extras were on the bus and I talked to a few more during the drive back to the Farm. I was fortunate to sit next to a young man who had been a chef but was now a handyman. He recommended some good restaurants in the area and we tried the one in Boscastle called Wellington’s, which was quite good. We actually went to Boscastle twice and now I’ve seen that some filming was done there. It’s very scenic there too and also has the requisite steep roads. The river that runs through it distinguishes it from other towns. Like PI, when the tide is out, the boats are left stranded on sand. I’ve never quite seen that before. Here when the tide is out, boats can still float.
Back at the Farm I spoke to Glyn and Katie but never got to see Philippa. They said she was out looking for locations. Another time she was in London doing some casting. My impression is that Philippa is the total opposite of Martin and would rather not meet people or have her picture taken. Karen G. said she never got to talk to Philippa either and, like Karen G., I saw Philippa on the set another day. I guess she leaves the socializing and promoting to Martin.
I did not have a chance to see the interior sets and should have asked before leaving that evening. I have to say I was too tired to remember to ask and ready to drive home. It was a really great experience that I’m sure I’ll never have again. I now feel as though I know Port Isaac well and have a lot of respect for all the work the people behind the scenes do. The sound person, another woman whose name I don’t have, told me she loves what she does and has been doing it for 20 years. She, too, spends most of the day on her feet in all kinds of weather holding the long rod with the microphone on the end over the actors speaking. She has to find a place to stand where she can reach the actors and not be in the picture. Somehow she manages to do that all day every day too. We all admire the actors, and they get all the credit, but the show wouldn’t be anywhere as good without the ancillary workers. That they operate with such good attitudes is very much to their credit and to the credit of those who hired them and supervise them.
Oh, another thing, I asked and Philippa is involved in all aspects of the show and considers the show her “baby.” She does not get a writing credit though because she does no writing. What she does is what producers in the US do too — she reads the scripts and comments on them. Much like a person building a house doesn’t design it, they tell the architect what they want and collaborate with the architect until they are happy with the design, a producer talks to the writers to develop the storyline, the writers go write and send their work to the producer(s) who then read it and respond. Each note is sent back to the writer who tries to make the requested changes or who argues for their point of view until the final product is achieved. Philippa is not the only one who reads each script. Her assistant Lindsay gives notes and there are other producers. The main thing is it’s a collaborative effort.
Also, I tried to meet with Jack Lothian because he’s my favorite writer on the show. I found out that he’s a favorite among the producers too but he lives in Thailand. He flies in for meetings. He has a thick Scottish accent and has decided he wants to be in Thailand. I have no plans to fly to Thailand at the moment!
Originally posted 2015-06-21 16:59:08.