The city of London is as much a character in Sherlock as John or Sherlock himself. It’s strange when you see the city in real life you become acutely aware that Mycroft’s comments in A Study in Pink are entirely correct - “Most people blunder around this city and all they see are streets and shops and cars, but when you walk with Sherlock Holmes you see the battlefield” - and for us that was never more true than watching the filming for a few days.
Each day we would turn up at the locations hours in advance of the cast and crew and all there would be were bollards, filming notification signs up and down the streets, and a sprinkling of security members awaiting people to start to arrive, and it would look like a regular London road. By the end of the day, watching from a pavement in the dark and the cold, listening to “silence please, roll camera, action”, the London we were familiar with was entirely gone and there was Sherlock’s world right there playing out before our eyes.
They were long days. Lots of coffee drinking and standing around for us, and to be honest is wasn’t much different for the cast and crew. We were lucky enough (or unlucky depending on your point of view) to see a whole range of actors/characters and therefore spoilers - but we will not post any details of what we saw being rehearsed and filmed here now. Everyone on Sherlock works so hard on the scenes, it would be an incredible disservice for us to describe it all in just a few lines and ruin what they are trying to achieve.
So let us tell you what it was like to be there instead…
It is the most remarkable thing to see John and Sherlock in the flesh. Of course, we had seen Martin and Benedict before, but to see them both laughing and joking and being themselves while moments later when the cameras rolled, watching the transformation was thrilling. They literally turn into different people in their mannerisms, look and entire demeanor. It was particularly obvious with Martin as his casual walk turned into John’s march when he put on the character’s jacket, and Benedict’s face completely changed as he wore Sherlock’s harder features as well as his costume. John, although of course very focused, seems as approachable as Martin, but Sherlock cuts a positively intimidating figure, whether in conversation with him or not. He is certainly not the kind of man one usually would come across in day-to-day life and that is even before he could deduce you out of the room.
The filming itself is a long process. After all the equipment had been set up, the actors had to rehearse many times, off and on camera, until they would film a take for real, and then there would be several of those too. Even the simplest of scenes, such as John crossing a road, was rehearsed and then re-rehearsed until every little aspect was right. The crew set up long before the actors arrived, and although a silver Audi would drop Benedict off each time and collect him again in between scenes, Martin, Andrew, Rupert and Vinette would seem just to appear out of thin air. Hair and make up was done quite casually between rehearsals while sitting on the nearest doorstep for ease and then reapplied or amended between takes, while they always arrived in costume, although coats (and scarves) were taken off while the cameras were not rolling as it is of course July.
There were some funny moments, some featuring the cast and crew and some events happening around them they were blissfully unaware of. We arrived early to have breakfast at Speedy’s Cafe on the Thursday and while the 221B door was already in place in the doorframe and the general changes to the street had been made, the correct North Gower Street door number was on a wooden plaque where the famous brass numbers should be (presumably not to confuse the postman). We were later sat outside watching the numbers being replaced by a crewmember. The first 2 was secured into place, then the second, B was still awaiting it’s turn patiently, but… where’s number 1? Number 1 was missing! Oh dear, we did suggest that maybe they could use a spare number 8 or something as it’s not like anyone would notice, but no, thankfully the 1 was retrieved from the props van in the nick of time, despite what we thought was a very resourceful suggestion by ourselves.
It turned out that this was also not a good day for any tourists trying to navigate to Euston Station, as next up were the street sign replacements. These new features weren’t the most helpful of signs for the many tourists who wandered past us, their noses buried in a London A-Z. They looked at their map and then with a very confused expression up at the newly erected signs, presumably wondering how on earth they had found their way into Baker Street when they should have been streets away!
As a note regarding the signs, there is a very proficient graphic designer on Team Sherlockology should they require one in the future, as we noticed one of the signs proudly stated, ‘BAKER STREET W1 CITY OF WESTMINISTER’ which couldn’t be used for the additional ‘I’ which had snuck in there (as you can see on our header image). Something else that made us chuckle, was when Martin appeared on location wearing some very funky sunglasses, which Rupert had to try on (again you can also see this on our header image).
There was only one blooper that we noticed during the filming. This was when Rupert forgot to secure the handbrake of Lestrade’s BMW in the middle of a take. Martin managed to exit the vehicle unharmed however when the car stopped in front of 221B, only to begin to roll back again rapidly of its own accord while leaving Rupert visibly struggling and laughing inside. In fact cars proved somewhat of a problem in general as it happened. Again watching poor Rupert trying to navigate the car back down the road after each take was interesting (it cant be the easiest thing to do while so many people are watching) and Benedict’s stand in, suited and booted identically to Sherlock on Wednesday had a bit of trouble even working the door handle to get out of the black cab during rehearsals.
We did have our own little funny moment in fact. While we had no problem having a chat with Martin while he waited to have his make up done, Benedict proved a bit more of a problem. Benedict is a little more aloof during filming than Martin and we certainly didn’t want to disturb him while he worked, but on one occasion during Wednesday night between the rehearsals of a scene, he was texting away on his phone and didn’t look to be very busy. We were convinced the texting was to Martin, who was down the other end of the street, and although it was no doubt just a coincidence, Martin happened to be on his phone too. One would look at their phone and laugh and then a moment later the other would theirs and then laughed themselves. Either way, it was an ideal time to say hi and so navigated our way around the crew, across to Benedict who had already smiled at us earlier as we were pretty much the only bystanders that day (along with a couple of our Twitter friends). As we approached, he looked up at us expectantly, but just as we were about to say hello a crew member suddenly appeared and suggested he moved a little for us to pass on the very narrow pavement, assuming we were just trying to get to the other end of the road to which he was blocking our way. So… walk straight past we did, as not to contradict her. After that, making a second attempt didn’t seem like a very good idea, as it would just look like we had not idea where we were going!
A point we would particularly like to share however is the obviously very close relationship shared between Benedict and Martin. It is well documented that Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke were in fact best friends on and off the Granada Sherlock Holmes series and the friendship between Benedict and Martin in real life certainly appears to be also very strong. There was a very touching moment between them on Wednesday; Martin had arrived on set several hours after Benedict, and when Benedict spotted him he went straight up to Martin who was standing by the monitors and gave him a huge hug. It was lovely to see, especially as they continued to talk, Benedict standing in the road and Martin on the pavement (but still managing to be the same height incidentally), Benedict arranged the front of Martin’s shirt for him as he talked. There has been a lot of discussion by the writers about the development of Sherlock and John’s relationship during this second series and if the little display we witnessed is anything to go by, it will be a wonderful thing to see.
For the Benedict Cumberbatch fans out there, (as we know there are just a few of you!!!), there has been much debate on whether he is still a smoker these days or not. He gave up for the role of James in Third Star and there was a lovely story of Stephen Hawking back in 2004 making sure Benedict was allowed to smoke in the garden during a pre-production meeting of Hawking, but had he finally kicked the habit these days? Well we can confirm the answer is: no. In fact the very first time we saw him, he had just been dropped off by his car when he light up a cigarette before getting into discussions with the director Toby Haynes regarding the scene they were about to shoot. It was however the first and only time we saw him smoke, so if he is trying to quit for good, he seems to be doing quite well as shooting Sherlock makes for long old days when it’s just too easy to occupy yourself with a cigarette, a member of Sherlockology can testify to that.
On a geeky note, some of you may be interested to know that Sherlock has acquired a new scarf. The costume designer Sarah Arthur was quoted as having said the scarf used in the first series was an old Paul Smith scarf, but although it was perfect for the character it came with some issues; “There were so many action scenes I needed double of everything, but the one thing I didn’t have a double of was that scarf. I was terrified that something would happen and we’d lose it! Things in the business can be so chaotic - particularly when it gets dark early and people drop things from trailers! That scarf was the bane of my life! If I did another series, I wouldn’t use that scarf again - I’d definitely do something new!” Those of you with eagle eyes will see in our photos, that yes indeed the scarf does look to have been replaced.
For our resident photographer, who has been studying the distinctive visual look of Sherlock since it was broadcast, another long standing question was also answered - what cameras the programme is filmed on. The crew was in possession of a pair of $69,000 Arri Alexa digital motion picture cameras, loaded with further expensive bolted on equipment. A bit of research reveals the cameras capture footage in double the resolution of what we currently term ‘High Definition’ - meaning Sherlock actually looks twice as good as what we see on the HD channels and blu ray formats when we see the finished product!
We did finish our visit on a bit of a down note though. After being the very first on location each day with the exception of security, we were absolutely gutted to hear on our last day, only ten minutes after we had left to catch our last train home, Martin and Benedict had come over to the small gathering of fans to say hello and sign autographs. It would have been worth missing our last train for had we known they would! We can only hope in the future we will have another opportunity as one of our members has a DVD only half signed now, and for someone with OCD - which a web developer must have to a certain extend in order to do their job well - it was very disappointing indeed.
With regards to photos, we have only posted a very small selection of the images our photographer on Team Sherlockology took of the filming, as there are simply far too many and some that are spoiler related, but once the series has aired we will of course post them for you all to see as it would be a real waste otherwise.
Overall though, we can’t say just how truly fantastic the experience of watching the filming was. It was very special to watch something be played out in front of you which you love and to be caught up by the atmosphere. We met lots of wonderful people not only from the Sherlock team but also lots of Sherlock fans, putting faces to names from Twitter and it was especially great to finally meet the lady who brings us www.benedictcumberbatch.co.uk. There is a photo of a couple of members of Team Sherlockology watching the filming at the end of this post, so if you see us around please come and say hello, we’d love to meet you. Interesting that a fan contacted us to say a runner had asked her if she was part of our team, so it’s heartening to know we are getting the name Sherlockology out there.
We hope to be onset again to bring you all another report in the very near future. The experience of being on a set with a crew and actors is completely unique, not to mention quite addictive. But nothing can quite match the sight of Sherlock Holmes snap to vivid life, before your very eyes.
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