While most of Ren Season One was filmed on indoor or outdoor sets, certain scenes called for location shooting to expand the scope of the world. Early in the production schedule, the core cast and crew made an epic journey to South Wales to record some stunning riverside scenes for episode one.
Getting to Wales was an adventure in itself. Director of photography Neil Oseman recalls the journey…
Almost as soon as I and my camera assistant, Colin Smith, had arrived from the Welsh Marches to start work on Ren, there was talk of travelling all the way back to that part of the country to shoot the opening scenes. Kate was inspired by a location she had seen in Doctor Who, and our Cardiff-based gaffer, Richard “Squish” Roberts, had recommended a waterfall near Merthyr Tydfil, on the southern edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Our budget, as ever, was tight, so I went online to look for youth hostels. Although we only needed to shoot for a single day in Wales, we wanted to stay over the night before so we weren’t setting off at silly o’clock in the morning. On the YHA website I found the Llangattock Mountain Bunkhouse, little suspecting what a nightmare it would be to find in real life…
By the time our rooms were booked, it was early afternoon on Monday and we had to set off for Wales that night. But first we had to shoot some close-ups of our young actor, James Malpas, who was coming to our studio after school. Once that was done, we assembled the equipment, props and costumes we would need in Wales. Sound recordist Ash Maharaj, meanwhile, was collecting a smoke gun from Artem in west London, before heading to the Brecons.
At about 8pm, Christopher Dane set off from our Caxton studio in his car, taking costume designer Miriam Spring Davies and planning to pick up lead actress Sophie Skelton on the way. Colin and I would be travelling in Van Morrison with Kate, but since she wasn’t ready to go yet, the two of us decided to pop to the nearby McDonald’s for some dinner. Incredibly, during the brief time we were in the drive-through, workmen arrived and closed the road between the McDonald’s and the studio. A ridiculously long diversion meant that what should have been a two minute trip back to base took an hour…. but Kate still wasn’t quite ready to go when we got back!
Eventually we set off from Caxton. Cambridgeshire to South Wales is a significant journey, and it was made longer by a detour to Bristol to pick up a pair of LED lights we needed for the location shoot. Colin and I had the slightly surreal experience of waiting in the owner’s flat at around midnight – unsure as to whether there might be a flatmate or girlfriend asleep in the next room – while Kate drove him into the city centre to collect the lights from his office.
At around this time we started to get calls from Chris and the others, saying they were struggling to find the youth hostel. Somehow they had missed the email and attached directions which explained that the hostel could not be found by satnav. With no 3G access on the remote mountainside, they could only listen as I read out the hostel manager’s directions from Kate’s phone. These were long, complicated and punctuated by humorous asides. Strangely, Chris and co did not seem to appreciate these attempts at levity. They would spend the next hour or so navigating the pitch black, sheep-thronged mountain road in an effort to locate the landmarks so flippantly described, all the while keenly aware of the sharp drop-off bordering the road.
Meanwhile, Van Morrison and all who sailed in her had left Bristol behind and were steaming into South Wales. The directions gave a different route for large vehicles, so we followed these. After Chris’s experience, we were particularly careful, and we had no trouble finding the hostel. We arrived well after 2am, to find that Chris, Miriam and Sophie had beaten us by only quarter of an hour, despite setting off at least an hour earlier.
Every cloud has a silver lining though. The hostel was extremely comfortable, and when we finally got to the location mid-morning on Tuesday, it was worth all the trials we’d endured to get there. Of course, then we had to drive all the way back to Cambridgeshire…