It’s one thing to build a medieval village, but it would have been nothing without villagers to populate it. Fortunately, the Ren production team were able to gather together a pool of wonderful, dedicated extras to bring the square and streets of Lyngarth to life. There were up to 50 extras on set at times, and we’ve caught up with just a few of them to find out what their experience was of making Ren.
Birte Mattes, a veteran of director Kate Madison’s Born of Hope, portrayed a villager as well as helping out in the costume department. Matt Unger was a volunteer helping with the set build, who later played villagers and Kah’nath soldiers. And Chloe Belcher performed the role of “Broom Lady”, shooing Hunter (Duran Fulton Brown) out of her house.
What attracted you to take part in the project?
Birte: I have always loved fantasy books and films so when my brother told me about Ren and what it was all about, I got really excited and wanted to join in and as it wasn’t the first time I had worked with Kate on a movie, it was great to be able to work with her again!
Matt: I heard about it around Easter and was immediately quite drawn to the idea of helping with making the set of the series. Admittedly I was a bit reluctant to take part as an extra at first, since I was quite shy, but after spending time with Chris, Kate and all the other crew it became quite a fun idea; to work with them all on the set we had made.
Chloe: I have been interested in acting from a young age, hence my day job working at the Cambridge Arts Theatre. I haven’t had much luck with getting jobs so when I heard about Ren, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Not only that but I was fascinated with the type of production it was going to be. I am a huge fan of the LOTR and Hobbit trilogies and having seen Kate’s previous project, Born of Hope, I knew that if I wasn’t part of Ren, I would regret it.
Talk us through your typical day on set.
Matt: Well, firstly I’d have to get in at around 8am to get my costume (whichever one I was using that day) on. My first costume would usually be that of a villager, a face in the crowd. That involved wearing a surprisingly not-scratchy-to-the-touch shirt and curtains that had been turned into trousers. At a later point I might change into soldier costume, which involved heavy armour, chainmail and boots that were never quite the right size for me, and join up with my fellow soldiers who would always have a new face among them.
Birte: As I do reenacting, I already had half of my costume, but it was really awesome to change into a different periodic style of clothes and so I was always excited to put on the rest of my costume! Then I would chat with the people off set (at the moment) or we would play board games with everyone, then one of the crew would call those who were needed for the scene out to the set and we would be talked through what we would have to do, then we did a few walkthroughs so everyone knew exactly what they were doing or to change some parts which didn’t work so well and they would shoot it probably a minimum of 2-3 times to get it perfect! Sometimes we had to wait a around on set for a bit, but I thought it was worth it seeing the results!
Chloe: It varied each day I was on set, sometimes I could be on set all day, sometimes only for a couple of hours. But every day I was there, was greatly enjoyed. The atmosphere was incredible once everyone was on set, because it felt as though I had been transported to another world.
What was your favourite part of working on Ren?
Chloe: I’d have to say the friends I have made during my time on the Ren set.
Birte: What I loved was seeing all the professional equipment and all the professionals working so well with each other (which of course is what they do being professionals!)
Matt: My favourite part of working on Ren would be when we were filming large crowd scenes with lots of different people around the set pretending to have conversations for the camera, that generally were not what you’d expect them to be about. A more memorable one was when I was having a conversation on quantum physics while pretending to be haggling over prices.
Other than being extras, how else did you help out on Ren?
Birte: I helped in costume designing and I made the snoods of the village, and I also made Karn’s blue snood which I felt very privileged to make and it was awesome to see the actor wearing something I made!
Matt: As I mentioned, I first joined up to help build the set. I spent a fair amount of my summer break helping build the set of Ren. my first job that I did was to light proof the walls and doors, so people couldn’t see daylight behind from the houses. This basically involved nailing planks of wood to the back of the object in question, which was quite hard when one of them was a door with as much gap as there was wood. The main thing I did was make the roofs for most of the houses, using straw for thatch, which gradually got harder as we used up more of the the long straw, leaving only the small bits that couldn’t be used for much more than litter for the floor.
What did you get out of being involved with Ren?
Chloe: The experience, definitely. Ren was my first professional acting job so it is nice to know what it’s like being on the other side of the camera.
Birte: I got more encouraged to help out with projects like Ren more in the future and I was able to meet professional actors, camera men and women, directors, costume makers, set designers and everyone needed and involved in a film or TV show, which was amazing to see.
Matt: From Ren I gained a summer’s worth of memories, a great group of friends and a fair amount of experience with odd jobs and such. It was an experience that I won’t soon forget and was quite unique to be a part of.
Thanks to Matt, Birte and Chloe, and to all of the lovely extras who made such a vital contribution to Ren.