From ‘The Theory of Everything’ to Tom Stoppardâ€™s front room.
by Georgia Hume on 5 February 2015
In the summer of 2013, shortly after completing my English Literature degree at Lucy Cavendish, I found myself in a scene familiar to many a recent graduate: a May Ball. As the carousel spun and the drink flowed, my friends danced to a live jazz band; twirling faster; until that first explosion lit up all of St. Johns; commanding all revelers to look up, up, up … gasp at the fireworks, some of you can point, and…. “CUT!”.
“Re-set please”: I was not wearing that beaded gown I’d found on sale but a frumpy North Face jacket and waterproof trousers. My friends were suited and booted but glaring at me – I’d recruited them as Extras with the promise of a day on a ‘glamorous’ film set - they’d been standing up for 13 hours straight, wearing stiffened bow ties, and worst of all: the “champagne” was Schloer.
This was my first job after graduating: I was the Production Runner on a film called The Theory of Everything. It’s a biopic of Stephen Hawking, and has just been nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Eddie Redmayne (he’s odds-on favourite to win at the time of writing). We spent a week filming in Cambridge and it felt almost too coincidental: some of our crew stayed in Lucy accommodation; one (I found out later) in my first-year room; and our film catering was served in the hall I’d taken my final Final in. Eddie Redmayne – a Trinity College alumni – loved being back as much as I did.
My next job was Production Secretary on a film called Tulip Fever, with the screenplay by Tom Stoppard. I was in charge of making and distributing script revisions. For someone who focused most of their degree on modern drama and screenplays – a dissertation on Beckett, Pinter and Stoppard; another on the boundaries of theatre vs. film; a fairly obsessive interest in the third year Literature & Visual Culture paper – I suddenly found myself in Tom Stoppard’s front room, being asked if I owned a fax machine (I nodded enthusiastically - I didn’t). The next nine weeks were as follows: Stoppard would write several handwritten pages, often at 7am before the day’s shoot, then fax them to me – I would input them, print, leg it to set and liase with the director and producer, before relaying feedback to Stoppard. It was chaotic but consuming.
Most recently I’ve worked on Genius, a biopic of the writer Thomas Wolfe, and his complex relationship with his editor, Max Perkins. This fascinated me - not least because the script scrutinised that old question scribbled over every English student’s notebook: the function of criticism. But as far as my Stage vs. Screen dissertation went, this was it: Genius was the film debut of director Michael Grandage, one of our most famous living theatre directors. His theatre background translated to a huge emphasis on rehearsals and a very tightly locked script (unlike Tulip Fever!) – this meant far fewer takes or improvisations (and an efficient and early Wrap most days - hooray!).
I’m about to start as Assistant Production Co-ordinator on another biopic, based on a biography of a terrible opera singer, Florence Foster Jenkins. I am freelance, so work for different companies on each film. But I have no doubt that I keep getting these lovely literature-heavy, author biopic film jobs because of my English Literature degree from Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge!
English Literature, 2010