A couple of weeks ago I got a phone call from my sister. I don't often get calls from my family as I'm all business. "Hello? What's up? OK. Cool. Bye." I don't think they like talking to me, they only ever call me with news or to ask very specific questions! This one was "Would you like to come and watch Top Gear be filmed next week?". Yes. Yes I would.
So I did what any self respecting petrolhead would and went online to gloat. I also promised to wear a specific Blipshift t-shirt and try and get it on the telly. My fellow Opponauts wanted me to do a write up, so here it is. I'll preface this by saying we were asked not to have our phones on during filming, which I adhered to, which meant whenever there was a good chance to take a photo I had to switch my potato on and wait for the valves to warm up, so my photos aren't amazing, and they aren't particularly interesting!
On Wednesday I went into work early to get some bits sorted then caught a lift up to the train station. I would have loved to have taken my MG, but we've had a few floods here and it's currently got no air filters, which I didn't think would end well! My sister picked me up from a station near her and we started the journey across Kent and Surrey to the studio, which is in the arse-end of nowhere.
After an hours drive we arrived and were given our wristbands. We obviously weren't beautiful enough as we didn't get any of the special wristbands that I'll tell you about later. I blame my sister for that as she was trying to eat a chicken salad sandwich with one hand while the guy was talking to her. I looked fantastic.
The weather was horrendous, it was raining sideways and the little cafe in the car park was RAMMED. I really mean rammed, people were just standing in there shoulder to shoulder looking out the windows. They weren't even talking. We stayed in the car. It would have been nice to be able to walk around the car park as there were a couple of interesting cars there, but nothing amazingly special. I imagine in the summer it would be great fun.
Eventually everyone started moving towards the end of the car park. I'm still not sure what signalled this sudden mass exodus, as we didn't see a thing. We waited for about 10 minutes in the sideways rain before everyone made their way to the hangar. Again, as far as I'm aware there was no signal for this. Maybe everyone just got fed up with waiting at the same time. It could have just been a social experiment to see how long people will stand in the rain.
As you probably noticed the studio is in an airplane hangar on the edge of an airfield. It's not very big, surprisingly small in fact. It looks a lot bigger on TV. We had a short while to look around the place, there were two Zenovo ST1's, one orange and one black. A little cordoned off area of scandinavian furniture and the usual set pieces.
After a while the floor manager and director came on the stage to tell us the rules. No phones, don't be a dick, act natural etc. We were also told we had to laugh at the jokes even if they told them 100 times. Another thing we were told is that the HD cameras are prone to 'strobing' when there's a particular pattern or some stripes in the shot. They said that we may be moved out of shot if our clothing or hair is strobing and not to get upset when this happened. Eventually Jezza himself came on and said hello. He also said the strobing thing was bollocks and it just meant we were ugly. Fair.
May and Hammond came and introduced themselves and after a few minutes it was time to film. Now we all know the show is scripted. If you don't then I've got some shocking news for you regarding Father Christmas. One thing I didn't realise is how professional all three presenters are. When I say professional, I mean they fucked around and swore and made jokes (and at one point Clarkson took the camera and pointed it at all the more interesting parts of the women in the crowd), but when they were being filmed they went through the script in an incredibly natural way, even if they had to do a pick up, the conversation would flow very naturally, despite being scripted. It was really impressive!
Everyone likes to think to themselves "Oh I could do that, hoon around a track and chat shit about cars" but you couldn't. These guys are good at what they do. Very good.
There are a number of screens dotted about the place and all the microphones are broadcast over the sound system at all times, so even if you can't see the presenters you can hear them and watch them on screen, it made for a really entertaining experience, and they seemed to put on a proper show. The outtakes were much better than what gets put on the show. Top Gear really need to start an outtakes Youtube channel!
Back to filming. Jeremy took bets on the number of takes he'd need for the 'Scandinavian design' intro, Hammond reckoned four, because there were props, and some guy in the crowd reckoned double figures. He did it in a single take with only one pick up, when he was talking about the sandwich. For those of you who don't know a pick up is what happens when the director wants to re-film a part of the show, but doesn't need the preceeding part. When this happens the crowd have to laugh at what happened previously (sometimes five minutes before) so that they can do a follow on from there with the correct sound (and with the people in the background laughing still). It was really weird to see this amazingly natural conversation be repeated in an almost identical way, and they had fun with it.
There's a part when Clarkson is talking about the Zenovo and he says "I don't know why they didn't call it Marius and take it outside and shoot it!". The crowd laughed, but with an overtone of "ooooh!" as if to say "Too soon!". He turned around and said "What? It's just a giraffe!". When they began to film the next part (which I think may have been thenews from memory) he had to repeat it, but said "Take it outside and FUCK IT". which elicited a much different sound from the crowd, so I'll be interested to see how they edit that together on the show. They'll probably just take the laugh!
The show is filmed in the order it is shown, I assume they do this to keep the crowd entertained with a coherent show in the studio, as it makes for a lot of moving of cameras around through the crowd, and for a lot of shuffling of people as they try and get a decent view. There was one guy who kept putting his head right in the way. He seemed to be able to do it to about five people at once. It was quite impressive!
For the news segment they asked the crowd to move back and for people to come forward with certain wristbands. These are the wristbands we missed out on at the gate. All the people who made it to the front and waited there up to this point were asked to move back and to allow the beautiful people to stand at the front. Such is life! It seems like they only really change where people are standing during two segments of the show, the news and the celebrity interview. I'm not sure why this is. It could be that it's just too much hassle to do it for every segment, as it did seem to be quite the kerfuffle.
When it came time for the interview with James Blunt they asked the crowd to move back again for another group of pretty people. This time I was prepared and used my beautiful face/beard combo to sneak back to the front. Unfortunately I was behind the TV, not a prime spot, but definitely in there. I tried to get my t-shirt on show, but I'm not sure if I'll have managed it. While they were setting the rest of the shot up and getting Mr. Blunt on stage Jeremy came over and told me he thought my beard might be strobing. I'm not sure if he was telling me my beard was ugly or not, but my reaction was to slowly cover the lower half of my face up with my hand and stare at him. He laughed and walked away. As he walked away I came up with a great comeback, but I'd already missed my chance. Bad times!
The interview was another great example of how professional the whole place can become. They did the whole interview with no retakes or pickups, and James Blunt came off as really friendly and decent. I've liked him for a while because of his Twitter comebacks, something they touched upon in the interview. He also came back with a couple of decent digs at Clarkson, who completely lapped them up and made good fun of himself. He often comes off as an arrogant arsehole, and he may well be, but he seemed genuinely funny and willing to have a laugh and chat. Maybe it's just part of the show for him, who knows. Either way, I came away thinking a lot more of him than I had previously.
It was a really fun day out, despite the cold and the wind and the standing around constantly. I'd definitely go again given the chance, and would highly recommend it to anyone, not just an enthusiast. I think the filming would be entertaining for anyone, much in the same way that Top Gear is accessible to people outside of the car community. After filming I took the chance to get a couple of photos without the flashing lights, but I didn't get many as my sister wanted to leave.