Product has been added to the basket

Not just "Another Year"

Paul explains the triaxial indicatrix. Jim tries to stop jelly falling off ceiling. We've all been there.

EurGeol Paul Maliphant FGS CGeol (Halcrow), Council member and immediate past Chair of the Southern Wales Regional Group, tells Geoscientist how he became involved in the film industry...

Geoscientist 20.11 November 2010

Secrets and Lies, Nuts in May, Abigail’s Party, Happy-Go-Lucky - titles of films by director Mike Leigh read like a list of the peaks in British TV and cinema, sweeping off with high profile awards like the Best Director BAFTA and Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or with his gritty, social-realist portraits of ordinary people in ordinary – and sometimes highly extraordinary - circumstances.

On general UK release this month and filmed under strict secrecy, Leigh’s latest film is Another Year, and stars one of his regular leading men, Oscar-winning British actor Jim Broadbent, as ‘Tom’, an engineering geologist working for McFadden Belcher - a (heavily veiled) portrait of Paul’s employers.

“Jim attended a meeting at the Geological Society in London, then his assistant searched the Society website for contacts to help him develop his character” Paul told Geoscientist. “I was convening a field trip in Wales just then and they contacted me to see if he could join us.”

Leigh is famous for his unique method of working, which involves the actors in detailed research, to flesh out their characters as the script evolves. Leigh’s scripts are largely improvised, so it is vital that all his actors have an in-depth understanding of their characters’ backgrounds.

Mike Leigh, Director “I arranged for Jim to have dinner with Paul Bright, a former colleague, whose career matched the early stages of Tom’s – namely, mineral exploration in Australia in the early 70s.” On the field trip, Paul (Maliphant) and Jim discussed aspects of geology and the events that may have moulded his character. “I took him to the Aberfan memorial and cemetery, as the disaster would have occurred during his first term at university” says Paul. The field party also visited the Church Village bypass, on which Halcrow had conducted early geological work. Following the visit, both Jim and the director decided that Tom had worked as a geologist on the construction of the M25, and through Paul’s contacts, Jim got in touch with another geologist Phil Parnell that had done precisely that.

The director decided that Jim’s character had joined Halcrow in 1985 working in London, so Paul arranged for Jim to meet Halcrow engineering geologist Colin Warren to gain an insight into life during that period. A second geologist character, also working for McFadden Belcher, is played by Stuart McQuarrie (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later). He too joined Paul for a day’s geology masterclass in South Wales.

Broadbent and Maliphant Paul was asked to advise the producers on what other professionals Tom might have come into contact with. They decided that another character, Jack, played by Phil Davis (Quadrophenia ), would be a surveyor. Paul put the team in contact with Chris Kelly, a Chichester-based technical director for Halcrow, who provided the character insight for this part. Chris in turn arranged for the actor to visit Chisledon Washpool, another Halcrow project. He was joined by surveyor, Richard Small, who demonstrated the basic elements to the art of surveying and how to use the instruments.

Says Kelly: “I helped them with background, as they needed someone who was a working surveyor in the early 1970s – I’m probably the only one old enough! They had some misconceptions about how you would qualify to be a surveyor, which I was able to put right. It wasn’t through university back then - rather through the technical side, with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.” In the film, Phil’s character broadly follows the same career path as Chris. “They wanted to know what type of work we did back then, how it fitted in with your life, as you had to move around a lot, and how this affected relationships” says Chris.

Typical of Mike Leigh’s improvisatory methods, the film’s title was only decided after it was in the can. During production, Leigh frequently creates detailed improvisations, sustained over a period of weeks, to develop both characters and storylines. Intimate moments are explored that may have no direct bearing on the final film, but to help the cast build insight and understanding of the history between their characters and inner motivations. Critical scenes in the final story are performed and recorded in costume – themselves real-time improvisations, where the actors encounter new characters for the first time, events or information which may dramatically affect their lives.

Another YearSuch pivotal moments may play out with only some of the actors being fully aware of the action to follow, allowing Leigh to capture the others’ genuine, unrehearsed reactions. Final filming follows a more traditional path with a defined sense of story, action and dialogue. Paul saw this method of working at first hand when he was invited to attend a shoot at Battersea Power Station and meet the rest of the cast and crew. In his bid to give an accurate portrayal of the period, Mike Leigh turned to Paul for advice.

“The scene included a lorry-mounted rotary drilling rig set up over a 2.5m-deep mocked-up borehole” says Paul, who even had a hand in the script-writing. “We decided the rig was required for a tunnelling project and we worked out the details of the proposed borehole and the reasons why the geologist characters had to visit the site.” Paul went on to advise on costumes, the use of company logos and the number and type of vehicles required. “Overall, we were on location with a crew of 65 from 7.30am till 6.30pm to devise, write, rehearse and film the complete scene, which may last on screen for no more than two minutes!” says Paul. “And true to Mike’s style what we ended up filming altered the plans for the scene to be filmed the following day”.