We are happy to announce that filming has begun for Beg Steal Borrow’s new documentary, Circle/Line.
The premise of the film is to interview people at all of the 26 stops on the ‘regular’ Circle line of the London Underground (this does not include the stations that stretch from Edgware Road to Hammersmith and which now are part of a combined Circle and Hammersmith & City line).
We interview people about life in general, especially regarding whether they are happy, with the idea being to compile a vox pop film along the lines of two of the great documentaries from the 1960s, Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s Chronicle of a Summer (Chronique d’un été, France, 1961), and Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme’s Le Joli Mai (France, 1963).
The rationale behind the film is to see how happy people are in 2015, with a particular emphasis on people in London. The reason for shooting at Circle line stations is because our hypothesis is that this will take in a mix of locations, at least within central London, while at the same time setting a natural limit on the film.
Meanwhile, given that I (this is William Brown writing) am not sure what happiness is, or if it can exist in the way that I think it could (everyone being happy), then I am intrigued by paradox, which ties in with the idea that a circle is somehow supposed also to be a line at the same time.
Tom Maine is shooting the film, but in portrait style. The idea is also, then, to film the architecture around the Circle line stations, and to see how organic and/or symbiotic is the relationship between the people whose portraits we take, and the buildings that surround them.
This post is intended not only to announce that we are making the film, but also to act as a journal of sorts about making the film. There may not be too many entries, but it can function as news about the production nonetheless.
Day One (Friday 1 May 2015 – Liverpool Street)
I am a nervous sort, in that I don’t particularly like approaching strangers to talk to them, and yet this is the basic remit of this project. Having hovered at Liverpool Street for a few minutes – during which time Tom and I bumped into Rosie Frascona, our star from Ur: The End of Civilization in 90 Tableaux – we finally decided to set up by Broadgate Circus.
And who should walk past for our first interview but my old friend Jonathan Stanley? He agrees to take part, and so suddenly talking to strangers feels very easy – if in fact we are only going to have to interview friends whom we bump into randomly on the street.
Buoyed by the luck of bumping into Jonathan, Tom and I then interview various other people for the next couple of hours, including a group of British lads who had been comically walking into the shot of and trying to sabotage the interview that we filmed with a couple of Spanish women. All seems to go well as we rack up several interviews in no time, with only one or two people actually saying no. Clearly filming in decent weather on the Friday evening of a bank holiday weekend is a good strategy. Most people seem happy.
Day Two (Saturday 2 May 2015 – Temple, Embankment, Westminster)
Tom and I meet at Temple and progress from there down to Westminster. Our interviewees include a devout Christian, a Big Issue seller, a couple of musicians who discuss Nietzsche and their baby with us, and more.
More people than not are saying yes to being interviewed, which surprises us still, while more significantly more people than not are saying that they are happy, which also surprises us.
We get our first unhappy person at Westminster, a footballer from Portugal who feels that he has not achieved his life goals. We get a few interviews at Westminster, but Tom and I think we’ll come back at a later point to do some more.
A few preliminary observations: most people talk about their jobs first of all, suggesting that work is the balance between happiness and not. Family comes second. No one has discussed love necessarily. And no one has mentioned politics. I feel that I need to devise some more questions in order to draw out different shades of happiness and how people feel them.
It also strikes Tom and me that perhaps only people who are going to say that they are happy are going to be drawn towards speaking on camera. Anyone who is not happy likely is to be unwilling to talk with us. This is interesting, but also problematic for the film. Can one truly get a cross-section of people to talk to us?
Day 3 (Sunday 3 May – Kings Cross, Euston Square, Baker Street)
Kings Cross is easy pickings, oddly enough. Lots of people waiting around, lots of people happy to talk given the good weather: a Danish-Vietnamese woman discusses leftist politics, we have our second person tell us he’s unhappy, a cheerful group of French tourists, and our first older lady talks to us. Tom and I are happy more or less about the mix of people that we are interviewing, but older people seem in particular wary of us.
At Euston Square we talk to an ethnomusicologist at some length. She is most interesting. As are some young men at school and a student at UCL. It strikes me that many people have wise things to say.
Tom and I skip Great Portland Street. e will be back, but our thinking is that the place is pretty dead at the weekend, and after spending a long time at Euston Square for few interviews, we decide to go straight on to Baker Street.
There we have a long conversation with a couple who talk Tom and I into going to watch an experimental short film in Shoreditch that night.
Day 4 (Wednesday 6 May – Aldgate)
The first of our weekday evening shoots. The time of day makes us think that less tourist-driven stops might work well at around the end of office hours. Aldgate is a relatively tough stop, but Tom and I get some interviews with some interesting people, including an Indian cricket fan and a chap about to get married.
Day 5 (Thursday 7 May – Farringdon, Barbican)
Thursday is the new Friday, it would seem, since Farringdon is busy and lots of people seem happy to talk to us, including an Irish construction worker, two ladies who work in fashion, an ambitious wannabe barrister.
Nearly everyone with whom we speak still seems remarkably to be happy. It being election day, we do ask people about their political happiness. Not many of those to whom we speak profess to care about politics at all.
Tom and I suspect that Circle line stations that are next to pubs work well, because we move along to Barbican – where suddenly it seems very difficult to get people to stop and talk to us. This surprises us, since we think that pre-theatre types going to the visually impressive Barbican might be interested in having a chat on camera – but apparently not. Without a pub, and being a bit of an in-and-out station with nowhere really to loiter, it’s not necessarily that good for interviews.
Day 6 (Friday 8 May – Monument)
Oceans of people wave past us, with barely anyone willing to stop to talk. This despite the fact that an entire office block has had a fire alarm and is loitering just by the station. However, none of them talk to us.
As Tom and I begin to get a few rejections, it is amazing how it knocks the confidence out of you. The suspicious look as the person you approach feels that you are going to sell them something, the head ducking down into the mobile phone, the ‘no’ and walk away before you have even opened your mouth to explain what it is that you’re doing.
Nonetheless, after some struggle – and this on a Friday, thereby scuppering our belief that it would be easier after Liverpool Street – we manage to interview three lads in sales, one of whom professes to have voted UKIP at the election (and who looks me up and down, sees my shabby trainers and hole-marked jumper, and remarks sarcastically that ‘you’re obviously doing all right for yourself’), and a lady who is studying for her accountancy exams and who takes the longest time out of anyone so far to think about how to answer the question.
Day 7 (Tuesday 12 May – Moorgate)
Our first washout. About 75 minutes at Moorgate station, asking maybe 50 to 60 people if they’ll talk to us – and every single one, without exception, says no, including a couple of ‘talk to the hand’ gestures that refuse any eye contact whatsoever.
Finally, we manage to speak to someone, Kai, who refuses to be on camera (or for us even to record his voice). He suggests that Moorgate is a bad place to talk to people because everyone is unhappy with their jobs, it is the end of the financial year, and the weather in May is too changeable for anyone to feel comfortable. It is a good conversation, not the first of the evening that would have been great for the film, but for the fact that the interviewee does not want to be recorded.
For, upon arrival at Moorgate Tom and I start chatting to Lulu, who is working a shift handing out flyers for a homeless charity. Her shift ends at 7.30pm, so jokingly we tell her we’ll collar her then.
Seventy thirty pm rolls around – and since we have had no joy whatsoever, we decide that we will collar Lulu, who packs up her charity stall with two of her colleagues. We’ve told them about the project, but not what our question is, since we like to keep responses unplanned to our first question (‘are you happy?’ – the only person to have heard the question in advance is Jonathan Stanley at Liverpool Street).
However, Lulu and her friends – who have been stopping people in the street to discuss charity – say that they are too busy to talk to us. I ask them what their charity is. Jehovah’s Witnesses, they tell me. ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have the time to talk to us?!’ I reply, and they laugh.
We then have a great conversation with these and other JWs who join them and in which we explain the project in more detail. Even though we talk for 10-15 minutes or so – easily the time required for an interview – they still don’t agree.
And so Tom and I leave Moorgate empty-handed. We are not sure whether to leave the station blank in the film (a black screen to indicate the lack of willing participants), or whether we shall return back soon to try our luck again, maybe on a weekend or at a lunchtime if we can.