Walking onto set, which is in a huge horse riding ring, there is nothing but sand. 80 tons of sand. This is where I will spend all day. I am handed a mask and told I will need it as it gets really bad once people are walking all over it. There are huge fans at both exits to blow out the dust and it works, to a degree. And it helps to keep the place a bit cooler between takes.
I was told to dress for cold because it's been freezing inside, but today is supposed to be a nice day and it is. I wore long-johns under my jeans and a turtleneck. Before the day is out I will need to remove the thermals because it gets sweltering hot on the stage. And I do need the mask but it makes me even hotter, with my hot breath hitting back at me, so I abandon it after an hour and take my chances with the dust. About an hour before we wrap, I start hacking up a lung and that doesn't stop for about 12 hours.
Despite the dust, it's a really fun day. There are energetic puppies - that are just the most adorable bundles of fur, a sensitive camel, and an extremely talented monkey with an attitude. I am not a big animal person but I really love puppies and the monkey is just fabulous. Her name is Crystal and I can't get over how talented she is. Her trainer just shows her what to do, and she does it! In one scene she runs up a rope, along the awnings of a marketplace, down pole, takes a flying leap and grabs a kabob out of a man's hand in mid-air and takes off running in the right direction. It's amazing to see. Later, she is holding the kabob while cornered and she is dragging it in the sand a bit. So the trainer says, 'up' and motions with his hand and she brings it up and holds it there for the rest of the shot. In another scene, she has to sit on the back of the camel. She's tired and doesn't really want to so keeps standing up. The trainer walks to her, sits her down with her hands on her knees, and sharply tells her to 'stay there'. She starts screaming at him. It's hilarious. She's obviously pissed off at him. He tells her to sit and be quiet so she stops screaming. But as he walks away, she can't resist having the last word so lets out a couple of shrieks. We all have to laugh into our sleeves so as not to upset her more.
Puppy with stickers to mark for CGI.
When I look up at the ceiling rigging, I can see where sand has pooled for the last three weeks of shooting in here. The gaffer notices me looking and tells me that, when he put them up, they were all a uniform baby blue. Not anymore.
It's a long day. Usually we work for 12 hours with an added half hour for lunch and then I have one hour after wrap for paperwork. Today I clock out at 17 hours. Not quite a record for me - I put in a 19 hour day once on a freebie when I was starting out. This time I get overtime so I don't mind one bit.
all photos are posted with permission from the producer