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Cult Tube Talk

Q&A: 'Who' director Adam Smith

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'The Eleventh Hour' was undeniably one of the most anticipated episodes of Doctor Who ever. A brand new Doctor, a brand new companion and a brand new behind-the-scenes team, led by Steven 'The Moff' Moffat. With all eyes fixed on Upper Boat, who did the execs draft in to direct The Eleventh Doctor's debut? Step forward Who newbie Adam Smith - previously known for directing music videos by The Chemical Brothers and The Streets - who's also headed up the River Song-Weeping Angels two-parter. Ahead of this weekend's concluding half, we caught up with Adam for a chat about his time on Who.

How did you react when you found out you were directing Matt's first episode?
"It was very exciting because I think he's a brilliant actor. I'd seen him on stage a couple of times before and thought he was fantastic."

How did you get the job?
"I was asked to come in for a meeting with the BBC. It was a meetiing with Steven Moffat and Piers [Wenger], who is the head of drama at BBC Wales, and Beth [Willis], who is one of the executive producers. Beth asked questions like 'How are you going to make the dog-man and the dog bark at the same time?' and I said 'Speak to someone who's done this sort of thing before.' In fact we actually got away with doing it in-camera because we cast someone who was so amazing - Marcello Magni - who did it without the use of computer effects."

What other questions did they ask you at interview?
"Kind of 'What would you do with it?' and I just said that for me, the story has to dictate every decision you make. Trying to inflict a style on something that doesn't relate to the story detracts from it. I was just trying to be true to the story in every decision made, whether it was production design or where the camera was, or how we were moving the camera, and it was all just telling the story and getting to know the characters. Getting inside their heads a bit. One of the things I talked about was trying to make it as cinematic as possible, which is a crass sort of comment really, but what I meant was to make it different and use prime lenses, 35mm lenses to give it more of a film look, so you have a more shallow depth of field. Somehow you engage with characters more because it drops off the focus behind [them], whereas digibeta sometimes feels a bit like news footage and you don't engage with it on a personal level. That sounds such nonsense but you know what I mean, I hope!"

In terms of tone, the first episode was a little different to the following episodes. Did you approach it differently?
"We actually shot episodes four and five first so it was a different approach because it was a different story. In episode one, we really had to introduce the Doctor and Amy, whereas with episodes four and five you knew who they were."

Your first day of filming was on location with Alex Kingston...
"It was - we almost lost the new TARDIS because the tide came in and we were running out of time. The tide comes in really fast there and we had a limited window to shoot so the poor art department were running to dismantle the TARDIS as the water splashed at their feet!"

Do you remember much about the atmosphere on the first day?
"It was pretty terrifying, actually! I think Matt was understandably quite nervous but you do your best to remain calm and just get on with it, which we did. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time, which is what it should be really - a creative endeavour."

Were you a fan of the show before this?
"I hadn't watched a lot actually so it was new to me. My nephews and my aunt are big fans but no, I hadn't really watched it except for a bit of Tom Baker in the seventies. I remember when I was about five or six, my brother told me that the title sequence was actually a camera passing through the inside of a shark and I believed him!"

What sort of timescale was it, from you first getting the script to post-production?
"I was on it from June last year, more or less until January or February this year. It's a long time but those scripts are hugely ambitious so everything was a rush. Everything had to be done pretty quickly and the schedules were pretty tough. The time you have to shoot was pretty tough and the schedules for the CG were pretty tough, as were the edits."

In episode five there's a spaceship, caves and a forest. Where did you film all those scenes?
"The caves were Clearwell Caves and the forest was an amazing forest called Puzzlewood. Someone told us it was where Tolkien was inspired to write The Hobbit. There are these amazing old trees that have been there for hundreds of years. It's very beautiful but we were shooting nights in Puzzlewood, because it needed to be lit, and we were shooting nights in the caves because they had to keep the public coming in during the day so it was two or three weeks of nights. It was quite tough and then it started raining. There were a few broken legs with people getting caught in the mud carrying huge things. It wasn't quite Apocalypse Now or Lost in La Mancha but it was a challenge!"

The Crack features heavily towards the end of this episode. Did that present any challenges to filming or post?
"Yes. We needed a lot of lights to try and create the appearance of this crack in time. We were trying to do it as much in-camera as possible but we ended up doing a lot of it in post. It took a lot of time."

Will you be coming back to do more Doctor Who? Maybe the Christmas special?
"No - originally I was just down for doing episode one but I did four and five as well. It's just those three, really."

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