Astonishingly, the work itself, the actual shooting of the actual scene including travelling time and all, took only five and a half hours. I was picked up at my hotel at 7am on the Sunday morning and was done by lunchtime.
My old friend Jay was sitting waiting in the people carrier when I came down from my room. Neither Jay nor I had got much sleep, this being my only, and his first, day of filming. We greeted each other with that wide-eyed, butterfly-stomach, first-thing-in-the-morning-actor look I've come to know so well. We were taken to the unit's base camp which was in a leisure centre car park somewhere to the north of city centre and given a warm welcome by one and all. One of the actors remarked that film units look the same the world over, and we laughed agreeement. I felt a little flutter of excitement as we pulled into the midst of the service trucks - winibagos for the actors; hair and make-up; catering; the food tent. Several of the crowd eating breakfast turned their heads as we arrived. Many of the crew had been out there for some time, and were probably as glad to see us as we were to see them. Or as curious, I should say: there's an awful lot of covert curiosity about everybody else on a film set.
The director met us, shook our hands, looked weary and warm. The last time I had seen him was at the interview, somewhere in Central London. It was somehow reassuring that he looked exactly the same, down to the shorts and sandals. He asked the Second Assistant to show us where we needed to go - she showed us the breakfast tent and a winibago for each of us, with our character names printed on A4 pieces of paper pinned to the door. Another, private little flutter! Inside, fruit, bottles of water, our costumes. I got mine on and then, with as much dignity as I could muster without feeling reeeaaallly silly, had to phone the 2nd A.D. on my mobile to come and open my door, as I had accidentally locked myself inside... (Note to Self: Film Star Status not achievable until winibago doorlock mastered).
The filming itself, I am happy to report, went off with little incident. It was fun, and interesting, to be part of this international crew for a day. I gather this was the source of not a little tension on set, but I barely felt it, so glad was I to be working, and working with Jay. It was different, working with someone I knew and trusted. And we both come from stage backgrounds, feeling our way into some kind of a performance in front of a camera (later in the trip we spent an evening recounting our Most Cringeworthy Television Moments). I don't think my tiny scene was my most glorious hour on film, but I don't think I disgraced myself, either.
While I was waiting to be called, going over my lines and trying to keep my concentration (a priceless talent to an actor), Mick the Sound Man came over to wire me for sound. For those not in the know, this involved putting a little furry thing with a sticky back (the mic) between my breasts - Mick himself didn't do this, just suggested it in as tactful a way as possible and looked away as I dropped it down, then guided the wire and little adaptor box from my front to my back and tucked the box into the belt of my jeans. As we performed this intimate little operation, Mick chatted away about Lithuania, because he has worked in the country several times.
He says that he finds it a fascinating place. He says that it gets very cold in winter and this, combined with its painful history, is one of the reasons why the suicide rate is so high. He says that the Lithuanian women are fantastic - and indeed, their beauty was noted (several times) by my fellow actors the night before - but that there are two or three women for every man, so competition is fierce. I think of the band of brides encountered the day before, and of a startling statistic in my guidebook - 57% of Lithuanian marriages end in divorce. Hmm, something not adding up, there.
Through the window, across a sobering vista of Soviet-era high-rises, he points out the TV Tower where Soviet troops killed 14 Lithuanians defending their right to broadcast independently only 16 years ago in 2001 - just months before the USSR finally recognised Lithuanian independence. He tells me about the racist attacks on one black crew member; how the skinhead right is not so very underground in certain places; how difference is not very well tolerated here: the rougher, underbelly of the country which has been nicknamed the 'Baltic Tiger'.
That night I choose to stay in, order Room Service and ruminate on what I have experienced thus far. I am deeply struck by what I am learning; while I'm not sure that I like Lithuania in the same way I could without reservation say that I liked Italy, say, when I first visited, I am intrigued by it. And it seems to be working a curious magic on me. Words pour out of me every time I sit down to write. With no thought. With no problem. In the same way that others have a compulsion to photograph, to record visually, I feel a compulsion to write. To mark-make. Set it. Not in stone, but in words.
It's the feeling I've been looking to accompany my writing for - well forever, really.