Media Parents Series Producer Director Marion Milne writes about the shooting of Blood & Gold: The Making of Spain with Simon Sebag Montefiore. TXing from Tuesday 8 December 9pm for three weeks on BBC Four.
“And action” I said. Or rather muttered. We were, after all, in the Royal Chapel of a vast Catholic Cathedral. Not so much bring up the bodies, as bring the crew down to the bodies. “This,” said Simon Sebag Montefiore in a perfectly pitched Attenborough-esque whisper, “is in many ways the secret heart, of Spain itself…”
“Can we stop there?” The gravelly Canadian tones of my sound recordist, one of the best in the business, in my headphones. “False start,” I said, hoping the tension could not be heard in my voice.
“Just collapsing the boom pole. Low ceilings alert. Thirty seconds.” Our recordist would never stop us without good reason.
“Standby to go again,”I said, “and action.” Once more the four of us, half bent double, crept down the stone stairs of the vault. The soft shoe shuffle. “This is the vault, continued Sebag, where the Spanish Kings and Queens are actually buried. It’s usually closed to the public. And they’ve let me in.”
Well not in so many words I thought flattening myself against the chilled, damp walls, to allow our cameraman to follow the action, opening up the iris, as it grew dark and hushed inside the tomb. They didn’t say no to us filming down here. Then again, we didn’t, strictly speaking, ask.
It was a far cry from the bright sunshine outside as Sebag concluded. “Cut,” I said: “Great take everyone. Let’s get out of here.”
Just another day on the road with Simon Sebag Montefiore, shooting the epic series Blood & Gold: The Making of Spain, which airs on BBC Four, from Tuesday December 8th at 9pm. In three hours, in classic Sebag style, this is an entertaining, erudite romp through Spain’s story.
It’s a narrative populated with some of the great characters of history: Hannibal, the Carthaginian General, whose family ruled over Southern Spain in the third century BC; El Cid, the legendary medieval warrior who – we found out – turned out to be a ruthless mercenary; Ferdinand and Isabella, whose infamous Spanish Inquisition was the forerunner of a modern terror state; Philip the Second who was once briefly King of England (who knew?) before launching an Armada against us.
The joy of a Simon Sebag Montefiore series is he weaves together all those half remembered bits of history from school into an epic, televisual narrative and then throws in some fabulous new characters and stories as well.
The sweep of the series allowed us to shoot in some of the most cinematic places in Europe: on a fast moving boat in the Bay of Cadiz which opens the series; in Italica, a city of Roman ruins so well preserved they look like a film set; through the narrow streets of Granada’s Albaicin district and inside the exquisite Alhambra at dawn; atop the Giralda, Seville’s bell tower; in the Medina Al Zahara, Cordoba’s forgotten Moslem citadel; in the Valley of the Fallen, Franco’s grandiose memento to Fascism.
It doesn’t get much better than shooting these kind of series, on a sensible in-house BBC budget, with support from the Open University and BBC Worldwide. It’s what British specialist factual TV does best. Proper authoritative and accessible broadcasting. Long may it continue.
Media Parents’ Marion Milne was Series Producer and Director of two episodes of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s new series Blood & Gold The Making of Spain, from Tuesday December 8 at 9pm on BBC Four.
Simon Ardizzone, also of Media Parents, was editor of two episodes.