SET IN BRISTOL in 1787, Clarkson is an historical drama based on actual events and characters. It features Thomas Clarkson, an unsung hero in the campaign to abolish slave trading, and recounts his time in Bristol.


The Making of CLARKSON
by the director, Graham Egarr.

THE PROJECT STARTED with an idea in May 2004. The concept grew out of research carried out on a planned documentary production about Bristol and the slave trade. The scope of Clarkson's story encouraged us to turn to drama to give it the full impact it deserved. We had already done some research for the documentary but making a drama meant that we had to widen the study to matters such as costumes, wigs and hats. Fortunately as part of the documentary project we had already filmed in the previous year the exterior of the college at Cambridge where Clarkson studied and very significantly sailing ships entering and leaving Bristol. The ships had come to take part in the 2003 Harbour Festival.
Once the decision had been made to proceed with the project the Costume Designer immediately set to work, first researching the costumes of the period and then sourcing existing outfits and making up others. One of the major challenges was to find suitable wigs as these needed to fit the character. For example Clarkson's ornamental wig as an Anglican clergyman had to differ from the wig used for the actors playing Quakers as Quakers used to have their own hair hanging loose.
The plan was to get into production as soon as possible for two reasons; there was no current club production and we had to start filming before the end of the summer as that the outdoor scenes were set then. Due to the need to get going as quickly as possible the final script had to be prepared in a rush and so a shooting script was written directly, rather than the conventional pattern of first preparing a 'Hollywood' script with just the dialogue. From the shooting script a storyboard was prepared and this involved doing a pencil drawing for every shot in the film.

As the amputation scene was seen as one of the key ones in the film there was a trial filming one evening in August 2004. From the experience of this it was possible to fine tune the dialogue. A separate read through of the whole script was also arranged to test the pace and flow of the story.

It was essential that we started to film the exterior scenes before the end of the summer. The first to be filmed was the harvest where stooks are being gathered in. Three extras, the cameraman and director spent an evening on a hill outside Bath getting the shots. As the stooks are left out to dry it was essential for the farmer that they were gathered in before the weather changed. This meant that he was working around the film crew and as soon as the filming was finished he collected the last few, removing any chance of retakes.
The horse scenes were next to be shot spread over three days in late August and early September at Shockerwick near Box. Fortunately on one of the days we had perfect weather and we were able to film the arcadian scenes of Clarkson's ride to Bristol. The crew then retreated indoors to film 'studio' scenes at Backwell Theatre. After two twelve and half hour Saturdays in a row it was back out on location again. This time to film Clarkson in his Cambridge study at Ditteridge Church and the exteriors of the Seven Stars pub and the Merchant Venturers building.
A few weeks breather was followed with the most intensive period of filming. At the beginning of December we had our most frantic weekend. On the Saturday afternoon we built a set for the interior of the Seven Stars pub in the upper room of St Pauls Church in Coronation Road. Then Sunday morning we were in Redland for the filming of the major scene with the Muster Rolls. Lunchtime saw us back down at St Pauls Church to film studio shots of the Captain's cabin, the wench's room and the whipping scene. Then early afternoon we were straight into the filming on the pub set of Clarkson's goodbye meeting with his friends. No time for afternoon tea, as we were then immediately into relighting the set for Clarkson's first visit to the pub. No time for rest as the next Thursday evening we were back at St Paul's church for studio shots for the rowing boat scene. The following Sunday the crew were at the New Room in Broadmead to film scenes set around the Quakers. The following Thursday our biggest evening shoot - in the vaults under St Pauls Church.
A break for Christmas was short as immediately afterwards it was all action again with two filming sessions in St Mary Redcliffe Church (two sessions lighting big issue), studio sequences at an office in Unity Street and the dinner party scene in a fine Clifton house.

By the end of March principal filming was complete and the editing and special effects work could start in earnest.

As the film was rough edited hundreds of digital still photographs were taken for possible use as backgrounds for the special effects shots. The Art Director then started to design the scenes with these backgrounds for the special effects shots. He then passed the scenes to the image compositing expert who seamlessly joined the different image levels together. Additionally the shots of the sailing ship in the storm were composited from footage shot of models in Bristol's Industrial Museum.
The fine edit was completed and work started on the sound editing. However despite the subject matter we had still not filmed the key shots of slaves being transported in the ship. Casting of the slaves then took place and filming of the key scenes in early December 2005.

The final edit took place January 2006 so that the film could be passed to the composer to write the music. Whilst the composer was working the sound editor finalised the non music sound tracks including all the sound effects. Meanwhile the visuals of the film were colour graded to give the whole production a consistent look.

Finally at the end of April 2006 it all came together, visuals, music, sound effects and dialogue and for the first time we could see the film in full. The last task was to compile and assemble the end credits. Then it was time for the Premiere.

I would like to thank everyone who supported the Society in the making of this production, the cast, the costumes, and the loan of props, horses and locations. Very many thanks.

Graham Egarr - May 2006