Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Marketing Manager Kirsty Celebrates One Year at HANDS ON

Marketing Manager Kirsty Celebrates One Year at HANDS ON
23rd August 2011

A year ago today I started working at HANDS ON. And while I have started to get used to my rather strange surroundings, I am still occasionally startled by explosions, gun shots and smoke filling up the reception area. Always expect the unexpected at HANDS ON!

The last year has been a huge learning curve. As Marketing Manager, I have had to produce and oversee a variety of marketing communications. But I have also been exposed to this very interesting and varied industry: providing weapons, building sets, looking out military uniforms, creating special effects, rigging scaffolding and drapes, sourcing and hiring out props and much more.

As I am usually the one to pick up the HANDS ON telephone, I am the first point of contact for many of our customers, and I love hearing the bizarre requests they have… especially when they think it is really weird but it is actually something we hear all the time! “Swords for a wedding? Of course, when can you pick them up?” When customers come in, it is always great to hear what they are doing, and how they are putting a production together.

Not long after I started working here, I wrote a press release about East Kilbride Rep Theatre hiring props for “The Steamie” – particularly interesting as Perry had been props buyer on the original film. (Read the release here.) The article was published by several local papers, which was a pleasing start to my year at HO. 

Although many of our customers’ requests could merit an article, we can’t do it for every intriguing enquiry that comes our way. At the start of 2011 we gave the Comedy Unit our “Customer of the Year” award, and we also noted some high-profile jobs: building staging for The Wanted and Spellbound at EK shopping centre, providing swords for Biffy Clyro’s Kerrang shoot and rigging up Rhod Gilbert to make him fly (and also rigging up the Scotland Rugby Team to create an impressive line-out.) We have been fortunate to be involved in several great Scottish films as well: Perfect Sense, Neds, Blooded and Fast Romance. (Read more here.) As a small team, we need to keep each other up to date on the progress of each job, as we are all involved with them in some way.

From day one I was tasked with keeping our social media presence up to date: a pursuit which has now blossomed into daily Facebook and Twitter updates, a separate Facebook page for the suit of armour in our reception (albert.theknight) and a regular Blog.

This year we started thinking more strategically about our e-flyers, and now send different ones to different sectors of customer (rather than a generic newsletter) in order to focus on the products and services most relevant to their needs. We also send feedback emails to customers after every job, to make sure we are meeting those needs, and we really value the comments we receive. So on top of designing adverts, writing press releases, dealing with customers and updating all our online marketing, I keep our contact database up-to-date and create and send our bespoke e-flyers and emails to the right people. Busy busy!

When I am not working away at my desk, or meeting some of our huge range of customers, I can be found drinking too much coffee, singing along with Perry, correcting grammar, laughing at Perry in yet another military costume or doing a mad little dance in reception to refresh the mind. Thanks to HANDS ON, I am now used to hearing things such as “How big an explosion do you want?”, “Half a dozen minge clamps please!” and “Are you taking the pistol?”

The year has flown by, and I have relished getting to grips with an annual marketing strategy, meeting a fabulous range of customers and hearing the tales of thirty years in the industry from Perry and Cheryl. One year might not seem that much to them, but I have managed to pack a lot in! 

Thursday, 11 August 2011

HANDS ON and Palindrome Theatre


Texas-based Palindrome Theatre Company (which, incidentally, doesn’t read the same backwards as it does forwards) are performing a unique adaption of Hedda Gabler at the Hill Street Theatre in Edinburgh, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival… with a little last-minute help from a Glasgow-based production company.

The team from Palindrome Theatre had been commissioned by ReMarkable Arts to stage their reworking of the Ibsen classic, and flew over to Scotland last Tuesday to begin their run. Nigel O’Hearn, the Artistic Director, was confident that the replica guns they were travelling with, integral to the script, would be arriving safely with them at Edinburgh Airport. But when they did not, he turned to Hands On Production Services in Glasgow for urgent assistance.

O’Hearn says, “Finding a firing replica gun, or starter pistol, in Texas is like finding an axe, or a handsaw – or anything marginally dangerous but practically useful. When Hedda Gabler was running in the States and I had to obtain a firing pistol for our production, it took me zero phone calls and twenty minutes. I walked into my neighbourhood gun store and asked for a firing cap pistol. They handed it to me, and I paid for it.” As O’Hearn was not a gun owner, he asked what he was to do when he travelled with it or took it anywhere. The response was “Well, it’s not real… So it’ll be no problem trying to take it with you wherever.”

O’Hearn accepted this answer (although he questioned the logic slightly), and the shop was content to send him on his way, after a few safety pointers, with a gun in a plastic carrier bag. “That is how assured gun-dude was that travelling with this thing would be absolutely no problem.”

While he recognises that he may be stereotyping Texans as cavalier with weapons, O’Hearn is keen to tell this story in order to explain “why I believed I wouldn't have any trouble locking a gun in a box, after showing it to some lady at an airport in Texas who put a piece of paper on it saying she checked it, and why I had full confidence that the gun would head with me to Scotland.

“For fellow international Fringers, let me enlighten you now: you CAN NOT take anything that looks like a gun into the UK, or continental Europe, with any sort of ease. Your gun laws are not their gun laws, and what you consider dangerous is not what others consider dangerous.”

Rather unsurprisingly, the replica weapon purchased by Nigel for Palindrome Theatre was taken away from them, in Amsterdam. He had a small, official-looking piece of paper taped to his luggage saying “confiscated materials." Nigel is not confident that he will see the gun again.

Palindrome Theatre’s production of “Hedda Gabler” ends with a gun shot, and there is a lot of action surrounding a gun. “As you might imagine, it tends to break the audiences' suspension of disbelief when someone has to pretend their finger is a gun, and someone else is reduced to shouting ‘BANG!’ at the end of a fairly dramatic play,” says O’Hearn.

He and the theatre group therefore landed in Edinburgh two days before their show opened without an essential prop. “Turns out, it is very difficult to procure a gun in the UK. Due to some laws passed a few years ago, they have become very hard to come by. For the most part, I think this is a positive thing. It does, however, become quite infuriating when one is producing an adaptation of a show written in the midst of the industrial revolution, when apparently guns were abundant and a playwright couldn't stand to end a show without a ‘BANG’.”

Fortunately, O’Hearn was pointed in the direction of Hands On Production Services in Glasgow. He called Hands On around 11am telling them that he needed a gun by 2pm the next day in time for the opening of the show. Although the company offered several delivery options, O’Hearn decided it would be less risky simply to come through to Glasgow and pick up the gun in person.

“When I arrived, my desperation and panic was soothed out of me completely. A selection of possible choices were laid out for me. Hands On has an arsenal of prop guns and weaponry from all eras, and they made sure we had guns that would fit our production's specific period. All appropriate paperwork was prepared, ready for me to read and sign. I was handled with great care and true interest in my production. I received a full tutorial from Perry, the armourer, on how to operate the gun. Suffice to say, when I left Hands On, I could breathe for the first time in 48 hours, because I knew my show would go on.

“That is, go on without my having to stand in the back of the house shouting, ‘Ka-blam!’”

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Meet the Marketing Manager

Kirsty's Blog
Recent Happenings at HANDS ON Headquarters

Hello readers. I am Kirsty, and I am the Marketing Manager for HANDS ON. Unlike Perry, I haven't been in the film/TV/theatre industry for thirty years... in fact, I am relatively new to all this. However, I thought I would share my insights into the crazy world of hiring out guns, ordering bespoke swords, rigging up comedians and rugby teams and meeting the people behind some weird and wonderful projects.

Lately we have met some lovely people working hard on amazing stuff. Had a nice chat with the guys at Kilbarchan East Drama Group who tapped into our now-famous Steamie knowledge when they put on the production in June. They had made the whole set from scratch, including working sinks and authentic looking bottles o' ginger. Good effort (view some photos of their work here.)

When I am not chatting away to customers, my day job includes updating the website, designing and sending out the e-flyers and keeping our social media up to date (on Twitter and Facebook.) I am learning a lot about using Adobe Flash in order to create more interactive web content for our customers. My favourite project so far has been letting Albert the Knight - our suit of armour - spread his interesting facts, HANDS ON musings and hilarious Middle Ages jokes with our customers through his Facebook page

I spent yesterday helping Perry (our Technical Director and the source of all the interesting stories in this Blog) catalogue all of his live firearms. We have loads... and I am pleased to report that I can now tell the difference between a Moisin Nagant, a Luger and a Beretta. Sort of. These are the guns which can only go out on hire if Perry (an armourer) goes out with them, so they are mainly for film and TV use. He must have some good stories about who has handled his weapons....

At the moment I am working on a lot of events-related marketing material. We want to let everyone know - especially venues - that they can work with us on events and weddings to create something really unique and memorable. An e-flyer to Fringe venues and wedding venues is coming soon, as well as some adverts and meetings. Tell everyone you know! (Also, DON'T BUY CHEAP GAFFER TAPE! As my mum always says, if you buy cheap you buy twice!) 

Friday, 20 May 2011

Great Scottish Films

Perry’s Blog
Great Scottish Films

The British film industry is alive and well – and can be found thriving in Scotland. The proof, if proof is needed, can be found in the form of three excellent films released this year by Scottish filmmakers… and they are already doing rather nicely, thank you very much. HANDS ON were fortunate to be involved in all three: the rom-com Fast Romance, the horror film Blooded and Ewan McGregor’s latest, Perfect Sense.

Perfect Sense stars Ewan McGregor as Michael, who falls in love with Susan, played by Eva Green. Their romance blossoms amid a global pandemic which gradually robs people of their senses. A scary but hopeful movie, with HANDS ON weapons adding to the tension.

Bodily functions provides a tenuous link to the second film, Blooded. Here we see five young people being chased through the Highlands and shot at by an extreme animal rights group... with the tagline “If you hunt, you’re fair game.” The film was released on DVD in April, and has received excellent reviews. I provided the bullet hits, weapons and other special effects. I was also responsible for hanging the lead actress upside down during a torture scene – the things I have to do!

Finally, to something more cheerful: the third film we assisted with, Fast Romance. Directed by Carter Ferguson, this is a feel-good movie set in Glasgow following the love (and speed-dating) adventures of seven people. Due for theatrical release on July 1st 2011, it will showcase at the Edinburgh Film Festival along with Perfect Sense. (More info.) We once more provided weapons and general technical advice – and we can’t wait to see the finished result.

This month, MovieScope magazine is extolling the virtues of filming in Scotland and using Scottish locations, crew and facilities - it is so true. And I can’t wait to get involved in the next batch of projects which come along. 

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Right Royal Mess

Perry’s Blog
Right Royal Mess

I had another visit from my old chum Mike Ireland last week, who brought along a former BBC Production Designer, Bob Smart.  We had all worked together on the BBC Scotland flagship show “Tutti Frutti”:  Mike had been the Production Buyer and, being very new in the business, I was his assistant - in an “apprentice” kind of way. These two know the business inside out, and it goes without saying that I learnt a considerable amount about the workings of the Art Department from these two masters!

I am so pleased they turned up, because I was about to enter a fallow period on the blogging front – but, as I knew they would, they brought with them loads of amusing anecdotes.

Mike reminded me of a story that went down in the annals of BBC folk history with a tale from the 70s, as follows:

In 1974, the BBC was the host broadcaster for the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. The BBC Scotland team had been tasked with developing a performance venue which entailed a fantastically large and complicated set. It was proving to be quite a handful, even for the highly-skilled crew that was working on it.

The team had been working night and day for weeks to ensure the set was ready on time: but, to pile on extra pressure, a memo flew in from the “High Heid Yins” at Television Centre in London informing them that an important Royal Personage intended to visit the location to see how things were going, in an interested – but not official – capacity. 

The writer of the note indicated that the crew was to be dressed appropriately for being in the presence of Royalty. The crew was not prepared for this and, with very little time left, clothing vouchers were issued tout de suite, and the crew high-tailed it down to Princes Street to hit the top shops thereon.

Oh, how I wish I had been a fly on the wall in their minibus as it returned to location, transporting a team of hard-working, hard-living, rough diamonds, now exquisitely turned out in full dinner dress, bib and tucker!

Once back at the set, they donned their nail bags, grasped their hammers and continued with the set build - all bright and shiny in their new “work” clothes.

The Royal party arrived in the late afternoon, and the crew was lined up ready for the obligatory walk-past and hand-shake routine. 

As HRH reached one particularly red-faced and sweaty individual, she shook him by the hand and said, “I can see you have been working very hard on this.” To which he replied, “Aye, too right yer Majesty… ’is joab's been a fooking nightmare – we’re aw shagged oot!” There was a sharp intake of breath.

“I’m terribly sorry to hear that,” she replied and, keeping her cool (but barely hiding her amusement), continued to walk along the line, exchanging further pleasantries with the crew.

Within days, wee Jimmy (as we'll call him to protect his uncouthness) was sent for by the Director General. Fearing the worst, Jimmy made his way to the boss’s office, fully expecting to get his “jotters”. But much to his surprise, instead of his P45, he was handed an envelope containing a cheque for £100, as a token of gratitude from the corporation.

Apparently, a memo had arrived with the DG from The Palace, congratulating all the crew for their skill and dedication, and mentioned “Jimmy” with particular high regard.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Salad Days

Perry’s Blog
Salad Days

As a young Stage Manager, working on a touring production of Dario Fo's "Trumpets and Raspberries", I had the pleasure of meeting an old actor called Joe (Joseph) Greig.

Despite our age difference, we struck up an extraordinary and enduring friendship, which has lasted for over twenty five years.  I took a great shine to him and made it my job to look after him (one ought to as a Stage Manager). I learnt many surprising things about Joe in those first few weeks, not least that his son Neil (also a stage manager) and I had worked together years previously, and were also, and continue to be, firm friends.

Joe is what I would call a “jobbing actor” - not quite famous enough to be mobbed in the street, but with a face you would recognise from the telly… and rightly so, since his CV is impressive. Since the late 50’s he has worked on hundreds of shows, from Z Cars to the Onedin Line; the The £1,000,000 Bank Note to The Avengers, to name just a few.

I also quickly learned that he had an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of film - he could quote complete cast and crew lists, and extraordinary trivia about any film you could think of.  He was essentially a one man International Movie Database – and had been long before the invention of the internet! 

His explanation for his unusual level of knowledge was as follows. As an up-and-coming young actor, he had landed a part in an early West End production of the new musical, Salad Days (music by Julian Slade and lyrics by Dorothy Reynolds & Julian Slade). It premiered at the Bristol Old Vic in 1954, and transferred to the Vaudeville Theatre in London on August 5 of that year, running for 2,283 performances to become the longest-running show in British musical theatre history. 

Joe's character came on at the start of the show, said a few lines and then walked off stage for two hours, coming on again at the end, saying a few further lines, and then joining the rest of the cast for the curtain call.  In the days before TVs in dressing rooms and green rooms, Joe would while away the hours between action by reading Halliwell's Film Guide - and he remembered everything he read, with a kind of photographic memory. 

Not particularly impressive you might think - until you learn that Joe was a member of that production for 14 years, and was the only member of the original cast and crew to still be involved. In fact, he saw every member of the cast replaced during his time there.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Letting the Cat out the Bag

Perry’s Blog
Letting the Cat out the Bag

Over the course of my career, I have worked on many productions alongside our furry and feathered friends; the occasional reptile, amphibian and even the odd goldfish. The old showbiz saying, “Never work with children or animals” (you could add to that list: actors, production crew and the general public…), could not be more accurate. With a few rare exceptions, nothing goes to plan when animals are involved.

Two stories that spring to mind involve cats, and illustrate perfectly why these animals should not be exploited by film-makers.

The first involved the first 3D picture I ever shot, a 3D horror film. We were filming in the graveyard of an abandoned church on the beautiful island of Bute. Picture the scene: it was a dark and still night, and I was providing swirling smoke and dry ice to add to the spookiness.

Our animal handler brought along some rats, an owl and the obligatory black cat. The rats behaved impeccably, sitting on the gravestones, washing behind their ears and generally looking cute. The barn owl, too, did all its swoopy stuff on cue and in breathtaking fashion. However, the cat - when finally coaxed from its basket - took one look at the crew, took one look at our blinding key light, took another look across the road to a thicket of trees and… took off!

The cat was never seen again. The embarrassing thing for the animal handler was that he had borrowed this cat from a friend of theirs in Edinburgh, and the cat had now successfully migrated to the other side of the country. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall watching him, cap in hand, explaining to the owners what had happened!

But cats don’t just cause mayhem on location. I had the pleasure of being prop buyer one year for the BBC’s flagship Hogmanay show, Scotch and Wry. Moreover, I had the pleasure of working with Rikki Fulton, who was playing a vet in a sketch. The animal handler was pretending to be the owner of a cat which he let out of a basket. Gingerly, the cat walked out on to the desk to be man-handled by the actor, and took exception to the actor, took exception to the audience, took exception to its surroundings… and took off.

It shot off in a straight line to the studio wall, hit it at high speed, and bolted vertically up the wall (made of fibreglass on a mesh cage, so it wasn’t difficult). Within seconds the cat was 60 feet in the air and clambering on to the grid, well out of sight of those people pursuing it.

Strange, how one little animal can cause such chaos… because if there are people on the studio floor, there can’t be anyone on the grid (not even a cat) in case items become dislodged and drop sixty feet on to unsuspecting heads, so an emergency evacuation in the studio was called. Hard hats were donned and a retrieval team were sent in to the roof space.

I remember we got this particular cat back, but I can’t remember if the sketch was finished! Take my advice – use a preserved jellyfish where possible. A lot less hassle and they do as they’re told.