Saturday, October 02, 2004

Rome Travel Diary, Day 2

Up at 6 a.m. Nice to see Robert Beckford, my colleague from Birmingham, who is presenting Who Wrote the Bible. We took a taxi to St Peter' Square where the morning's filming all took place. It was the first time I'd been there and by dawn's early light, it was a wonderful sight. As the morning went on, it filled up until it was packed full of tourists and lots of priests and nuns. One happy sight was a group of nuns clearly visiting the Vatican for the first time and loving every minute of it, drinking it all in.

Our topics today were Luke and John. Although they will, of course, go later in the programme, the filming was prior. Tomorrow we do Mark and Matthew in the catacombs. It's probably the most enjoyable filming I have been involved with. I had the chance to be relaxed, to be more expansive than usual, and to talk about a topic I know something about. At one stage I even got the chance to talk about Luke's sources! Quite often when I've been involved with television, the necessity to distill everything down to just the one succinct soundbite has been the key thing. But on this shoot, at an early stage, director Polly Morland told me to be less "soundbitey" and asked both of us to explore the issues in slightly less frenetic a style. It was a particular contrast with my most recent experience, filming for Jesus' Family Tree, when much of the rest of the documentary had already been filled and the director had a very clear idea of precisely what she wanted on each question. (No criticism implied; the context and content of my contribution to each documentary is very different). Moreover, Robert Beckford's enthusiastic, engaging style of interviewing, and the fact that I was not having to give self-contained answers, made it fun.

We spent something like four or five hours at St Peter's Square; I'm not sure precisely how long it was. We used lots of different locations around there, some static filming and some of us walking around. And there were lots of long shorts of Robert and me walking around. For both Luke and John the same sorts of questions. Who were they? When were they writing? What were their sources? Were they making this up? How did they depict Jesus? What themes come through? Were they eyewitnesses?

After a pasta lunch, I was free for the rest of the day. The others went to film a sequence on canon in a library. After a good sleep back at the hotel I had a little time to explore Rome alone. I probably should have bought a guide book and map, but it was nice just to wander and see what I found. I went to the top of the Victor Emmanuel building, passing the statue to an unknown soldier, and took in the fine view of Rome. I decided to head down to the colisseum from there and stuck around there, and had a beer at the café across the road from it, before heading back to the hotel to meet the others and go out first for some drinks and then some food. The fixer, called Nancy, did all the Italian speaking for us; it was either that or the universal language of pointing and smiling. I had some calamari. Robert broke off half way through the meal to do a live interview, sitting at the table, on his mobile phone, for his radio programme on BBC WM (West Midlands). After the meal, several of us found a nice spot to have a little more red wine on one of those lovely continental late summer evenings (it feels like summer to me out here -- much warmer than England is at the moment).

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