“Sherlock” Season 3 DVD extra: ‘Shooting Sherlock’
This is a transcript of new material which appears only on the ‘Shooting Sherlock’ Special Feature of the Season 3 DVD. It does not include a transcript of the clips from the episodes which are shown throughout the feature, nor does it include descriptions of every visual moment. I haven’t transcribed every ‘er’ and ‘um’ and stutter as the interviewees speak but I hope that it may be useful in particular to viewers whose first language is not English and who are unable to access the subtitles.
Warning: Contains major spoilers for “His Last Vow.” Enter with care if you haven’t seen the episode yet.
As always, please remember that some of the comments made by people may look serious in plain print but are actually meant sarcastically or humorously.
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Season 3 DVD extra: ‘Shooting Sherlock’
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: It’s event television. To have something that you can sort of fix a target on and go, “Well, this is ... There are only three, and we know that from these three we’re gonna have something to talk about, something to share and something to enjoy.” I do think that’s what we do very well.
MARTIN FREEMAN: When you’re doing something a while, it gets harder and harder to be surprised and to surprise people. So it’s quite a tall order, actually, to surprise us. If we lead people down to thinking that we have softened, we want that, because we’re gonna hit them right in the solar plexus in Episode 3.
BENEDICT: Sherlock getting shot was a fantastic thing to film. It was just fun to be a part of. It’s one of those ones that I don’t want to see until it actually airs because it will ... it will be majestic, I think, once it’s all sewn together. I hope it is, and you guys can be the judge of it.
On the set of Magnussen’s penthouse apartment. A clapperboard is clicked down.
VOICE: B-marker. Fifty frames.
BENEDICT: We have a fantastic villain by the name of Charles Augustus Magnussen, which Lars Mikkelsen plays with an amazing Danish cool.
LARS MIKKELSEN: I think he’s left most of what we would recognise as feelings behind years ago. (He laughs.) He doesn’t apply to ethics and moral the way we do. All the things that we can’t do is just what he does, you know?
MARTIN: Mary has a dark secret. Magnussen knows the details of this dark secret and he’s gonna hold it over her and use it. I mean, he’s basically a genius at using information to manipulate people.
AMANDA ABBINGTON: When I was filming Episodes 1 and 2, I didn’t know what her story was gonna be. I hadn’t been told.
MARTIN: Amanda certainly wasn’t imbuing it with ‘spirit of assassin.’
AMANDA: I’m playing it all very innocently which is ... which kind of helped. I would have played her differently had I known her story, her back story.
MARTIN: Retrospectively, people will see Episode 3 and go, “Yeah, there was that bit in Episode 1 that she was ...” but, trust me, we weren’t filming it like that, d’you know what I mean? We weren’t playing it like that.
AMANDA: It’s such a gift of a part, you know. It really is. It’s ... you think she’s this quite innocent, sweet, loyal, non-threatening girlfriend stroke wife, but actually she becomes this amazing, dangerous assassin, and it’s such a fantastic journey.
BENEDICT: What she is is a new best friend of Sherlock’s as well as the most extraordinary partner for this danger-obsessed man that is John Watson.
MARTIN: I think that’s what’s scary for John is, obviously, “Am I really so doomed to, like ... My friend and my lover now – they’re essentially psychopaths.” D’you know what I mean? A form of psychopath, you know – which isn’t a great CV heading!
NEVILLE KIDD (Director of Photography, ‘His Last Vow’): On Sherlock, as the DoP, you want to push the images as far as you can – make it as exciting, fast-paced and as stylised as you can. You’re basically working on the best-looking show in TV, so you want to keep the standard high. That’s my pressure, and that’s my challenge.
DANNY HARGREAVES (Physical Special Effects Supervisor): There’s lots of bullet hits, there’s lots of atmospheric effects; and today we’re obviously here [in Magnussen’s apartment set] doing the rig that you see behind me.
(Behind Danny is a slender metal frame which supported Benedict while Sherlock slowly fell backwards after being shot by Mary.)
BENEDICT: We had this fantastic rig which meant that I could fall backwards – something, I think, extrapolated from the brilliance of [Paul] McGuigan and Arwel [Jones] in Series 2 in Episode 1. Irene Adler, having drugged Sherlock, takes him on an explanation of the backpacker and how he died, and gets it. And she says, “Genius. You got all that from one look? Clever really is the new sexy,” and I just try to respond to her and go, “I, I, I ...” and fall back, drugged, into a bed, which we had on a hydraulic in the middle of a field. It was just launched up; I hit it on the pillow; we marked that spot; and there’s a sort of a plate shot and I put my head in exactly the same position on the real bed, on the real pillow in his bedroom. It was just a very fluid, beautiful, balletic piece of film-making; and this has been the same.
DANNY: This is a massive part of the episode, you know. Sherlock’s getting shot, you know. Does he survive, does he not, you know? And so what we were trying to do there is give him that kind of tipping motion of a controlled move so that when he falls back, we can make the most of it by giving the appearance that the whole room is tipping as well.
(While Danny is speaking we see footage of Benedict rehearsing the fall as he leans slowly backwards on the rig.)
DANNY: We measured Benedict very, very quickly, ’cause he had to run off and shoot a scene – very quickly drew an outline of his body and then we just made this specific rig for it; and it’s a low-profile rig which is designed to sort of fill the contours of his legs and his back so it’s comfortable for him. And then it’s on a manual kind of a lever, really, and it’s got a ... One of my colleagues is outside the set and he’s operating it in a controlled move. I wanted to take the mechanical edge away from that control and had it as a manual operation, just ’cause it just meant that we can get that really smooth move, rather than using a load of pistons and bits and pieces. So it was a lot more controllable that way.
WILL COHEN (VFX Executive Producer): Sherlock is a television series where the production team try and achieve as much as they possibly can ‘in camera’ and then look to Visual Effects to come in afterwards and just try and enhance what they have in order to help support the narrative. It’s one of those shows where the aim is to try and make the visual effects appear completely real and seamless, so that you don’t really notice that there’s been any CG done on the show while you’re watching it.
On set, a woman calls “Action” and Benedict/Sherlock falls slowly backwards on the rig.
NEVILLE: Sherlock’s style is keeping the cameras moving, very kind of dynamic shots that kind of immediately you go, “Wow, that’s a great shot! That’s a great composition!” You’re constantly visually stimulated as a viewer, and that goes along with the storylines and keeps everything kind of racing along.
AMANDA: Sherlock is dumbfounded, because he’s under the impression that it’s somebody else. When Mary turns and it’s her, the first thing he thinks is, “I’ve got it wrong.” Secondly, he’s like, “Oh my God, it’s Mary!” and I think ... personally I think he has a little bit of respect for her. She’s protecting John and also she can take care of herself, and she’s cleverer than he thought she was.
JEAN-CLAUDE DEGUARA (VFX Supervisor): Mary pulls the gun up and shoots, and we’re gonna do a track-in on the camera very fast, so that just the quicker the move is, that when you play it back in slow motion, it feels like a nicer moved camera. So this will be acting as a tracking marker. There will be a CGI bullet that we’ll then put into the gun. That bullet will just be moving through it quite slowly with a nice little trail behind it.
ELEANOR SUTTON (Compositor): The gun’s being shot; it was shot with a very high frame rate. We’re able to speed it up much faster than real-time where it was needed, and then for the bullet-time section we’re able to slow it right down. We made the 3D bullet and animated it across so it matched the shooting of the gun from the footage, and we’ve done some air distortion. This [the air trail] was made to follow the bullet. It’s a three-dimensional swirl so that then I would be able to distort the footage through that shape so that then it gave the impression of air flow behind the bullet.
BENEDICT: First of all he gets shot, then immediately Molly is a voice and Anderson is a voice coming to his mind as scientific advice on the ballistics, on the entry wound, on the impact of the bullet, on what he will die of and – in that split milli-milli-millisecond – he realises he has to fall backwards to stop the wound from haemorrhaging. He’s not gonna die of the entry wound; there’s no shattering of a mirror behind him; it’s ... the bullet’s in him. He will die of blood loss, so to stop that, it’s better for him to fall on his back. So then the fall begins and, within the fall, all the other traumas start to kick in – the pain of it, what’s actually happening to him; his body’s going into shock as he’s falling. It’s incredibly painful. He’s flying down corridors; he’s on a morgue table; he’s seeing himself dead; he’s running away from himself with Molly saying, “Don’t panic – whatever you do, don’t panic.”
LOUISE BREALEY: I’m spending a lot of time in the Mind Palace in Episode 3, so I’m out of focus a lot ... (she laughs) ... which is great! And, uh, I get to do some slappage. (She slaps one hand with the other one.) I’ve been practising. Benedict mainly was holding his hand up and having me slap his hand for a bit because I’m ... I’ve got slight binocularity problems, so my distance judgement’s not ideal! So, er, so yeah. But it was all right. I have to slap him. I’ve got some more slaps to do. I haven’t done them all yet. Two down, two to go. (She giggles.) So Benedict’s bearing up! A lot of slapping; a lot of talk of bullets and what-not.
A clip of Sherlock looking down at the hole in his chest, and then the blood starting to come out of it.
DANNY: We did the first bullet hit you see on Benedict, and it was a very particular effect. Ordinarily we’d just do a bullet hit with blood, but Nick [Hurran] – the Director – was very specific that he wanted to see the bullet hole first and then a moment, a beat, and then start seeing the blood seep – maybe to give the audience a “Maybe he survived it,” or whatever, but then when you start seeing the blood, you know he’s really injured. Obviously we didn’t shoot him for real, so we had a padded pad that kicks and makes a hole in the clothing, and then we had like a blood tube pumping blood and that’s what you saw – the little bit of blood pumping out.
MATTHEW MCDOUGAL (Compositor): This initial shot here [of a close-up of Sherlock’s shirt with some blood coming from the bullet wound] we got from Production. He’s already got a hole in his shirt and it already has some effects done on set where the blood is actually coming out. What the producers wanted was for there to be an effect that, when the blood comes out, you can see the blood start absorbing into the shirt. We did this by integrating just a small red patch that we managed to feather out and sort of get it to coincide with the moment when the blood comes out of the shirt.
NEVILLE: We’re trying to think of ideas that are new as well, because as technology changes, we can introduce new camera ideas – you know, the Matrix-style kind of shots where we stop-frame, kind of one-eighty degrees in a fight sequence. You could spend a lot of money having, like, fifty cameras to get that same shot. As technology improves, we can cheat it along with a bit of will of the Grips and the whole kind of team that we’ve got. We’ve come up with new methods to create those kind of shots that would normally cost you tens of thousands of pounds.
SUE VERTUE (Series Producer): What’s quite interesting about the directors – and we have three different directors here – and it’s sort of a health... not competition as much, but they all want to do something that somebody hasn’t done before, so, to Sherlock each one wants to add something fresh and new; a different kind of shot. We just had one where this sort of wood goes round with a bicycle wheel and, you know, it’s lovely when you see something exciting and fresh that you’ve never seen before.
NEVILLE: The bicycle wheel idea [to circle the camera around rapidly in Magnussen’s apartment] came up with something I saw on Youtube. I went to Nick, the Director, and it was an idea of putting a small camera on an electric fan and spinning it round. And I looked at the footage and the footage was amazing, but we could do it bigger and better. So we took the same ideas, same principles, applied it to bigger cameras and made a whole rig; and we spent weeks working out the best way of doing it, trying to find a replacement for the fan. We came up with the bicycle wheel. I think we’re on, you know – it’s the third version of the rig was the one we finally used.
BENEDICT: The bicycle rig was a beautiful thing as well. As Mary shoots me, I go down and then, as the camera comes around again, she’s striking Magnussen and he falls to the ground. I love all that. I love being balletic with the camera.
NEVILLE: It was quite an important moment with the bicycle rig because it was the first outing, the first time we’d used it, and we’d put a lot of planning into it. We tested it; it worked. But there’s a little bit of trepidation: will it work on the day when you’ve got all the actors in, you’ve got the Director, you’ve got the Execs? And thankfully, it worked!
LOUISE: Very exciting. Benedict was on that thing ... (she mimes him falling backwards on the metal rig) ... that helps you fall over today, and I was devastated that I wasn’t allowed to play on it. (She giggles.)
BENEDICT: It’s a lovely sensation. The coat sort of flies up, and you have time to think, and they have time to cut in to all these segments as he’s falling. Then he hits the ground, and then we’re back into reality – John’s up the stairs, Mary’s gone, Magnussen’s been struck to the floor but witnessed the shooting, so into the ambulance he goes.
WILL: This is a very strong visual show, Sherlock. It pushes the boundaries of storytelling on television. It’s very modern, it’s very slick, and everybody’s really working together to push it in that direction.
BENEDICT: It’s one of those great combinations of writing, brilliant directorial ideas from Nick, and phenomenal expertise in the Art department; and the SFX boys, as well, with this incredible rig. Remarkable. Really, really cool.
A full list of episode transcripts, DVD commentary summaries/transcripts, and transcripts of the DVD special features can be found here.