Ariane DeVere (arianedevere) wrote,
Ariane DeVere

“Good Omens” Episode 1 – ‘In The Beginning’ DVD commentary

“Good Omens” Episode 1 – ‘In The Beginning’ DVD commentary

This is not a word-for-word transcript, nor have I written up every single comment made. I hope, however, that – particularly because there are no subtitles – this may be helpful to people whose first language is not English or who struggle with audio-only dialogue.
Further extracts may be added in due course.
Please remember that some of the comments made by people may look serious in plain print but were frequently meant sarcastically or humorously.

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Direct links: Episode 1 / Episode 2 / Episode 3 / Episode 4 / Episode 5 / Episode 6

Commentary by Neil Gaiman and Douglas Mackinnon

NEIL: So, WAR, which of course pulls back into WARNING, and we took this directly from the book.
DOUGLAS: Is this from a book?!
NEIL: It is! It’s from a book called Good Omens by Terry Pratchett, Sir Terry Pratchett as was, and me.
[Transcriber’s note: Neil describes him as ‘Sir Terry Pratchett as was’ because a person’s knighthood dies with him. Technically, therefore, although people can and will still refer to him as ‘Sir Terry Pratchett,’ Terry is no longer a knight.]

The introductory piece was mostly written by Neil in the book and was near the beginning but initially in the script he put it in the middle of the episode but when they were putting the final episode together they realised that it made more sense to see it at the beginning.

They pour praise on Peter Anderson who made the entire opening sequence, who had to follow various notes saying things like, ‘More dinosaurs’ and ‘Can he come back on and shake his fist and run away again?’ and generally saying, ‘Faster, faster, faster’ quite a lot, and ‘More stuff.’ Neil says that it’s a little tribute to Douglas Adams and the TV version of
The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Douglas suggests that Douglas Adams influences Good Omens; Neil thinks that classic English comedy influences the whole book.
NEIL: I still miss him. I miss Terry; I miss Douglas.
DOUGLAS: Well, if there is an afterlife and Frances McDormand is God, that would not be bad.
NEIL: It’s true, except that both Terry and Doug were very atheist, so they’d be really grumpy! They’d be like, “Oh, I was wrong all my life!”

Douglas says that the first sight of the desert outside Eden is a mixture of real and fake which was put together by Milk, their CGI specialists. They had several ideas of what Eden should look like and decided not to make the outline square. The garden is a real place, as is the waterfall behind the Tree of Knowledge.

The serpent is based on the Australian black snake, a red-bellied snake.

NEIL: I like the idea that, if you’re the kind of person who is gonna be offended by a non-white Adam and Eve, you can stop watching now. But most people aren’t.

He points out that when Adam and Eve leave the garden you can see Table Mountain in the background, though it [deliberately] doesn’t look like Table Mountain. Douglas says that the desert in that scene is real desert; it was shot near Cape Town in South Africa at the Atlantis Dunes. Neil says it’s more like a weird inland beach.

Neil says the fact that David Tennant’s character was called Crawly at this point puzzled some listeners whose first language is not English, as well as people who couldn’t tell the difference between the two versions of his name. Douglas says it also puzzled the entire AD department who never got the name right.

DOUGLAS: Happily, in the scheduling terms, this was one of the last scenes that we shot with David and Michael, which is the right time to shoot such a scene, an opening scene, because they know their characters inside out.
NEIL: Yes, they knew who they were and they played all of the subtext, and they’re glorious. Of course, poor David is up there in a desert with the wind blowing, with giant contact lenses on.
DOUGLAS: And with sand wanting to get into every pore of his eye.
NEIL: And he said that was the hardest day of all shooting.

They worked a lot with the CGI of the wings to try and make them look very organic. Neil says there’s a line in the book which says that demons and angels have the same wings; he decided it meant that demons didn’t have bat wings or something like that. He thinks that if we ever get to see more angels or demons, maybe they’ll have different coloured wings – “except for Beelzebub, who probably has giant fly wings.”

When the lion approaches, Adam and Eve were shot in South Africa, but the lion was shot in a greenscreen studio in Oxfordshire, England, months later. “The lion did very well,” Douglas says. “That’s good acting,” Neil agrees. “Excellent lion acting.”

Neil points out that Aziraphale’s wing tip also covers Adam and Eve, perspective-wise.
NEIL: People have pointed out that the piano in the very very last shot of the last episode reflects that wing, and I’ve always meant to ask you if that was intentional or just gloriously accidental.
DOUGLAS: It was gloriously intentional.

Peter Anderson Studios made the opening titles, which Neil says are partway between Edward Gorey, Terry Gilliam and Hieronymus Bosch. Douglas says it’s based around an installation by William Kentridge which he saw in South Africa during filming, which inspired the procession. Neil points out that the faces of almost everyone in the procession are based on either David’s or Michael’s face. Neil remembers that the colours in the opening titles were taken from a tile which Douglas saw in a documentary about a mosque in Istanbul, and they used it as a colour reference for everything in Good Omens.

In the original script all sorts of stuff happened before the graveyard scene – Neil thinks it was about fifteen minutes’ worth of stuff – but they threw most of it away because this is where the story actually starts.
DOUGLAS: Funnily enough, we discovered that the best structure for the beginning of Good Omens was in the book!
NEIL: Yes. You were the one, I think, who came up with this, and when I sat and watched it and realised it worked, somewhere 26-year-old Neil Gaiman was smirking at me.
The church and graveyard are in England. For some time they couldn’t get the right schedule to film there and they scoped out other places but eventually managed to film in this location.
DOUGLAS: On the night we were filming, our amazing DoP [Director of Photography] Gavin Finney said to me, “Come round the back of this church. There’s something I’ve got to show you,” which I would normally not want to go and do with a DoP(!) but he took me round the back and showed me a gravestone which was Terry Pratchett’s aunty, I think it was, who was buried in the grounds of this graveyard.
NEIL: I love the beautiful and weird coincidences.

Hastur and Ligur are the nearest things to baddies in the series. Neil loves their blankness; they don’t get the modern world and they don’t get Crowley.

NEIL: People have asked if [Crowley’s signature] is the same pattern as the snake [tattoo]. No, that’s just ...
DOUGLAS: That’s just David making it up on the night.
NEIL: David making it up and wiggling his finger around and then us following it with fire, so if it has become a snake-like pattern, that is the glorious coincidences of Good Omens once again.
DOUGLAS: I do think the little bits of fire and the hand shows us the way that CG is going to be used in the entire series, because it feels very organic and messy and not all lined up perfect, and that’s something I really wanted to work with to get it feeling different.

In the book the car is a 1926 Bentley but they don’t look very impressive, but the 1933 Bentley – “which, incidentally, we were able to obtain,” says Neil ...
DOUGLAS: I think what you’re saying is, “It’s a 1933 Bentley because that’s the Bentley we could get!”
NEIL: Yes, that is exactly what I’m getting at! I was ...
DOUGLAS: ... skirting round it!
NEIL: Big skirt!

NEIL: There’s a Freddie Mercury impersonator impersonating Freddie Mercury playing the Devil!
DOUGLAS: A lot of this driving stuff was done without moving at all. That lorry is not moving at all – we just put the camera past it. ... No babies were harmed in the making of Good Omens at all.
NEIL: Then why is it crying?
DOUGLAS: It’s crying because it’s enjoying the notes I gave it in direction terms.

The next scene is in a Chinese restaurant which they turned into a sushi restaurant.
NEIL: Terry and I had a standing plan that we were going to have sushi. There was going to be a scene where sushi was eaten and we were going to be extras. We were going to sit in the background eating sushi. And we were so looking forward to this, so I wrote this scene with it being sushi – even though Terry was gone – with that in mind, and I thought, “I’ll sit and I’ll eat lots of sushi as an extra. This’ll be my scene as an extra. I’ll just be in the background.” And then, on the day, or a couple of days before, I realised that I couldn’t do it.
DOUGLAS: You never told me this before. I might have pushed you into doing it, but I think you were right not to tell me.
NEIL: I was keeping it to meself, ’cause I was always like, “Oh, maybe this’ll be my cameo,” and then I couldn’t. I was just so sad ’cause Terry wasn’t there, and it was probably the day that I missed Terry the most, of all of the filming, was just this one scene ’cause it was written for Terry and all of the sushi meals we’d ever had.

(First sight of Arthur and Deirdre’s car and its number plate.)
DOUGLAS: What’s that backwards, I wonder?
NEIL: TAR ... DIS. Now I wonder what that means?!
DOUGLAS: I’ve no idea.
NEIL: Pretty strange.

DOUGLAS: Danny [Daniel Mays] and Sian [Brooke]: these are leading actors in their own right, just doing a wonderful little turn for us.
NEIL: The wonderful thing about Good Omens all the way through was the amount of goodwill. There was love for the book and people came in because they wanted to do it. Nick Offerman [Thaddeus Dowling] offered to fly himself to South Africa to be in it, and we turned him down and we flew him, but he came to South Africa for two days of shooting in a tiny part because he loved Good Omens and because he wanted to do it.
DOUGLAS: And our First AD said to him in South Africa, “You’ve come a long way for only a few lines,” and he said, “I would have come twice as far for half the lines.”

The massive statue in the first scene with the nuns was made by Michael Ralph, Production Designer. Rob Wilkins [Executive Producer and Terry Pratchett’s Representative on Earth] “took possession” of it afterwards.

Nina Sosanya [Sister Mary Loquacious] told Neil that she reads
Good Omens once a year and that it’s her “happy place.” She helped the team find the tone of the series. When she read for the role she didn’t try to play the role for laughs. Douglas remembers himself and Neil watching her and going, “That’s it. That’s Good Omens in terms of acting tone.” Too many other actors had tried to be funny with their funny lines and it just didn’t work. Nina was the first person to get the tone right.

All the nuns have facial hair which was added by Nosh [Anna Oldham, Make Up and Hair Designer], who took pleasure in giving them hairs and moles and warts.

Even when they were about to start filming, some members of the crew hadn’t got their heads around the baby swap. Neil said,
“But that was in the very first draft of the script!” Douglas says that some of the actors were equally confused.

Although it was in the book, Douglas added the moment when Crowley miracles the lights off on the car. Neil says he left it out of the script because he thought it would be expensive and complicated, but Douglas said,
“No, we’ll just have a man in the car and he’s gonna turn them off!”

Daniel Mays’ favourite bit was when he got to call David Tennant “Doctor.”

The hands doing the tricks with the playing cards are those of Stuart Lightbody. He is a magician from Cape Town. When one of the baby cards transforms into a picture of the Devil, it’s an actual trick performed by Stuart; it’s not done in Post-production.

Gareth Spensley [Digital Intermediate Colorist] made the door numbers of the birthing rooms shimmer and wobble slightly. He also replaced about 80% of the skies during the series with the right skies for the scenes.

There’s a table tennis table in the hallway of the nunnery. It’s a tribute to a line in the book which says that on alternate Tuesdays the nuns get a day off and they’re allowed to stop chattering and play table tennis. Douglas wonders whether it’s that they can
either stop chattering or play table tennis, but neither of them confirms which it is.

The two babies beside Deirdre’s bed are real twins.

The birthing room scenes were filmed in an abandoned school. Each of the rooms is actually filmed in the same room.

Extra dialogue was written for those scenes because of the way that the editor wanted to edit the scenes.

During filming of these scenes Neil was put to work saying all of God’s voiceovers.

NEIL: [It] may just have been your way of keeping me out of trouble for the day.
DOUGLAS: I think it was.

Douglas still isn’t sure he’s happy with the black and white ‘flashback’ when we see what the nuns think the other is saying, but he thinks that the black and white sequence helps the audience understand that those things weren’t actually said. Neil points out that in some way the nuns are playing each other, which reflects what happens in Episode 6.

Douglas points out that Neil nicknamed Gareth Spensley ‘Warlock.’

NEIL: I did say that he was a warlock. In fact, I suggested on several occasions that we should gather together and burn him for some of the things that he managed to do!
DOUGLAS: But he was too useful!
NEIL: He was just too useful to burn.

Originally Neil was asked to script the scenes so that the audience thought that the Americans had got the Antichrist, but he thought it made it too much hard work for the audience. Also it wasn’t funny that the audience didn’t know that everyone had screwed up the swap.

Praise is poured on Michael Ralph’s bookshop set. Neil says that all of the crew were saying that they wanted to live there; Neil himself would have liked to live there.

NEIL: There’s the last working telephone box in England!

Douglas says that “some of our American friends” didn’t realise that the establishing shot of St James’s Park shows Buckingham Palace; “they thought it was just an old building.”
NEIL: You can’t blame them. You’d think that a palace would have more palace-y bits.
They cut clips of various pairs of spies having conversations before the scene moved to Aziraphale and Crowley. The pacing felt wrong, so they went straight in. This was the very first scene shot in the series. Douglas always tries not to film early scenes during the first week but they had no choice here.

[As the boys walk up the steps towards the Bentley]:
DOUGLAS: Here we have a Sherlock Easter Egg that nobody has got, as we speak.
The location of the Diogenes Club in Sherlock can be seen in front of Aziraphale when he stops with his back to Crowley. Douglas had an idea of having a couple of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman lookalikes walk into the club in the background in their Victorian costumes.

When the Bentley races off, it’s actually a digital car.

NEIL: And here we are in another weird Sherlock reference, because we’re in the Criterion restaurant. We are pretending to be in the Ritz but we’re in the Criterion which is ...
DOUGLAS: ... where Watson and Holmes first met.
[Transcriber’s note: Oh no they didn’t, Douglas!]

When Crowley and Aziraphale are walking along the street towards the bookshop, look towards the car coming out of a left turning behind them. Beyond that point, everything is CGI; the actual set ends at that turning. The area around the bookshop is based on the junction of Berwick Street and Broadwick Street in London’s Soho and the shop itself is based on The Blue Posts pub on the corner. The set was built in a disused airfield.

The music in the background of the drunk scene in the bookshop is Schubert’s
String Quintet in C Major, deliberately sped up and slowed down and generally slurred around to reflect the boys’ drunken state.

The scene was much longer both when Neil wrote it and when they shot it; it was based more on the scene in the book. Neil was sad to have to shorten it but it did make him happy as well because what’s left is very efficient. However, he still misses the bits which were removed.

DOUGLAS: What have you got against The Sound of Music, by the way?
NEIL: When I was about five I got taken to see The Sound of Music six or seven different times by well-meaning family members, and that kind of thing just scars you.
DOUGLAS: Did they not like you?!
NEIL: By the end of it, I was ready to climb every mountain to escape!

Douglas points out that it’s not CGI when the wine bottles refill. The vis effects company put pipes into the bottles.
NEIL: People keep asking me, “If [Aziraphale and Crowley] do it like that, are they allowed to re-drink the wine?
DOUGLAS: You wouldn’t want to, would you?

NEIL: And here is Ned Dennehy [Hastur] on Very Tall Shoes.
DOUGLAS: Pointlessly tall shoes, really! But it made him happy.
NEIL: It did.

Maggie Service [Sister Theresa Garrulous] is the longest-serving member of the cast. She was at the original readthrough a year before shooting started and Maggie read several of the roles.

Some of the explosions at the nunnery were real, with the lightning added in as CGI.

During the scene in the bookshop, David’s contact lenses kept twisting, more than at any other time during filming. David does usually wear lenses, so they had a smaller lens underneath the ‘stunt contact lens,’ and the outer ones would sometimes float around. The ‘stunt lens’ is weighted at the bottom to try and keep it in the correct position but during this scene the lenses didn’t always co-operate, so they had to correct them with CGI afterwards.

DOUGLAS: We should probably never tell David Tennant about [that], because if there was a chance to do CGI on all his eyes, he would grab it.

During pre-production, some Executive commented that David and Michael look quite similar, so they had to work hard with make-up and costume to make them easily distinguishable.

DOUGLAS: What was lovely in this scene [with Brother Francis and Warlock] was that Michael Sheen got to do it without any make-up or extra teeth(!) That’s what he looks like! That’s why he doesn’t get recognised in the street! This is what he looks like in everyday life!

DOUGLAS: Lot of animals in this show, Neil.
NEIL: Sorry about that!

The man who is raking the grass in the background was the steadicam operator for Stanley Kubrick in The Shining. He is long-since retired but now works as an extra.

Nanny’s lullaby was the first piece of music which David Arnold wrote for the show, based on Neil’s song written in the script. Neil has since written two extra verses because David wants it sung at a celebration of David Arnold’s music.

Neil thinks that, as CGI goes, the moment when the boys get onto the escalators is his favourite moment.

DOUGLAS: Each one of those flies had to be trained to fly around [Beelzebub’s head]. It took me ages.

The scenes in Hell were filmed in a former abattoir in South Africa.

Heaven was filmed in an office block in Weybridge, England [except for later scenes when you can see various parts of Earth outside].

NEIL: It was hard finding an office block with the planet Earth floating [in it].
DOUGLAS: That’s what sold it for me, to get the planet Earth there. That was a bonus.
NEIL: It was! And every now and then people say, “You have angels on hoverboards.”
DOUGLAS: The truth is, this office, whatever it was before, actually looked like this. We didn’t paint it. It was white floors with white walls and everything else.
All they had to do was put covers on the windows, and bright lights outside.

The scene on the bus was also shot on Day One of filming, or at least during the first week.

DOUGLAS: I remember you saying, “How are we gonna show that we’re in central London?” I said, “Well, we’ll drive the bus round central London!”
NEIL: And that’s exactly what we did!
They kept starting back at the Diogenes Club location but the scene takes place near Piccadilly Circus and you can see the Eros/Anteros statue in the background.

The countdown notices which pop up during the series were done by Peter Anderson.

The signs on the walls of Hell were done by Michael Ralph’s team. Neil wrote the text but had trouble persuading the team to make the signs look badly-done. In the end Michael gave the job to the youngest member of the art team, who had no experience with design and fonts.

The scene in the park with the large model dinosaurs is in Crystal Palace. They wanted to film the scene in the Natural History Museum but the big dinosaur had been replaced with a big whale, plus it would have been more complicated and expensive.

Neil says that this is his favourite scene because David and Michael really knew their characters, plus the magic trick bit was completely improvised.

Douglas deliberately intended to always have Aziraphale on the left and Crowley on the right as we look at them; Neil points out that they only fail when they’re in the Bentley. Douglas grumbles that if they’d been making the show in America it would have been a lot easier because the steering wheel would have been on the other side.

DOUGLAS: But generally speaking, I wanted to do the old Ant and Dec thing which, for international audiences, Ant and Dec are the UK’s most famous television presenters and they always stand together with Ant on the left and Dec on the right. I thought in this case it would just help the audience through visually.
NEIL: Yes. You always know something odd is going on when they’re moving around.
DOUGLAS: One of my great pleasures in life is that David and Michael now, when they do interviews, if they’re not in this order they swap!
NEIL: And of course [Crowley] has now had his hair cut and [we’re] now back to David’s real hair, and he is finally a ginger, which means a lot to Doctor Who fans. People occasionally grumbled to me and they say, “But why? In the book he has black hair or brown hair.” I say, “No – in the book it says he has dark hair,” and he still has dark hair.
DOUGLAS: But in the many ways that David and Michael committed to the show, both of them getting their hair dyed for the show was a sign.
NEIL: We haven’t even talked about poor Michael and what he went through, hair-wise. He will tell you – if any of you run into Michael, just ask him about his hair and what he had to do to keep it fluffy.

The building in the background at Warlock’s birthday party is where The Omen was filmed.

Neil had written that the rabbit was called Harry. On the day of filming Douglas asked the rabbit’s owner what its name was and was told,
“It’s Harry.” When Douglas said that it was a remarkable coincidence, the owner said, “No, it’s not. We grew Harry specially for the part!”

Arthur stealing a Smartie from Adam’s birthday cake was impromptu.

Stuff that worked in the book didn’t sometimes work on screen, so they cut a scene at Warlock’s party where toy guns turned into real ones.

Douglas claims that a real dove was playing dead until it was turned over. [I’m not sure if he’s making that bit up!] People grumble to Neil that it wasn’t Crowley who revived the dove like he did in the book. Neil explains that it was mostly to do with staging on the day.

The tree roots around the den in Hogback Wood were brought in by the art department; the hollow is where a bomb was dropped during the war by a German plane which was offloading before flying home.

The body of the Hell Hound is a real dog.

On the apparent freeze-frame while God narrates that this is the moment when Adam names the Hound, Neil can’t help watching Pepper’s thumb moving when they’re all meant to be motionless.

When they first put the scene together of Ollie the dog running towards Adam, David Arnold made the background music sound quite threatening, and they had to ask him to do it again and make it sound more celebratory.

The final scene in the bookshop was moved from its original position in Episode 2. Originally Gabriel was going to arrive and Crowley had to be hustled out of the shop.

Neil is chuffed at the sight of Aziraphale’s ancient Strad computer which is mentioned in the book and on which he does his accounts.

Nobody from Queen actually plays on the end theme.

DOUGLAS: And there is a dispute from the music department about who’s actually playing the guitar. Some people say – mostly David Arnold – say it was David Arnold ...
NEIL: I thought it was Toby [Pitman].
DOUGLAS: ... others say it was Toby. Toby says it’s Toby, and David says it’s David.
NEIL: Maybe it’s their way of covering up the fact it really was Brian May!

On to Episode 2

PLEASE NOTE: If you post a comment on this commentary and you’re not registered with Dreamwidth/Livejournal, your comment will be screened automatically until I unlock it, so please be patient for it to appear on screen.

A full list of the episode commentary transcripts can be found here.

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