Tuesday, 30 October 2007


When you are working on a film or television show, you are assigned a caravan (also known as a trailer or a Winnebago) to while away the time between when you are needed on set. This may sound grand but the reality is more likely to be a shabby room with muddy carpets, no running water and at least one other body and all your costumes to share with. Occasionally, they are more luxurious depending on budget and status, but even in the States your dressing room might be a giant lorry divided into sub-sections with room for a chair and table, really a cattle truck for actors. Because the one thing that you have to remember about the way you are looked after on a film is that if anyone is taking care of you it is because that is their job and it is only in order to make everyone's life easier. It is better if you are parked out of the way, not getting your costume creased/wet/dirty. It is better if you don't get sick - days off are expensive for a production. It is better if you are always somewhere that the assistant directors can find you, immediately. And it is better when you are not getting in the way of everyone else doing their job.

I think for some years my children were under the impression that I furnished caravans for a living; so much time did I spend in them. But I have enjoyed my caravan days. When I was 18 I worked on a Disney film called 'Return to Oz', based on the Frank L Baum 'Oz' books. I was playing Princess Mombi, a character who had to remove and change her head, so even though I was only in the film for a few minutes and most of those were headless, I had to be there waiting for all the different special effects departments. I had a dressing room about 12 by 8 feet and was in it, pretty much on my own, from 7 in the morning, after hair and make-up, until about 7 in the evening, for 6 weeks. When I was on set there were so many extraordinary sights; gymnasts working with wheels on their hands and feet, actors on stilts with pumpkin heads, electronic chickens, puppets. It was a beautiful circus. When I was waiting in my dressing room, it felt peaceful and I think I learned then how to occupy myself when on 'stand-by'. A book, some crosswords, music and a script and days can pass quite easily. I had a fantastic time.

So I had become somewhat spoiled by having a 'room of my own' on set when I started work on Zeffirelli's film of 'The Young Tosacanini'. Early filming took place in Portugal in the bowels of a large freighter, dressed to resemble the Third Class deck of an Eighteenth Century ship. There were no bathrooms at the docks, no changing rooms and nowhere to sit. As the star, C.Thomas Howell, who was playing Toscanini, had a room on the ship that had been prepared for him. Quite right, but I was kicking my heels harbour side. I had signed up to the film for a 6-month contract and in the first week of filming I was anxious about how the rest of the production was going to be. Hot and bothered in my nun's costume I worked myself up into a bit of a state and finally approached a producer and asked if I could have a caravan to wait in and change for the week's filming. "Absolutely," I was assured and filming continued. The following day, with no sign of any change in the facilities I enquired after the caravan. "Ah! There no caravans in Portugal, so sorry." I was told. I found it a little hard to believe that in the whole of Portugal, in 1987 and out of season, there was not a single portacabin, caravan or trailer for hire. I asked again and, I am ashamed to say, I was quite insistent. Even the great director became involved, taking me aside with a jovial wink and remarking on the justness of my cause.

I waited, messages came back from the caravan front line. Something had been arranged, something had been found. It was on its way, it would be there soon. Feeling triumphant, I looked forward to some shelter and a chair, maybe even a tap. When we next surfaced from shooting a long sequence with a dying passenger, some moments of despair and nuns praying, I was told my promised caravan was waiting. I tripped down the gangplank with a light heart; I had stood up for myself and earned the respect of the company. Searching along the dock, the object of my affection came slowly into focus. It was a little smaller than I hoped, but never mind. It had rather a large window along one side and some sort of decoration on top, how jolly. But was that writing along the side? Was there some sort of photograph or painting on the window? As I drew closer, I realised exactly what sort of accommodation my petulance had secured, a Hot Dog Stand. Complete with price list and buns and a deep freeze, my caravan was fully equipped to cater for a small crowd. With the briefest of hesitations, I pulled opened the door and jumped in. And there I sat for four busy days, declining all requests for snacks as the residents of Lisbon toured the set.


  1. I`m familiar with those caravans you mention because I see them almost daily around my neighbourhood. Lately, the area where I live is being used for the shooting of TV Commercials, Films or TV shows. I usually see them when I go to or come back from work. I've seen different kinds of trailers, some more luxurious than others(as you mentioned), but I can assure you that I've never seen a Hot Dog Stand being used as one!! lol ;-) You are one of a kind ;-) :D

  2. Sophie, My only comment is that was one funny commentary!