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Shooting The Calendar
"It was the hardest thing I've ever done,” says Nigel Cole, of filming the calendar scenes. "Many of the actresses have never taken off their clothes on screen or in public. Many are considerably older than actresses who are prepared to take off their clothes on film, and we couldn't and didn't want to use body doubles. We did it mid-shoot because that gave us time to get to know each other and avoided having it looming over us throughout the whole shoot.” 

The original calendar was, says the director, the biggest help in giving both the cast and the crew inspiration for what they had to achieve and how the end result had to look. Cinematographer Ashley Rowe consulted with photographer Terry Logan on how he had lit the scenes. "Terry used just a 1000 watt lamp and the look was very natural. We had to use more light for the filming, but we just boosted the natural light sources and really tried to keep it very simple and unfussy. The stockings over the lens gave more softness and helped even out skin tones because we were very keen for the women to look as beautiful as possible. I've done nude scenes before, but this was different, partly because of the age of the actresses but also because there would be a permanent reminder of the scene for the calendar. But these women are professionals with years of experience and they know how to look their best.” 

Once the filming was over, stills photographer Jaap Buitendijk stepped in to take the shot to use as the final calendar picture. Although not exact replicas of the original photographs, many of the film's stills are very similar. Post-production provided some interesting challenges for Buitendijk: "I had to digitally alter some of the photos so as not to breach the guidelines which Nigel Cole and the producers had set. For example, on Celia Imrie's photo, the strategically-placed currant buns had to be enlarged to preserve her modesty properly.” 

For the actresses themselves, it was an experience both intimidating and liberating. Says Julie Walters, "If Angela, Tricia and the other women could do it, how could we not do it? They were the brave ones, the pioneers, not us. And being part of a group made a big difference. By the time we got round to doing the group photo, we were all quite blasé about it!” 

Annette Crosbie agrees: "We were apprehensive, partly because we had to take our clothes off not in front of just one man, but in front of a whole crew. Strangely, during the taking of the group photo, a man whom I'd never seen before kept appearing behind me. It turned out he was the man in charge of the gas fire. There must have been something seriously wrong with the fire because he came back three times to look at it!” 

"One of the characters in the film says ‘You can't see anything in the photos, but I expect there'll be considerably more on display in the room!',” says Cole. "That's what concerned them. But the actresses had come up with a pact that they would all go naked if needed or not, to support each other. Some could have been wearing a bikini but they didn't because of that group solidarity.” 

Temperamental weather, digital tampering with currant buns, recreating the Jay Leno show in Los Angeles and of course the nude scenes all made the filming experience a tough but rewarding challenge for the whole team. "What surprised people about the script was that it's not just about a group of women who do something extraordinary,” says Suzanne Mackie. "It's about what might happen when they do that extraordinary thing. The third act is about the seduction of fame, how fame is mad and crazy and how these women pull each other back to reality.”


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