Wednesday, February 7, 2018

My Day in Ros Na Rún, Finale

What’s it like to actually be in Ros na Rún—or, at least, the studio complex where Ros na Rún is filmed? In this final installment of My Day in Ros na Rún, I’ll talk about what it’s like to find yourself in Tigh Thaidhg or in Berni’s living room, and a few surprises I wasn’t expecting!

Annamaria Nic Dhonnacha (Bobbi-Lee) and Marie Bheag Breathnach (Mo) gave us a tour of all the sets, and the physical layout was absolutely fascinating to me. As I mentioned earlier, it was a bit strange at first to see and meet and interact with people I know from TV (“Oh my God, it’s Mack! And he can see me! And now he’s talking to me!”), but I got over that pretty quickly when I realized, “They’re just regular people.” But seeing and walking through the sets NEVER felt “normal” to me, from the first one we saw—the community center—to the last one. Being there is just WEIRD, and—here’s that word again—surreal.

There are two types of sets at Ros na Rún, and there is probably a technical term for them, but I don’t know what it is, so I’ll call them “interior/exterior” and “interior-only.” As you’ve seen, there are “streets” in Ros na Rún that the characters walk along and drive on, and sometimes they will walk from, say, the street to the shop, open the front door, and walk into the shop. I’m calling those “interior/exterior” sets because they exist as an exterior, inside which is the actual interior set for that location. So when you walk from the street into the front door of the shop, you are actually in the shop set. The shop, the café, and the pub are all interior/exterior sets, so when you see characters enter the pub from the street, they are actually going into the pub.

On the other hand, what I’m calling “interior-only” sets don’t have an exterior at all, or they may be represented by a door on the street, but it’s a door that doesn’t go anywhere, or at least doesn’t go to the set it’s pretending to house. The residential sets are like this, but so are Gaudi, the community center, Loinnir, and the pharmacy. These sets are laid out in rows in a mazelike cluster of rooms inside a big building I can only describe as being like a big two-story warehouse. Downstairs I saw sets like the community center (including the radio station), Gaudi, and the pharmacy. A lot of the residential sets are upstairs, including Vince and Caitríona’s (which I think is the first one we saw at the top of the stairs), Berni’s (which someone in our group jokingly introduced as something like, “And here’s the house fifteen people live in”), David and Gráinne’s, and the B&B. I think the pub’s living areas are up there, too, but I may be wrong, and I also think Loinnir is upstairs. (Anyone with better knowledge than mine, please correct me.) There was one set (maybe John Joe’s kitchen?) that made either Annamaria or Marie declare, “I don’t think I’ve ever been in here!”

Most of the sets felt smaller to me than they seem on TV. Gaudi is a good example of that—it looks sprawling onscreen, but in person felt quite compact. The pub was perhaps slightly smaller than I imagined, but there is more room to move around behind the bar than I was expecting. Berni’s flat is huge, and has an entire section with a sofa and a fireplace that I had forgotten existed. I can’t remember ever seeing Berni’s fireplace! The kitchen area in Berni’s flat seems large, too, and like it would be easier for the actors to move around than some of the others such as the B&B, which feels quite small and cozy.

During the tour and throughout the day a few of the actors mentioned that some sets can be difficult to film on because the shadows are tricky—I can’t remember which, but I think the B&B is one of those problematic “shadow sets.” Of course none of these rooms have ceilings on them, or at least not where you’d expect them to be—the tops are open and when you look up there are tons of lights and wires and equipment, and then way above that is the warehouse ceiling that actually keeps the building warm and dry. The very high ceilings keep the sets from feeling too claustrophobic despite their small sizes, as does the fact that most of them only have walls on three sides.

Marie and Annamaria were so sweet leading us around, and Annamaria in particular seemed to really enjoy the looks of wonder and delight on our faces as we walked from set to set and found ourselves transported to this world we’ve spent so much time watching on TV. By the time we got upstairs we were playing a game of “Name that room,” and it was fascinating how tricky it often was to recognize a room because were looking at it from “the wrong angle”—that is, an angle from which we don’t normally see it onscreen. For example, when we first entered David and Gráinne’s from where the hallway to their bedroom would be onscreen, I didn’t recognize the place at all, but once we moved toward the middle of the room and I adjusted my angle so that the kitchen was on the left and the living room was on the right, it was obvious where we were. This happened a few times upstairs, where I didn’t recognize where we were standing even though I’ve seen it a thousand times because we weren’t standing in “the right place.”

The attention to detail in all the sets is really amazing, and a testament to the hard work of the design and set teams. These places feel real, even though they haven’t got ceilings on them and most of them are missing a wall or two! They work really hard to make the sets feel right for the characters who inhabit them. For example, Annamaria pointed out to me the different little touches and knickknacks that represent David and Gráinne’s distinct personalities in their flat. Next time you’re watching a scene that takes place there, look around and notice which of the props look “Gráinne” and which look “David.” In the B&B set, they pointed out to us that the family photos on the wall are actually of the actors who play Máire and Peadar’s real-life families, and there are photos from the various actors’ real lives scattered throughout the sets to make the place seem more real.

For me, the two most interesting sets were the shop and, of course, Tigh Thaidhg. The shop is fascinating because when you are in it, it feels uncannily like you’re in an actual shop, except with the ceiling missing and a lot of extra lights and cables running around just out of sight. The shelves are all fully stocked with real merchandise, although as Annamaria and Marie pointed out, some of it is glued down. The food in the refrigerated case is real and it’s actually refrigerated. As with many of the other sets we visited, the shop wasn’t being used that day, so the lights were dim and no one was in there, which really made it feel like we were visiting an actual shop that was closed. Being behind the till in the shop was a strange experience for many reasons, including the fact that it’s not an angle we viewers usually get to see the shop from. Marie laughed that the new coffee machine in the shop is “the world’s largest coffee machine,” and she’s right—it’s enormous! The giant plastic ice-cream cone, a staple of my recaps, had been moved inside the shop for the day, and I made sure to take a picture of it.

Tigh Thaidhg is the most iconic location in Ros na Rún, and being in there was probably the strangest of all. I got chills walking into it. Again, the lights were dimmed because it wasn’t in use that day, so it felt like we were sneaking into the pub before opening time and that Tadhg might barrel down the stairs at any moment. Being there with “Bobbi-Lee” and “Mo” made it even more surreal, of course! They invited me to go behind the bar, which was crazy, and it was fun to see what’s actually back there. (Answer: not as much as you’d think.) I was surprised to find that the beer tap actually works—Marie even pulled me a pint! Well, first she handed me a glass and suggested I pull it myself, but when it became clear I had no idea what I was doing, she volunteered to do it for me. The first thing she had to tell me was, “Well, you want to hold the glass down here, not up here where you’ve got it, because that’s where they put their mouths.” Oops. Shows how much I know! (Annamaria laughed that she also can’t pull a decent pint, which I said was appropriate since Bobbi-Lee can’t, either!) Anyway, it was a good pint! I only had a couple of sips because we had places to go and things to see, but I can now saw I’ve had a pint in Tigh Thaidhg pulled by the legendary Mo Gilmartin herself.

I wish someone at Ros na Rún would draw a map of the lot and the sets inside the buildings, because I think viewers would be very interested to know where these places actually are in relation to each other. One of the fun things is that doors don’t lead where you’d think they would, so you may go through a door that’s labeled “Leithreas” and find yourself in, say, the pharmacy, or you go through the door behind the bar at Tigh Thaidhg you’ve seen characters go in and out of a million times and find it…doesn’t really go anywhere. One of the great secrets I found out is that the “front door” of Gaudi doesn’t go anywhere—when characters come from “outside” into the restaurant, they have actually been waiting in a dark empty sliver of a room until their cue. So if you see a large number of characters enter Gaudi either all at once or over the course of a scene, it means they’ve all been crammed into that tiny space in close quarters waiting their turn! The doors to the “toilets” at Gaudi go somewhere unlikely, but now I can’t remember where, but trust me, if you go back there in search of the toilet you’ll be disappointed.

I really wish I’d done a better job taking photos of the exteriors—for example, I should’ve gone over to the famous bus stop and gotten someone to snap a picture of me there! (I can’t remember if it was Marie or Annamaria who joked, “And here’s the bus stop where no buses have ever come.”) I saw the place I call Recycle Pod Park, and the bench where Pádraig hid the mussels instigating this season’s food-poisoning hijinks, too. A few of the sets are in a different location down the road, and I meant to ask more about that, but never got back to it. Marie told me that Mo’s house and Dee and Mack’s place are both at this other location. There’s also a hospital set there, and maybe an office set or some other kind of generic set we see when needed.

Visiting the set also shows you how exact the camera operators have to be when they’re filming the show. There’s not a lot of extra room, which means if they’re even an inch off, you could see the edge of the set, or a lighting rig, or a microphone, or a bunch of cables—or even into a different room! In the exterior scene we shot, not only were there crew members standing all over the place just out of frame, but there was also a ton of equipment and cables everywhere and lights on sticks and all kinds of other things that the camera operators and other crew have to very carefully avoid, both in terms of keeping them out of frame but also to avoid running into them or tripping over them as they’re moving around. So when you see a couple of characters having a private conversation on what seems to be an empty street or the remote Martian tundra, remember that just out of frame there are 10-20 other people moving around.

And that’s all I can think of to tell you about my day in Ros na Rún! If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them. It was truly an amazing day, and I’ll never forget it. I want to thank everyone who was so kind to us and made us feel so welcome, who put up with us asking a thousand questions and wanting to snap photos of everything, and who pretended not to notice how starstruck we were at times! And very special thanks to Annamaria Nic Dhonnacha (Bobbi-Lee) and Marie Bheag Breathnach (Mo), who made it all possible and who spent their entire day with us! GRMMA!

(If you missed them, here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2.)

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