2020-2021 Season,  Illusionary Tales Turn of the Screw

Filming Day for Turn of the Screw

by Makenna Johnston, dramaturg

“Pay no attention to the [film crew] behind the [fire] curtain.”

Dramaturgy work is not limited to the stage; dramaturgs are needed in film as well.  Because of the multimedia nature of The Turn of the Screw, I was able to attend a filming day for some of the pre-recorded scenes. I made sure to attend the day when the most gore and violence would be filmed, because, like those in the Victorian era, I have a fascination with the macabre.


Filming took place on the Pardoe stage behind the fire curtain. This created a dark, rectangular space for the cast and crew to work in. I spent the first few hours as a silent observer, watching the shots get set up again and again. My silence did not last long though, for we dramaturgs sure do like to ask questions! In the moments between shots, I talked with some of the film crew about their jobs. I was super interested in how the sound was being recorded so I spent the most time talking to the audio technicians. They showed me how the mics were set up, explained terminology, and even let me listen to a few minutes of the recording over the headset.

Later in the day, the stage manager asked me to help set up props for a picnic scene. He asked me to investigate how picnics might have looked during Victorian times. I went right to work, happy to be of some help! Paintings from the time provided me with the most information that could be applied to the film. I helped the crew wrap pieces of food in cloth and used a film crew member’s pocket knife to slice up sausage. Because I was so involved in the shot, people thought I was a part of the props team. Throughout the day I helped make the room safe for the fight sequences as well as help the makeup designer apply fake blood to Mile’s headwound. Though every opportunity I had to help was exciting, the most thrilling part of the day was the filming of Ms. Grose’s watery death.  

To prepare for the drowning sequence, an inflatable kiddie pool was set stage left and filled with water from the light lab’s sink. The pool was then covered in duvetyne fabric to hide its playful images of sharks and fish. Small weights were added to keep the fabric submerged. Because the show was double-cast, and only one actress was needed for filming, the film team had to be extra cautious. They needed to angle their shots so that the audience would not be able to tell which actress was playing the character. To achieve this effect, the entire crew had to work to find a solution. After many lighting adjustments, fight choreography practice, and walkthroughs with the director, a solution was found, and we were ready to roll. With only ten minutes left to film with the actress, for she needed to leave, and her costume and wig could only get wet once, the film director set places and called action. It was eerie watching as the Governess plunged Ms. Grose’s head under the water and her limbs flail. Even though I knew what I was seeing was fake, there is something about watching someone drown that puts one on edge. After a few minutes of (safely) drowning, the actress let her hands float limply to the water’s surface, signifying the death of Ms. Grose. The final filmed product was almost as eerie as watching the drowning take place in person.

I am grateful to have spent a day helping with filming for The Turn of the Screw. It was a rewarding and entertaining experience that solidified my belief in the versatility of dramaturgy. Dramaturgs truly have a place everywhere. 


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