Every now and again, we are invited to prepare something for a film set or grass area for a TV production or a public corporate event. Looking back over the years, we've built temporary grass tennis courts for American Express, painted a Tim Henman silhouette on a hillside for Robinsons Barley Water, built the garden for Big Brother and provided the linemarking intro on Match of the Day.
So, it was intriguing to receive a call from Hungry Man Productions, a large PR company, who were looking for a suitable grass surface that could be installed for the latest big budget Xbox1 commercial.
The commercial, in part, features Steven Gerrard beckoning a fan from the stand to join him on the field of play. When you are involved in the build up, it's amazing to see what's involved in putting together just seven seconds of a sixty second commercial.
After a brief email exchange, I met the production team, headed by David Skinner, at a leisure centre in Huyton, Merseyside, a couple of days before the shoot to see the venue and, more importantly, understand the timescales and access availability.
I was told that the leisure centre would make the sports hall available from lunchtime on the Thursday, with a view to having everything finished and removed by Friday evening. The filming would take place on the Friday afternoon when Liverpool and England captain, Steven Gerrard, would arrive after his morning training session.
I had arranged with Simon Hutton at Fineturf to provide the turf and expertise, and we arrived late Thursday morning ready to get into the hall to start our preparations.
As soon as we could, we had the floor in the hall marked out and laid Visqueen poly membrane down to protect the polished wooden surface.
The sheeting was taped together, and at the sides, to prevent movement and the soil getting in contact with the floor.
We laid down a track of ply boards, allowing us access into the hall and across the floor with the turf laying machinery.
Once the temporary flooring was down, we started laying the big roll turf, which had been harvested in the early hours of that morning and transported from Lincoln. The turf was cut at 20mm and was a quality winter sports mix. In total, we laid a 262 square metres of turf in the centre of the hall. As with these jobs, we worked fairly amicably alongside the production team, the lighting guys and scaffolders who were building the curtained mini studio around the grass centrepiece.
The turf laying was completed within an hour, so we then set about trimming the plastic membrane around the edges, rolling the turf and brushing the grass to remove any soil build up and debris. The brushing also helped to stand the grass up so we could develop a nap, as you would prepare a pitch on a match day.
Inevitably, there was some worry that, even though the grass was going to be down for perhaps a little over twenty-four hours, it would maybe start to show signs of stress. The water points around the leisure centre and the distance from the turf were inadequate, so a water bowser was hired in the late afternoon, so that the turf could be watered to keep it fresh.
By mid evening, the grass was looking pretty good and, with the CGI curtain surround and the lighting gantries all in place, it looked like a film set ready for action.
The next morning, we installed an arbitrary centre line using a Graco linemarker, along with a centre spot.
The amount of people directly involved in this scene just continued to grow through the morning; by the time Stevie G and his Liverpool PR department arrived, there were probably seventy people congregated in the hall.
The filming started to roll at around 2.00pm, the same sequence shot time and time again, foot on the ball, look up to the right, arm outstretched beckoning someone from the yellow stickered, blue CGI curtains.
As always, the crew follow a pre-determined script, and when the new Xbox1 commercial hit the TV in November, the seven second clip sat nicely within the continuity of the advert. The grass did survive the editor's cuts, featuring in the advert for maybe a whole second.
We had been told to expect a long afternoon, but the filming only took two hours, probably because the producer had what was needed in the can, or maybe because Gerrard had lost the will to live, I'll never know. As soon as "It's a wrap" was shouted out across the hall, the various different departments got to work stripping down lights, cameras and scaffolding, and we got to work cutting up the turf and removing it from the hall.
We were going to remove all the spoil from site and compost it, but the leisure centre had intimated that, if we left the turf outside, it probably wouldn't be there in the morning. As soon as word got out that a local Liverpool legend had been standing on it, there was a free for all!
By the time we'd cleaned up inside and loaded the equipment and boards back on the vehicles, there were cars and vans pulling up and loading turf - it was all gone in an hour, presumably to some very happy homes.
Our thanks to Hungry Man Productions for the opportunity and, indeed, the fantastic hospitality that was available, Simon and his team ate very well both days. The advert, in case you haven't seen it, can be viewed here. http://adage.com/article/digital/super-bowl-king-bryan-buckley-directs-xbox-ad/244937/