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On set with The Hillywood Show: Sherlock Parody * 21 August 2016

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March 22 2016 - North Gower Street, London

We're on a familiar street, outside a familiar cafe, with a black door with some very familiar numbers (and the second letter of the alphabet) attached to it. Over the road, passersby occasionally stop and stare at the figure with black curly hair in the long coat. At that first glance, Sherlock Holmes is back at 221B. But closer examination reveals he is actually a good couple of feet shorter than normal. And if you got really close, and were able to look past the excellent make up, you'd realise that he was in fact actually a she. This isn't Benedict Cumberbatch, this is Hilly Hindi, one half of USA internet sensations The Hillywood Show. And she and her sister Hannah have come all the way from Las Vegas to shoot their latest parody dedicated to Sherlock on the streets on London.

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We're here to observe, and also to deliver a few critical props. We've already helped the team out in their pre-production: co-ordinating the shoot with Speedy's owner Chris and his son George, suggesting locations for filming, sending over the exact iconic flock wallpaper for the wall of their set build of 221B back in the States on their behalf, and have spent an extended period of time back-and-forthing with the suppliers of those famous front door numbers. They are already up, carefully affixed to the black door as they always are when filming on the actual series is underway. Today though, we've trekked from our nearby corner of the country to supply a certain pink suitcase to the team, and we've not felt self-conscious (or more adverse to taxi travel) while making our way to London at all. 

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The team that is shooting this production is small in comparison to the one that rolls up to shoot Sherlock proper, but they're no less motivated, or equipped. A 6K Red Epic Dragon is the camera of choice, and the pavement is piled high with equipment cases and lighting. A couple of the crew have travelled over from the States, but the majority are volunteers, university students happy to pitch in and lend their support to try and make the rather rapid shoot go smoothly. For a couple of them, they're on security watch - and to our amusement, it's actually stricter than on the actual show. Any sign of a passerby attempting to take a photo, and a member of the team is off over the road to politely ask them not to share the image online.

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That may seem strict, but there is a reason for it. As The Hillywood Show is crowd funded there is a close eye kept on production by the team's fans, and so there's a fear that any early and unofficial leaks could create dissatisfaction with how make up and costume look -when of course the main reason any negativity could crop up is because those pictures are blurry and shot from far away.

Despite all the dashing around by the crew though, it's inevitable that filming on this location would cause a bit of a stir - especially with those door numbers in place on the front door. Filming on the series is still a few weeks away, but it's still close enough for the famous #Setlock group to buzz into life on Twitter when the Hillywood production is discovered. Initially there's confusion as to exactly what is going on, but there's a quick realisation that it's a fan production shooting and not the real thing.     

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Coming from overseas means there's been an awful lot of overseas preparation besides getting wallpaper and door numbers of course. The production team have hired a black London Taxi cab for the day, with the vehicle reserving the parking space outside Speedy's for un-obscured shots. In this respect, everything feels exactly like actual Sherlock filming - the most common use of North Gower Street in the show is walking to and from a taxi after all! Hilly paces to and from the cab, her strides in time with the beat of the music that will eventually be laid over the soundtrack - today it's playing in small chunks from a portable stereo. The live music is the only real difference from the real thing (unless Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss decide to pull a Joss Whedon and give us a musical episode in the future of course), as multiple takes of taxi interaction occur before the setup is changed to focus on the front door of 221B. Low camera angles and stage apple boxes are all brought into play to give Hilly the required Holmes height to interact with the door numbers... 

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Hannah then joins her as John, and some excellent miming is brought into play to match up with the song lyrics as a complex single operator camera move is performed by Shun, the camera operator - moving along a dolly track while pulling focus on the camera at the same time is a physically demanding task. And remarkably, the shot appears for mere frames in the final product!

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From there, it's onto the next stage of filming. Hilly and Hannah had asked us over email if we knew where we could locate a dumpster for filming. Not being London natives, we were at a mild loss, but put them in contact with Chris and George at Speedy's who were able to provide suggestions. So a smaller part of the crew packs up the equipment to handheld capability and heads around the back of North Gower Street to  Foundry Mews, a secluded alleyway and yard space. A suitable bin is found (empty, not super clean but better than most on offer) and moved to a suitable spot for filming. We hand over the pink suitcase for use in the filming, and Hilly gamely is given a helping hand by George into the bin itself. For a few takes, she rises up clutching the case, a decisive Sherlock expression on her face. Once successfully extracted, the case is lobbed into the bin to create the earlier moment in the video. It's done a bit bodily we have to admit, and in the end the pristine finish does pick up a few scuffs. We're relatively ok with sacrificing a prop in the name of art though... 

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Working with rubbish done, it's back to North Gower Street, and then down Stephenson Way at the south end of the road. It's time to finish off our visit with filming some action inserts of Sherlock and John running. Once everything is set, Hilly and Hannah perform multiple takes, both looking incredibly the part as they sprint up the length of the street. Sherlock's coat flaps, John brings up the rear. It's basically perfect.

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London is about to devolve into the madness of rush hour though, so it's time for us to make our farewells and head home, mildly dinged pink case in hand. Over the next few days, the Hillywood crew will go on a bit of tour of famous Sherlock locations, heading to a familiar swimming pool and even out into the wilds of Dartmoor to possibly look for a gigantic Hound. Even back in March, it was obvious there was a level of care and attention to detail in play to capture the look of the BBC series perfectly. We were hugely impressed by what we saw on set in the few hours we were there on the day, and the final results certainly blew us away!


Check out the incredibly thorough full story of production in The Hillywood Show behind the scenes documentary. (There is a tiny cameo from us in there!)