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What are you doing and where are you going?

DIARY OF A CITY GUARD – PART 5

I’m walked down the main corridor of the tent towards the fitting room. It’s massive. I’ve been involved in numerous big productions since this one, and some of the costume departments have been fairly impressive – but this is just off-the-scale huge. In the men’s changing room alone there are hundreds of costumes. They’re sitting neatly on their racks, accompanied by a sheet of paper with a photo of the extra who will be wearing said costume, along with their vital details. The place is buzzing with staff from the costume department, some of whom are helping to dress bemused extras and some who are desperately searching for a bit of thread or a spare fastener. Rolls of gaffa tape are, inevitably, everywhere.

I’m undoubtedly a bemused extra, and this is quickly recognised – I’m taken over to the several clothes racks which are dedicated to the City Guards costumes, and shown my gear. I’m surrounded by a handful of other would-be Guards, all of whom look to be at a similar level of bafflement as myself. I would later come to realise that on projects not quite of this scale (i.e. all of them) the extras are mostly experienced veterans who know the drill – but Amazon’s Lord of the Rings show requires an absurd amount of background talent, so the bulk of us are doing it for the first time.

An assistant is on hand to, well, assist me in getting into costume. This is essential if for no other reason than most of what I’m wearing seems to fasten at the back. After putting on my (ahem) legaloons and a plain t-shirt that feels ridiculously out of place all of a sudden, I’m helped into my heavy blue long-sleeved dress and zipped up. I’d forgotten how comfortable it was. Snug. After that comes the thick and (of course) heavy suede leather tunic with its short sleeves and skirts which are covered in little decorative bronze studs. Once I’m zipped up and fully enclosed I’m feeling good, and ready for the new items – this is a far as I got at the costume fittings, so everything else is something of a mystery.

The first mystery to be solved is the footwear. I’m given a pair of suede boots which are a little on the pointy side, making me think perhaps a little Elvish influence here. I mean the “tra-la-la-lally” elves of The Hobbit definitely wore pointy shoes right? Then again, this is set thousands of years earlier, and footwear fashions must surely change over the millenia, even for Elves. In fact, perhaps it’s my footwear that has influenced those happy Rivendell folk.

“O! What are you doing, And where are you going? Your ponies need shoeing! The river is flowing!
O! tra-la-la-lally, here down in the valley!”

If it was then I suspect the Elves made some design improvements before fully adopting the pointy shoe. It transpires that, although the seamstresses of Middle-earth are most adept at making simply incredible clothing, the cobblers of Middle-earth are absolutely rubbish. I’ve bought $5 shoes at K-Mart that have more arch support than these boots. The soles are thin enough that I can feel every detail of the moulded rubber mat I’m standing on. And the tiny laces with their twenty pairs of tiny holes have to all be undone the whole way each and every time. Still, at least I’m not wearing prosthetics and – shoes aside – everything else feels great. And I’ll get used to the shoes right? (Note: Wrong – they are, and will remain, thoroughly awful, and only my shield arm will suffer as much as my feet over the next few months).

There is just one more addition before I head off to the armourer – a fetching neck scarf which at this stage appears to be something of a hipster-esque oddity, but will turn out to be a vital bit of protection from the neck of the armour. It will also rank comfortably in the top three pain-in-the-arse pieces of costume that I wear.

At the far end of the tent is the armoury. Which sort of makes it sound a lot grander than it is. It’s a collection of clothing racks bearing an assortment of armour pieces in plastic bags, helmets on polystyrene heads, breast plates, cloaks. In the midst of this is Tim, a young chap covered in fanny packs, belt attachments, tapes and tools and wearing an expression of friendly competence which belies a sense of fear that seems to be lurking just underneath, a fear that everything is spiralling out of control. There are a few fellow guards here waiting to be suited up (armourised?). Pleasantries are exchanged. I shall save the introductions for another day.

This was not how I suited up.

It’s my turn. Here we go then. I stand there waiting for my armour like an out of shape, albeit much taller Tony Stark, but unlike Iron Man my suit has to be put on manually by somebody else over a period of ten minutes or so. First up are the greaves. I refer you back to an earlier installment for an explanation of the armour jargon. What was once a plain plastic mould is now doing a very effective impression of a beautifully crafted bronze greave. It comes in two parts, the larger of which protects my leg from the ankle to just below the knee, the smaller of which ties on behind it to cover my calf. Not as uncomfortable as they look, but I suspect that may change by days end.

Next are the wrist guard thingies. Vambraces. As per the greaves, the finished item looks great, and two pieces are tied together over the sleeve of my dress to protect my forearm. Minimal discomfort. Nice.

Yeah, it was more like this.

Now for the torso. A back plate goes on first, which is strapped on with a Velcro band across my belly. The breast plate is placed across my chest and buckled tightly to the back piece over my shoulders and at the sides. Thankfully the designer saw fit to eschew the moulded pecs and six-pack design in favour of a look that hints at man-boobs and a one-pack. Know your customer folks. There are pauldrons – shoulder pads – that are made to look like separate bits of kit but are actually held on to the breast plate with fiddly little elastic loops.

It looks cool though. The seen-better-days rather than the shiny-and-new looks works well and once again brings to mind the Ankh Morpork City Watch that I mentioned here. The chest is adorned with a large sun wreathed in flames. A clue? I’m wracking my brain to think if this is an actual Tolkien symbol, but I’m coming up with nothing and must remain ignorant of my identify for a while yet. However I’m feeling much more like a soldier.

One more piece remains, the helmet. Or so I thought. Not so. To my absolute delight I am given a glorious heavy cloak of deep blue. Tim is trying to attach it to my person, and struggling. While it sits atop the armour, it ties up _underneath_ the armour, which feels like a serious design flaw. This feeling is backed up by the evidence in front of me, e.g. Tim and two other costume people trying and failing to dress the guards in their capes. Eventually Head Costume Person appears and shows them the way. At one stage I have the hands of three people under my breast plate trying to blindly tie the knots to keep my cape in its proper place i.e. on me. (Ever since this day I have kept a close eye on any onscreen character adorned with a cape to see if they had a better solution for this issue.)

The cape now fully functional, as proved by a few stylish test swirls, means it’s time for the helmet. Or not. Mine is given to me to put on, and I do so, but it’s just to check the size – the helmets will be taken to set separately i.e. by people less likely than the extras to misplace it. It’s quite an ornate piece, brass like the armour and looking not dissimilar in shape to the silver helmets worn by the soldiers of Gondor in Jackson’s Return of the King movie. There is a winged device set on the front which extends down to become the nose-guard. There are two large cheek pieces as well, and a skirt of brass chainmail which covers the back of my neck and sits on my shoulders.

Gondorian soldiers and their helmets, Jeez, and to think people complained that some of the Rings of Power armour looked like plastic…

Even though I’m temporarily de-helmeted, I give the outfit a bit of a road test, and it feels good. My movement is very limited and I’m dreading the first visit to the toilet, but I feel like a soldier. I can see from looking at my colleagues that we all look damn good and even a little intimidating. The costume makes me feel heavy and protected and gives a sense the of authority that I presume my “job” entails. Ironic really, as nobody has less authority on set than an extra. Other extras walk past on their way out of the tent in costumes not nearly as splendid as ours, casting admiring glances at a bunch of middle-aged men that haven’t been cast admiring glances for many a long year.

This feeling last about ten seconds before I’m given a large heavy poncho to wear, covering the costume entirely. Doh. But with make-up and breakfast to come, this is the most essential protective item of the lot. I stumble out of the costume tent rather clumsily and someone grabs me to go the make up tent. It’s still dark outside.

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