- Extreme Balance Sport -
Slacklining improves Fitness,
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Maverick Red or Black
September 11, 2012
My first time on TV: the journey to the ‘Dream Factory’
One apple, two generous dessert spoons of Savers cottage cheese and about six raisins…The kitchen cupboards of a slackliner. Not to mention my bank balance… £1.27 exactly.
So when Maverick Slacklines contacted me and asked if I wanted to perform a paid slacklining stunt with fellow highliner and climber Alun Freem, for ITV’s crazy gameshow ‘Red or Black’, I leapt at the chance.
We had vague pieces of information regarding what the mysterious stunt would be, but it wasn’t until we entered the majestic ‘George Lucas’ studio that it hit me. And my bowels. Gulp.
Two, twinned, tiny platforms, some two or three stories high, with an array of what appeared to be giant, neon razorblades suspended above the lines.
My guts turned once more. We were in safe hands, though. These TV folk were uber professionals. Punctuality and precision were standard in the land of illusion.
With a full rigging team at our disposal, the production team spilt the beans. The stunt was to be named ‘HighWire’- original, I thought. The idea being Alun and myself would race each other across the lines, all the way and back. Sounded simple enough. Except those rather large neon blades would be moving up and down trying to knock us off, just to add a twist. Think gameshow ‘Takeshi’s Castle’ plus a triple shot of adrenaline. Add to the mix 800 screaming people, millions worth of camera equipment and flashing lights in your grill. No pressure, yeah?
Despite the apparent difficulty of the stunt, we both had very little time to prepare – only three quarters of an hour of real practice time. And we still crushed the rehearsal slot, finishing a full 45 minutes early, much to the production team’s delight (finishing early in the dream factory is mostly unheard of).
Now we were the favourites on set, Alun and I tried to come up with some strategies to create a better show. Our first take was sketchy and fuelled with uncontrollable dumps of adrenaline. We calmed ourselves for the second try, aiming to deliberately control the race pace, creating purposeful tension. But the result was the opposite; a far less entertaining spectacle, despite us both being far more at ease. Come Showtime we would need another plan if we wanted to leave our mark.
TV world, or the ‘Dream Factory’ as it became known, really fascinated me. Being a visual learner, I was always enthralled with the revealing of famous magicians’ tricks as a child. With televised entertainment, everything you watch has been deliberately crafted to give off a certain appearance. The illusive ‘flow’ of events on screen is manufactured. The Dream Factory is in fact very stop-start and relies a lot on the participants to give it their all and help strengthen the illusion, much like a magician’s assistant. I wanted to go with the show, deciding I would exaggerate my movements, my speech and even my staring technique. Alun and I had to film an awkward take where stood on platforms, we were instructed to stare each other out. No big deal, until my upper lip started an anomalous Elvis twitching sequence all on its own, making the art of keeping a straight face very humorous indeed!
Come showtime I was bricking it. Sat in my dressing room with Alun and our personal rider, Tom, (who’s actual job was to be nice and follow you relentlessly) I did my best to expel my nervous energy. Farting seemed to be the most effective, as necking beers on site was off limits. After some conferring, we came up with our show strategy.
‘Let’s go balls to the wall!’ No composure, no control. Just full blown chaos! May the most intact morsel win!
Although the filming process was very stop-start, our actual stunt was completed in one take. I was dressed in red, feeling a little better that I had wrangled the original costume design from ‘camp sportsman’ to a ‘slackliner lost in sports shop’ look. Alun was ice-faced and dressed in black, ready to destroy. This was going to be a battle.
The intense lighting meant the audience was just a blurred array of torsos. As they screamed a 5-4-3-2-1 countdown, I could feel my pulse beating up my voicebox. The first barrier lifted and from that point forward, I don’t remember anything…
A big thank you to Maverick Slacklines, Matt from Red or Black Games Production, Tom for being an awesome Rider and Alun Freem, for giving me a run for my money!
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