Search This Blog

Slumdog Millionaire: Health & Safety

March 2009

Slumdog Millionaire is the most successful British film in more than a decade, sweeping the boards at the Academy Awards, picking up eight Oscars. And it was a Notts man who made sure the cast and crew left the slums of Mumbai intact. SIMON WILSON met the film's health and safety adviser

WHEN David King-Taylor was asked to advise on Danny Boyle's next film he jumped at the opportunity. This was, after all, the director of Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and Shallow Grave.
And when he was told it would be shot in the slums of Mumbai, he wasn't fazed in the slightest.
"I knew the slums quite well," says the 62-year-old from West Bridgford.
"I'd worked there before."
David was the health and safety adviser for Slumdog Millionaire, the eight time Oscar-winner and therefore most successful British film since The English Patient in 1997.
And it was because of him that no members of the cast or crew suffered any injuries during filming in 2006.
"There were bruises and undoubtedly some crew got the odd tummy trouble but that was all," he said.
The hazards of working in such an environment were very real.
"It wasn't long before Slumdog was made that a UK assistant director was killed in Mumbai making an Indian film. He was run over by a train. Because he was from the UK it was highlighted in the press that the health and safety regulations in India were not what they should be."
Having worked there in the past – for a TV show called Road Rag and a documentary that involved covert filming in Mumbai sweat shops – David already had knowledge of the conditions Boyle's team faced.
"People die every day. They might live one side of a railway line and where they wash is the other side. Kids will also play on the railway line.
"They live on top of rubbish dumps that are full of weird and wonderful things, like dead rats. But that's their life."
He adds: "The hundreds of extras that were used were local people. So they were immune to a lot of the diseases. Very few UK people were involved. Those that were had their inoculations and ate only in the hotel because much of the disease in Mumbai is passed on by infested drinking water."
He adds: "In India the value of life is not as high as it is here. And in terms of health and safety they haven't the same legislation.
"But when I was sent the script and the storyboard I knew what they wanted to achieve.
"With film you can do a lot without endangering life. For instance, the scene where the boys run across the roof of the train looked like it was at 50 miles an hour but was just five. And the actors were replaced by stunt doubles. The interior of the train was done in a studio.
"The chase through the slum town was very real. We did pride ourselves on using very few computer graphics."
One of the most memorable scenes from the movie is when the young Jamal drops through the toilet hole and wades through excrement.
"Well, of course, the poo is gunge," laughs David. "But that is exactly how the toilets are out there."
David was the UK's first freelance health and safety adviser in film and television. He is employed by a producer to ensure that all cast and crew get through a production unscathed.
"Basically to make sure we're not going to kill anyone on set. It is after all a story and no story is worth a life.

"I have the veto on all these projects. To say what they can and can't do. Directors are notorious for coming up with last-minute ideas and over the years there have been clashes between myself and them. But health and safety isn't intended to kill creativity, it's to prevent harm."
He is sent the script, storyboard and filming schedule and works with the production team, including stunt co-ordinators.
"With Slumdog, as far as we were all concerned, we were making a small-to-medium budget film which was probably going to go straight to DVD. No one had any idea how remarkably successful it would become. The success it has had is wonderful."
Not that he's been able to share in all the celebrations.
"I wasn't invited to the Oscars or the Baftas. I'm very much a background player when it comes to the awards. There are only so many people you can fit round a table anyway," he says.
Then adds with a wry smile: "They don't have an Oscar for best health and safety adviser."
In fact, David had to pay to see the finished film at the cinema.
"I did, yes. I could have contacted the production crew and been sent a DVD but I wasn't bothered about that.
"Besides it all seems such a long time ago now. I've done so many other projects since then."
He started out as a professional footballer in Scotland playing for Falkirk but at 21 his career was prematurely cut short with a knee injury.
"They put all the young lads through apprenticeships back then. Because they knew there was at least a 90 per cent failure rate. I learned electronics.
"After my injury I moved to London and worked at an electronics factory. From there I went into training and did a job at Pinewood studios, then London Weekend Television.
"They asked me to set up a health and safety unit. This was the early seventies and I had no experience in that area but the Health and Safety At Work Act (1974) had just come in to play so employers were having to become proactive in that area.
"I had some training and set up the unit for LWT."
He would work on shows such as Gladiators, London's Burning, You Bet and with Michael Barrymore.
In the early nineties David went freelance and advised on everything from Bond films to I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here.
"The jungle clearing is very close to the hotel," he laughs.
"But it is jungle. The celebrities are taken out of the comfort zone."
He adds: "It's been an interesting career. You're involved with lions, you're up a tree, down a mine or up a mountain in a blizzard. And you'll get some bizarre phone calls: 'Is it all right to eat a rice rat raw?'"
While on holiday in Sicily he was asked to fly over to South America to look at a snake that had halted filming on a series out there.
"I spent most of the afternoon on the phone, much to the annoyance of my wife."
She comes in the room at that point keen to usher me away. They've their grandson staying over and she clearly wants David to spend less time talking work.
"Retiring will be hard," he admits, as I get up to leave.
He's trying to slow down and now mostly works from home.
But he's still busy.
His latest project is a movie about the school days of John Lennon in Liverpool called Nowhere Man which was due to begin filming today.
He's also doing a series for ITV called Britain's Biggest Loser – like a weight-loss Big Brother.
And last week he was in Wales working with Richard Hammond on his TV show Engineering Connections.
Hammond knows more than most the importance of health and safety, having nearly died in a crash while filming a drag race for Top Gear.
"It happened because of a tyre failure," says David, who is keen to point out that it wasn't on his watch.
"It was fit to be used at that speed but not again and again. After he had his accident I was employed by the BBC to look at their health and safety policies and procedures to ensure they were up to scratch."
Planning his retirement he'd applied for a job at a Nottingham college as a part-time health-and-safety tutor.
"They said 'sorry but we don't think you have the right experience'," he laughs.
"So I'll probably just play bowls."
Since moving to West Bridgford three years ago, David has been involved with the local operatic society.
"It's more of an adrenalin rush and more stressful than working on an Oscar-winning film. It really is.
"Especially now they know what I do for a living, they're getting more ambitious. They want to fire muskets in the Pirates Of Penzance and for a magic show they want to do some pyrotechnics, thinking 'oh we can do that, we have David'."

No comments:

Post a Comment