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The Honourable Woman: Dramatic blood-soaked scenes

Special Effects Supervisor

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ATTENTION: This post contains spoilers and is intended for viewers who have already seen episode two of The Honourable Woman.

The Honourable Woman is an epic eight-part BBC Two drama starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as powerful businesswoman and philanthropist Nessa Stein, daughter of the late Israeli arms procurer Eli Stein. Newly enobled into the House of Lords, she is rocked by the mysterious death of a business contact and a kidnapping.

My role for The Honourable Woman was as special effects supervisor.

I work as a supervisor for live action special effects, this means that we provide all the special effects that are actually shot at the time the scenes are acted out and filmed with the camera, as opposed to generating and compositing stunts and effects with a computer.

The benefit of live action special effects for the actors and the director is that they have something to interact with when playing out scenes.

One of the effects I was asked to provide was for the scene where Ephra Stein (Andrew Buchan) and his wife Rachel Stein (Katherine Parkinson) are at a gala function and a protestor smashes a bag on the table covering them in fake blood.

The requirements were for a vessel containing a good amount of theatrical blood that was strong enough to carry the liquid yet would break easily in every direction to the splatter the blood on to the bystanders.

A protester enters the gala dinner, holding the wax vessel containing fake blood

It was decided that we would make vessels the size of a flattened grapefruit out of wax and fill them with blood.

The properties of wax enable the vessel to hold the liquid yet break and shatter easily while creating no hazard to the actors.

The wax itself was coloured a blood colour. After filling, the vessel was sealed with wax.

Rachel Stein (Katherine Parkinson) and Ephra Stein (Andrew Buchan) are ambushed

Tests were carried out on special effects technicians who are used to being guinea pigs for all sorts of tests that might include bullet hits, throat cutting rigs, hanging rigs, immersion in fake oil, or having a lit light bulb smashed in the face.

The tests help us make any adjustments that are needed to enhance the effect, or make it more actor friendly (if they are using the prop), or to make the effect safer should it be a higher risk effect.

Rachel Stein returns home after a traumatic luncheon

We provided six wax vessels for this scene. However with this type of effect, the production would hope to get the shot first time as there is a lot of clearing up to do and costume changes involved for a second take.

Occasionally the crew may have to go again if there is a camera or lighting problem, or if the lines were not quite right.

Luckily we shot this effect in one take I believe.

Ed Smith is the live action special effects supervisor of Colin Gorry Effects, the company which produced the special effects on The Honourable Woman.

The Honourable Woman continues on Thursday, 17 July at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC Two HD. For further programmes times please see the episode guide.

More on The Honourable Woman
BBC Two: The Honourable Woman: Take a closer look
BBC Media Centre: The Honourable Woman
BBC Writersroom: Q&A with Hugo Blick and script from episode one
The Guardian: The Honourable Woman Recap: Episode two - The Unfaithful Husband
The Telegraph: Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Honourable Woman: Now the biggest pictures are on the box

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • Comment number 6. Posted by jvm

    on 23 Aug 2014 21:41

    Very proud of you at the BEEB. This series has been magnificent. Star performances whilst tackling a plot that is very challenging. Love you all for it. Just finished watching the last two episodes on iPlayer and DVD and feel you have exceeded my expectations and show what value for money you are. Absolutely genuine review from a viewer with zero connection any one at the BEEB or even remotely connected with it. To repeat one viewer who is very proud of the BEEB.

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by MartinM

    on 22 Aug 2014 14:12

    Just finished watching The Honourable Woman. Superb series! Maggie Gyllenhaal a revelation. Many other fine performances. Brave (and very timely) of BBC to commission a drama based on the highly contentious Palestine/ Israel conflict. It took a couple of episodes to work out the complexities of the plot but from then on it was gripping viewing. Concluding plot twist that the US might try to engineer recognition of a Palestinian state almost certainly premature. Israel lobby in Washington will probably veto that for at least another 10 years. I hope a few negative comments about the difficulties of the plot and the initial fall in viewing figures won't put the BBC off tackling more challenging subjects instead of falling back on easy crime dramas. How about more social dramas based in Britain?

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by John Thompson

    on 18 Aug 2014 17:06

    This is by far the best thing on TV at the moment.It beats the continental stuff hands down. I had
    a problem with what was going on in some of the earlier episodes,why certain people were getting killed,by knife,bullet,rope and strangulation.We had difficulty knowing the meaning of so much spilled blood.As the programme went on some things became a little clearer,but still difficult.The series is timely(unfortunately!) and has great style and design values.Maggie Gyllenhaal as Nessa Stein is brilliant,doing the best work she's ever done,rendering a torn woman,vulnerable to the core but shouldering a lot of responsibility.It took courage to act this role.There's superb support acting from Andrew Buchan ,Stephen Rea and a female actor who
    is head of the intelligence services(can't remember her name).Fantastic!

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by canuck

    on 16 Aug 2014 01:20

    This is one of the best new shows I've watched in the past year. I hope one of the Canadian networks will broadcast this where I live before the Americans try to do a remake and ruin it like they will Broadchurch. The Honourable Women is smart and well acted. Katherine Parkinson plays her part so well, it must be fun playing such an uptight b*tch.

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by Anil

    on 5 Aug 2014 14:12

    My goodness. Four episodes in and I have no idea what is actually going on. That said it is great viewing.

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by pks

    on 30 Jul 2014 21:44

    Hmmm... Rachel has much more blood on her outfit when she gets home than when the 'attack' happened. And Ephra seems to be hardly splattered at all. Ooops.

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