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Memories, misty water-coloured memories…

I guess Brian Fleck and I both have a thing for the Streisand numbers…

Yup, this shoot led to misty water-coloured memories – a day of it took place in the pouring rain in London, England! One of the original ideas for this episode involved looking at muscle memory by working with circus performers, but when Brian Alters and the crew headed to London to check out greyhound racing for next week’s Speed episode, we stowed away in their suitcases so we could meet up with some of the guys from Urban Freeflow, the world’s leading parkour/free running organization.

The UF crew are just amazing - what started off as a hobby for many of them has turned into a lifestyle and a career, with appearances in commercials, video games, fashion spreads, and even a James Bond movie! You can watch their work on their own YouTube Channel.

The first day of shooting started out beautifully - director Mike took our UF athletes Bam and Lewis out to a few locations in the morning, whilst I enjoyed sleeping in (a rare treat indeed on location shoots) and then exploring the streets of London. When I met up with the crew around lunchtime, however, our luck changed. A torrential downpour started so we retreated to the nearest safe, dry place. The pub! Fuelled by a few pints, we had the brilliant idea of doing a bit of parkour in the pub and so after the lunch crowd left and with the owner’s permission, we had Bam and Lewis flying over bar stools and tables, hurling themselves over ledges, and generally looking like action movie heroes, much to the bewilderment of the slightly inebriated afternoon drinkers.

The weather was a heck of a lot better on our second day of shooting, and the day couldn’t have gone any better. In the morning Bam and Blue (replacing Lewis, who got a nasty bump whilst cavorting about the pub and wasn’t up for another 8 hours of parkour) taught me a few freerunning basics in the comfort of a well-padded gym. It’s a good thing the padding was there - I bailed more than a few times, but had a blast doing it. I had to concentrate quite hard while doing the jumps, not so much to get the move right, but more to keep my tongue in my mouth. I stick it out when I’m focused on something and it doesn’t look so hot on camera.

After I had tuckered myself out (uh, 10 minutes after I started jumping and rolling), Professor Alan Wing from the University of Birmingham sat Bam, Blue and I down for a chat and we were all rapt with attention as he explained how the brain deals with movement. During the chat, he mentioned that he had a motion capture facility at his lab and he invited us to come for a visit and check it out. The director quickly changed his travel plans so that instead of flying back the next morning, he’d leave in the evening, and we made arrangements to meet up with Dr. Wing the next morning in Birmingham, a couple hours’ drive outside London.

After the gym shoot, we set out on our great South Bank adventure. You’ll note my parkour skills improved significantly sometime during the cab ride from the gym to the South Bank ;) Must have been all those Marks & Spencer biscuits I had in the cab...

It was great fun watching Bam and Blue do their thing, and their antics drew quite a crowd, especially when we hit Trafalgar Square as dusk to catch a few final scenic shots. The square seems to be another parkour hot spot as while we were there, a young traceur from Brazil introduced himself to the UF guys and they spent a few happy minutes backflipping off Nelson’s Column. After a long day, we rewarded ourselves with another trip to the pub and a great meal at a restaurant run by a relative of Andy, our sound man.

The next day in Birmingham with Dr. Wing was great - his invitation was so kind (he brought a ridiculously good cake to the shoot) and being able to talk with him more and run through some experiments at the mo-cap studio (to use the industry parlance) really added a lot to the story. Plus we got to cover Bam in piles and piles of tiny dots which looks pretty neat on camera.

That evening, the director and I headed to the airport - he went back to Canada, and I flew to Hong Kong for my other job. It was the only time I’ve ever got mushy saying goodbye to a crew - the guys we had with us in the UK were absolutely wonderful and Bam and I bonded over our shared musical tastes and the omnipresent tv-crew-in-van game of pass-the-iPod.

Now about Memory Man, some of the more skeptical among you may be wondering whether any editing tricks were used that made it easy for him to remember that long string of numbers. Nope! It was all him! When he arrived for the shoot, he had me write out a string of whatever numbers I felt like. We gave him the paper and he hung out in his dressing room, using his system to commit them to memory. Around an hour or so later, we brought him into the studio for the shoot and pow! He recited them forwards, and then backwards, perfectly.

We were all amused to discover we had our own memory man on the crew too. As we were blocking out the camera moves and the lighting, camera assistant Jeremy was sitting in for Memory Man. We did a run-through using Jeremy, and he had memorized a good portion of the string of digits while he was sitting there! Very impressive.

So that was memory. Stay tuned for next week’s episode, which features yet more of me running! This time instead of the fancy flips and tricks, it’s all about speed.