PLACE DE LA CONCORDE
Lat: 48°51'57.36"N Lon: 2°19'16.86"E
Paris. It is a bright, sunny, late-summer’s day on Place de la Concorde. Hardly fair to call this work but officially it is, as I’m shooting a standup for BBC’s Filthy Cities. Our crew of six plus my doppelganger, Mr. Dan Snow (more on that guy in a moment) is here to visually demonstrate, with the help of the general public, how many people were killed on this spot during the French Revolution’s “Reign of Terror.” During the horrifically bloody months of 1793-94, the newly invented guillotine dropped on the necks of tens of thousands of victims throughout France as Robespierre and his extremists strove to kill off the French aristocracy—most often, by beheading it.
The BBC had spread the word en la rue that volunteers would be welcome to appear in our film if they arrived bright-eyed and busy-tailed at 0800. To my utter surprise, dozens of people did show (wouldn’t it have been more fun to go to the Louvre?). But, to their dismay, we didn’t have a guillotine available that day with which to execute them. Oddly, there are only a few still in existence and only one in all of Paris so, instead, we would employ them to illustrate what thousands of people look like if they’re all lying down in the middle of Place de la Concorde on a sunny, Sunday morning.
As you would expect it turned into quite a party. The motley bunch, mostly female, took their instructions quite willingly, put aside their pocketbooks, purses and knapsacks and happily splayed themselves at my feet in a tangle of supposedly tortured humanity. Then, as I droned on about the terror, the camera rose up over me on a crane, zooming out, creating the effect of an ever-growing sea of corpses (a computer would build their number). Quite a distance to go to establish a point but that’s the Brits for you. Where facts are concerned, no expense is spared.
Oh, right—Dan Snow. This was a “co-production” between American television and the BBC and the Americans didn’t want a British host and the Brits didn’t want an American. So they compromised, electing to hire two hosts, Dan Snow from England for the BBC and little old American me. This arrangement should have been rife with problems as they dressed the two of us in the same wardrobe and then decided that we should shoot concurrently on-set, meaning Dan shot his UK version, then I stepped in and did my American thing. Awkward, right? Well, no! By some miracle, Dan and Don never clashed at all for three months! Instead, we became fast friends. We just got along, plain and simple, making me wonder if our own revolutionary fervor against Mother England might have been entirely unnecessary in the first place.