The EastEnders cast really did lift that bus, says the soap’s director

Toby Frow reveals all about Disaster Week

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EastEnders has featured no end of drama this week thanks to a bus ploughing through the market and crashing into the bridge. Martin Fowler, who was trapped beneath the vehicle, was saved thanks to the residents of Walford rallying to lift the double decker. But, as we write, the fate of a missing Whitney has yet to be revealed. Here, director Toby Frow reveals the behind-the-scenes gossip and talks about what went into making a pivotal set of episodes:

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So, Toby, what goes into planning episodes like this?
I guess you start with trying to identify what makes this different from any other episode, any other television show and movie that has done something like this. We’ve seen thousands of crashes, so you have to think about what’s going to make this different from everything else. For me, it was trying to get inside the human story. So it was trying to find ways to make this about the people in the middle of the crash.

In terms of planning, you start by thinking about the different expertise that you’re going to need…the stunt coordinators, the people who are doing the crash. You have to think about how you’re going to manage to put so many people into harm’s way. So I started by thinking how can we do this safely, dramatically and how we make it a story where we care about the people in the middle. Above all else, that’s what it’s about. It’s about making sure the audience is totally immersed in the fear and the experience of living through something like this.

How different was it filming this episode compared to a normal episode?
It was completely different. We filmed it in a different way with different equipment. It was almost entirely on single camera because there was no other way to do it. You had a big bus in the way of everything you wanted to do and characters running all over the place. We had to do everything in a very different way which involved different expertise and different ways of filming.

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How do you take episodes like this from paper to screen?
It goes back to what I said before. You have to think that if you got rid of everything else, what would be the one thing you want the audience to remember? You work out how to make those moments stand out. You put a lot of your time and energy into filming those bits and doing them well. And then you go from there.

This block was unique because we needed to divide up the work. We couldn’t do this with just one director because of the scale of it all. We needed two people to achieve the breadth of different things we were trying to do. We had that much material to shoot and everything in Bridge Street took up an entire shoot and more. So we had to have a second unit working on the Tube scenes and the interiors.  

There was a lot of lifting and jumping out of the bus in the episode – how does this work?
Every time someone had to jump out of the bus or run away from it, that was a stunt. We had to think very carefully about how to keep the audience’s attention. If you do every stunt the same then you risk losing interest, so you have to figure out the different angles. Louise coming out is filmed on Keegan’s phone, Bex is filmed more from above to emphasise her fear of falling. And then someone like Keegan is filmed with a wide shot, with a stunt double.

In terms of lifting the bus, the cast really did lift it. What we initially said to them was when the bus is lifted by the crane, we need it to look like you’re lifting it so can you put your backs into at least swaying it left to right? And the bus did move. It came an inch off the ground. It was pretty remarkable. It was a symbol of how much commitment everyone threw into the entire thing. They gave everything they had for the entire shoot and threw themselves into it. It crystallised in that moment when the bus lifted. It was amazing.

How did you go about filming the crash itself? 
We made sure we covered the crash from every angle we could possibly think of. There were key shots in the middle of it that I didn’t want to compromise and wanted to do well. We wanted to convey what the characters we know were experiencing. We filmed on go-pro cameras which were worn by stunt actors. They stayed in place waiting for the bus to come towards them for as long as possible. The go-pro footage we got with the chaos is what makes it powerful. It’s much more than a bunch of special effects or sparks flying – there are people involved. 

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Similar to New Year’s Day, there were a few different styles of shots that we don’t normally see – was this intentional?
It’s trying to get a range of different responses to what’s going on. On one level, there’s the absolute carnage of what happens when the bus crashes into the market, but then there’s also this moment in these events when you want to get that feeling of time standing still. When you look at something like that you don’t know how to react. It happened with Carmel at the start and Mick at the end of the episode – you want to freeze time and that’s what those shots filmed on a different camera were about. It gives you a chance to play with sound in a way you don’t normally get to on this show. We wanted to take that moment of reality and stretch it out.

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What do you want the audience to take away from these episodes?
The vision was very much about us watching people who – at the start of the week – are in conflict with each other. But then this terrible thing happens and they find all the things that unite them rather than divides them. It’s about being in touch with what makes you human at the end of the day. The fact you instinctively run towards someone in need, rather than run away. That happens again and again in the episode. People are just reacting instinctively to help people they know and that they don’t know. I guess that’s the over-arching theme of the week –  the humanity.

You can watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s episodes of EastEnders below.

And visit our dedicated EastEnders page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbHWwZKvpPs