Tetris – David Knight: Role in new movie could set stage for Granite City to feature in more films
I drove past just to have another look after all the excitement of a few days before. All that remained were neatly piled barriers on pavements, a solitary security guard and a refuse lorry.
The cast and crew of north-east director Jon S Baird’s new film, Tetris, had moved on from their Aberdeen location shoot.
They were gone but not forgotten as they left so many opportunities for Aberdeen to feature on a world stage.
I had joined onlookers a day or so earlier to share their excitement as Hollywood came to town.
I was still wondering if I should have brought some popcorn when I spotted starring actor Taron Egerton. Critically acclaimed for his recent portrayal of Elton John, he was prowling around, concentrating on his next take.
I think he felt more like pocket man than Rocketman. A sharp north-east breeze penetrated his big 1980s-style power suit, and both hands were thrust deep in pockets to keep warm. It was about as far removed as you can get from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
A film crew was swarming like ants around Aberdeen University’s zoology department.
Whenever I passed this depressing brutalist edifice I thought it resembled a KGB base. I was in good company as Mr Baird chose it to portray a Soviet-era government building in Moscow for his new movie set in the 1980s. A prop-sign outside now announced it was the home of Elorg (Elektronorgtechnica), which ran the Soviet computer industry’s imports and exports operation.
The zoology department was a good choice given monkey business around this real-life Cold War legal battle for the rights to Tetris, one of the all-time computer game greats.
I think some in our growing group of onlookers had been watching too many video games in lockdown. “I was hoping to see Taron hanging from the roof or something,” said a man behind me who could barely hide his disappointment.
There was something familiar about Egerton’s thick retro-moustache, grey suit and Cuban-heel brown boots. The oversized, wide-shouldered suit was the real ’80s giveaway. Yes, of course: That’s me from more than 30 years ago, from the moustache down. We all strutted around like someone in Magnum PI.
“Coo-ee, Taron,” a woman shouted across the road as she filmed him between takes on her mobile phone. The star smiled back and waved, which raised a cheer on our side of the street behind the barriers.
Somebody else in the crew was now waving at us or, rather, me in particular.
He was telling me to get out of the way, as politely as possible.
I thought he shouted “silly ass”, but was confused by the muffled-mask effect. He was actually saying: “Reflection, glass.” Apparently my reflection – man in flat cap – was about to be captured on film in a window behind the star’s shoulder, gawping from across the road.
And I thought Jon S Baird was so impressed by my Hollywood looks he had sent someone over to offer David J Knight a part.
After the classic “rolling… and action!” boomed through speakers, Egerton emerged from a side door with another character. Furtive glances over shoulders and animated chat was followed by an exchange of important-looking documents, before scurrying away.
This might be where Egerton, playing Dutch computer entrepreneur Henk Rogers, was in Moscow trying to outwit rivals and win justice for the game’s downtrodden creator.
There are obvious symbolic messages here about David and Goliath battles against global companies – and the effect of video games on our health and wellbeing, which has been particularly significant in lockdown.
But even more important is the potential from Aberdeen’s success in attracting a film of this stature. It should be exploited to help the north and north-east resurrect itself economically after the pandemic.
Given the enormous worldwide appeal of computer games, Aberdeen and the north-east must milk this for all it is worth by promoting more locations to film-makers.
It also highlights our craving to reconnect with performing arts. We miss them so much. Their absence has shown how good they are for our souls and mental wellbeing.
As I left the filming I passed an old chap on a bike who stopped to ask a security guard if they needed extras. I might try that if the opportunity arises. A promotion to status of extra from mere onlooker would be good. And the production team were reeling from my reflection, so maybe I’m a natural.