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I shot: lots of people on the Underground with no pants | Resolution Square

I shot: lots of people on the Underground with no pants

Happy New(ish) 2011. I don’t do resolutions as a general rule but this year I’ve promised myself I’ll keep this blog going properly. I’m not looking to become the next Perez Hilton or even Philip Bloom (check him out if you’re in any way a camera person or into your film-making, he has achieved God-like status amongst the DSLR world and camera geeks the world over go weak at the knees in his presence) but apart from anything else I want this to serve as a record of what I get up to because sometimes I find it hard explaining what I do nowadays!

So, onto my first shoot of 2011. I’ve been a fan of Improv Everywhere for a while now; they’re an American group who stage fun, brilliantly creative stunts, often on a huge scale. I haven’t by any stretch watched their entire output but amongst other things they’ve given a little league baseball game the full-on sports OB treatment:

they sent a fake Ben Folds on stage to pretend he was Ben Folds at a Ben Folds gig:

Ben Folds Fake

and they recreated a classic scene from Ghostbusters in the New York Public Library:

I imagine the brand itself is now big business, judging by the number of YouTube views, but at the heart of Improv Everywhere is a sense of fun and community. The success of most of their ‘experiments’ depends very much on the participation of its volunteer ‘agents’ and in many cases anyone is welcome to join in.

One of their most famous and successful stunts is the annual ‘No Pants’ Subway ride which started in New York in 2002 and now takes place in many cities around the world. The premise is simple; on a given day, as many volunteers as possible take to the world’s subways, take their trousers off and pretend that it’s perfectly natural. There’s no real point to it other than doing something fun and trying to raise a smile. The key for agents, however, is to keep a straight face and not to acknowledge the fact that others are doing the same thing.

New York’s ‘No Pants’ day now counts agents in their thousands; the scale of the London mission is somewhat smaller


but by all accounts this year’s event (I estimated around 100 took part) saw around a 300% increase in numbers from 2010. So with nothing better to do with my Sunday afternoon I rigged up my camera and met the London organisers in a pub just north of Trafalgar Square and then proceeded to follow the mission up and down the Bakerloo line for the next hour and a half. (Rules officially stated that even members of the media were expected to disrobe but my backpack was full of camera gear and nobody needs to see my worn shreddies on God’s day of rest.)


Reactions to carriages half-full of pasty Brits in their undercrackers were mixed; some laughed and clearly appreciated the silliness, others resolutely refused to accept that it was happening and apparently some were ever so slightly hostile. The mission was organised so that some agents got on at every stop along the line, adding to the confusion of those inside. All in all it was a welcome sight; London tube etiquette has it that you stare blankly into space so it was a refreshing change to be actively encouraged to look around and acknowledge your fellow passengers. And for those involved, I fully understand the sense of achievement they felt when the train rattled back into Charing Cross; it’s not up there with discovering penicillin or climbing Everest but making London Underground passengers smile is no mean feat.

Video-wise, shooting without a permit on the London Underground is a tricky one, especially given the current climate, but one of the benefits of shooting on my 7D (for the uninitiated, it’s a stills camera but they’re increasingly used to shoot video…won’t go into why right now) is that it doesn’t attract the attention the way a video camera does. The downside is that they’re notoriously hard to keep steady without a rig (more on that in a few days) and recording sound is a pain, but as I needed to keep a low profile I shot everything handheld, no rig, just attaching a mic for the (very noisy) interviews in the pub at the end. For the geeks amongst you I did have two lenses, my Sigma 30mm f1.4 and Tokina 11-16mm f2.8. I really could have done with my zoom but it’s still in lens hospital after Watford FC did this to it:

So here’s the vid, a bit rough and ready in places as it was shot very much on the hoof and edited quickly, but hopefully it tells the story. I’m certainly hooked, and although I don’t expect to be riding the Northern Line trouserless any day soon, my name’s going to be first on the list if there are any more Improv Everywhere style stunts planned over here.

If you like your videos with a smoother encode, I’ve also got it on my new Vimeo channel:

2011 London ‘No Trousers’ Underground Ride from Resolution Square (Neil Smythe) on Vimeo.

Video by me, photos courtesy of Idil Sukan, thanks to Improv Everywhere for their inspiration!

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