Is it me... or do cats hate Directors?
Once upon a time, as the festive season was close at hand, a lovely script arrived. It was a simple story, the story of a dog, a cat and a magical fire. Animals, who hate each other, united by a wondrous product. What could possibly go wrong…
WC Fields was right; working with animals and children is never easy. You have to have patience, nerves of steel and a selectiuon of squeaky toys. But the challenge goes a lot deeper than knowing when to release the mechanical mouse. Here’s a few ideas in case you find yourself faced with a ferocious feline and a set full of expectant clients.
Rule number one - cast the owner not the animal.
One of the first films I ever made was about the life of a bull terrier. I knew nothing about working with animals but my star seemed a joy, following me around and doing nothing I asked. My cameraman, an animal lover, suggested I make noises through a cardboard tube to attract the dog’s attention. Bingo, suddenly we were in business, but the animal’s owner didn’t approve – a short man with a broken nose and a penchant for gold jewellery.
That night, uninvited, he banged on my door and announced that the dog’s fee had just gone up, because comedy was extra.
I learnt my lesson and these days I leave the comedy to the professionals. Charlotte Wilde doesn’t have a penchant for gold jewellery and doesn’t charge extra for comedy but boy can she deliver some pretty special animals. SHADOW was already a super star before he even put a pad on set. In fact, he can fly a plane. No, I’m not joking, SHADOW was saved from death row to star in a TV series where animals do amazing things. Check out this clip and you’ll see our hero at the controls. Amazing.
But let’s not get carried away. Those of us with "previous" in the animal world know that every day comes with a new dawn and even if Shadow was on my side I still had to deal with his feline co-star and as producers will tell you…
Rule number two - cats hate directors.
To understand cats you need to train as a Buddhist monk. You need to meditate on what they might have been in a previous life. Where they lived, what they ate and what it is about a film set they find so repulsive. Then you need to throw away all that knowledge and pull out a big stick with a fluffy feather on the end and wave it around in the direction of their eye-line. Failing that wipe chicken over anything you need them to look at. Note to any actors – that may includes you.
The third rule, forget WC Fields and channel your inner Poirot.
Like children, animals have their routine, some are better in the mornings, others in the afternoon and if you want to get a dog to go to sleep you’d better find out when he likes to sleep. Oh and giving him a big meal followed by a very long walk, that’ll work.
Preparation done, it’s time to shoot - two animals, one room and an open fire, what could possibly go wrong…
So here’s the twist – they’re not in the same room, at least not at the same time. You see unlike the legendary commercial where the mouse joins the cat and the dog, we only had hours to get what we needed and so I’d already storyboarded the shoot to separate the animals. After all, it’s really the dog’s story - don't tell the cat but she's actually the side-kick. So through the power of angles and good old-fashioned editing they co-habit only in a land of post production. But the real star… now that’s the product.
I kid you not. Unlike many products I’ve worked with that don’t do what the client says The Dimplex Opti-Myst is a truly amazing fire. It looks like a real fire but it's electric, controlled by remote control: up, down, on off you name it. It’s a fire made for Hollywood. No more special effects guy with a rusty old pipe and a gas can set to disaster The Opti-Myst is instant heaven, a film friendly fire. Revolutionary,
Oh, and let's not forget - good film, great script.
So finally, as the 2017 draws to a close I’d like to wish you all Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year. See you in 2018. They'll be series 2 of the Wine Show and a very special announcement about The Cutter, just in time for The Oscars.