In the film business, producers are terrified of not “making the day” which means getting every setup and shot done for that day. Usually, schedules are totally unrealistic because the producer has convinced his investors or boss that he can bring the project in (feature, TV show, industrial, commercial, short, whatever) for a ridiculously low budget. So, at the end of a twelve or fourteen-hour day—or a seventy-five-hour week—there’s always shots or scenes left over.
Sweating bullets, but undaunted, a producer will push the leftovers to the end of the schedule or add them on so-called “light” days or if he has creative balls, merely cut that stuff out of the script. If worse comes to worse, and the job wraps with unfinished work, the producer will add pickup days. If the shoot is non-union, he’ll bargain with the crew to give him a half-day rate, and if his boss has gone ahead and approved a full rate, he’ll pocket the difference.
After decades as a lighting director, I’d never worked on a shoot that didn’t officially wrap until—for lack of a better name—the pig shoot. In southern California, about two months before elections, advertising agencies are busy making political commercials—usually talking heads or a glib politician at a desk with two flags behind him and a potted plant in the corner, the shoot usually a piece of cake.
The pig shoot was a commercial urging voters to vote against a proposition that would eliminate pork barrel spending. The scenario: a dozen politicians and a pig are a conference table, the politicians, congratulating each other. One pulls scissors from his briefcase, grins shamefully at the camera and cuts a few hairs off the pig’s tail. Voilà. Pork barrel spending has been eliminated.
Alan, the producer, wanted to bring the pig shoot in for next to nothing. He low-balled rates and equipment rentals; he got a free-be on the camera. He saved more by not hiring SAG actors. He didn’t pay for permits or a location fee. He arranged to shoot the commercial on a Sunday in the offices of the ad agency where he worked. Okay, said the building manager, as long as you’re done in twelve hours. In film talk, that’s “taillights at six, everybody.”
Six o’clock Sunday morning, a farmer pulls into the parking structure with a thousand-pound hog in a small trailer. Lying, the AD tells the farmer they’ll probably shoot the pig in an hour, two hours, tops.
We show up at seven, and the building manager lets us inside. We go up to the third floor and set up—not a big deal since all the shots are inside the conference room. An hour later, the actors are rehearsing their lines for Jeffery, the director and DP, who is lucky to be working but lets everyone know the only reason he’s doing the job is that it’s on Sunday.
An hour later, we start shooting. Jeffery spends most of the day getting “artsy” shots of the actors even though there’s less than a page of dialogue. In the afternoon, the PAs put down plastic in the aisles, and the grips build a ramp and platform for the pig so he can stand at the conference table eye-level with the actors. Around five-thirty, whispers. Shouldn’t we be shooting the pig? Where’s the pig? The pig is the “MacGuffin.” How come Jeffery didn’t shoot the pig first?
Finally, Jeffery is satisfied with his coverage. The AD starts shouting, “Okay, okay, we’re good, let’s bring in the pig! We only got a half-hour left!”
A PA scurries down to the parking structure, wakes up the farmer, and soon, the hog is in the elevator. Meanwhile, Jeffery has the dolly grip park the camera next to the ramp so he can start with an over-the-shoulder shot of the pig at the conference table.
Everybody clears the aisle so they won’t spook the pig. The beast waddles up the hallway toward the conference room. Jeffery is ecstatic, and Alan is relieved, no doubt dreaming of a CLIO. Finally, the enormous hog is on set, and the AD is helping the farmer lead him up the ramp.
Suddenly, the hog lets go. After being in a trailer for over twelve hours, he can’t hold his bowels any longer. Or maybe he got stage fright. Either way, he craps all over the ramp, the platform, the camera, the assistant cameraman, the dolly grip, and, of course, Jeffery’s designer jeans.
For those of you who’ve never been in pig country, there is no worse smell on earth than pig manure. In comparison, skunk spray is almost a delicate perfume. Everyone runs from the room, gagging and throwing up—all except Jeffery who yells for paper towels and PAs to clean up after the pig.
At the end of the hallway, in her office, the building manager looks up and grimaces. “What’s that smell?” She comes out. “What’s that awful smell?!”
Alan approaches her with a hang-dog grin, but all she sees is a thousand-pound hog crapping as he trots down the hallway, chased by a red-faced farmer. “What’s a pig doing in my building?” the manager shouts. “Nobody said anything about a pig!” She holds a hankie over her nose. “I want everybody out of here! Now!”
Alan tried to reason with her, but when she started to call the police, he had no choice but to help the crew bail from the building as fast as possible, and if you ever want proof of life after death, call “wrap” on a film set.
I don’t know how long it took to clean up after the pig or air out the building. I do know that Alan was fired the next day.
A week later, I heard that they tried to shoot the pig against a green screen in Alan’s garage and paste him into wide shots of the conference table, but that Jeffery’s angles were too weird for it to work.
I will say one thing for Alan, though. Bless his heart, he made sure that everybody got paid, including the pig.
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