Monday, March 14, 2011
Filming With Children and Animals
Photos by David Bridges. All rights reserved.
It was a precarious dawn, the sun just managing an orange glow through its ominous shroud of black raincloud. The small child stood shivering out of view on the other side of the hill. Huddled in a thin red cape, the 9-year-old waited patiently for her cue as, in front of her, a herd of woolly sheep grazed silently.
“Perfect,”, shouted the director. “Standby and… Action! – oh no, the sheep are off again – fetch the herder”.
Never work with children or animals, goes the old maxim. Last week we had both. We also had hailstorms, torrential rain and intense blinding sunshine: this was Spring in Northumberland.
The owner of the sheep, armed with tasty ewe nuts, coaxed the animals back into shot. “We only have 5 more minutes with Maia”, warned the assistant. There are strict rules on filming with child actors. Every hour they need a 15-minute break. A crew member was desperately clinging on to the rest tent, which was trying to launch itself skywards in the gale force winds. It started to hail again: the sheep quietly munched through the chaos.
Meanwhile our motley gathering of extras, dressed in grey suits from Asda, sat bored in our house with their muddy shoes, slurping coffee and swapping anecdotes about famous people they’ve stood behind. Jo was going frantic. “Never again”, she wailed, as she put up large signs warning retribution on anyone bringing mud, food or drink onto our carpets.
This wasn’t Hollywood, but it could have been the set of a film anywhere in the world. Except this wasn’t a movie that you’ll see on television or in the cinema. It was a film with a message, commissioned by a global energy company.
I hadn’t expected to be in the corporate communications business. I’m just a television producer, but a few months ago I was asked by a delegate at a seminar I was addressing why corporate films and websites were generally so poor. I told her, quite honestly, that I had no experience of the genre.
“That’s the problem,” she said. “Real producers don’t do corporate”. She persuaded and cajoled, and eventually we made her a string of videos and a smart new website, which last week won two major awards for Best Online Production. The gongs look good on the mantlepiece, but our real prize was that the global energy company saw it, and commissioned us to make a corporate film for them.
The message we were asked to convey was simple: when building a large scale project, like an oil refinery or a power station, it’s vital to know the precise origin and specification of every single part, down to the smallest valve. Apart from benefits of cost and efficiency, it’s essential that, if something goes wrong, the operators can get instant access to that information, even many years after it’s built.
Our film was designed to encourage suppliers and contractors to utilize effective information management systems. A dry subject seemingly disconnected from reality. “Shouldn’t you bring all your information into one place, so you can easily get at it?” asks little Maia at the end of the film.
But when we woke up the morning after we finished filming to the first news of the terrible catastrophe in Japan, saw the burning oil refinery in Ichihara, and then, all weekend, the fear and confusion about nuclear meltdown, the message of our film, shot at home with a child and a few woolly sheep, took on a terrible relevance.
The world we live in needs modern technology for fuel and progress. But our very survival depends on careful and precise management of what we build. For nature has a terrible habit of testing to the limit the structures of technology that humanity has created. And Heaven help us if we get it wrong.