Sh!t Happens

No matter how prepared you are, whenever you shoot on location something is going to come up that is totally unexpected. I don’t know why this is, I only know that it’s never not happened to me in over 25 years of production. Often this unexpected occurrence can be a “shoot threatening” emergency that is totally unforeseen. For instance, I can recall my sound man informing me, “I’m worried, I’m peeing blood” as we sailed away on the Royal Princess from Acapulco toward the Panama Canal with our next stop five days away. (Fortunately there were great doctors onboard.)

Other times this can be just a little glitch, such as the time we were shooting a custom video production that required a water slide.  As we were ready to lock and load, we discovered we had the wrong tape for the camera we were using. It literally would not fit into the carriage. And it was Saturday.  The nearest resource for the correct tape was twenty miles away.  And they were closed. At the time this seemed like more than “a little glitch” but we solved the problem and got everything done, though we chased the sun all day because of the delay.

Knowing that a curve ball is going to come my way every single time, I’ve developed several policies to “prepare for the unexpected”. The best one is to be thoroughly prepared for all the normal contingencies. But on any shoot at least one thing will come up that is totally unexpected. So I’ve come up with a corollary to the “be prepared” motto, and that is “be really flexible”. So much of location production depends on keeping a cool head and being able to come up with creative solutions to unusual situations. Experience helps, but only as a calming influence. The problems do need to be solved. Which brings up my third policy for location shooting, “never get complacent”. Even when you feel you’ve got every fire put out and every weird event handled, don’t stop watching for more. A recent direct response TV commercial shoot we did for a toy company really brought this home to me.

The company wanted to shoot two spots, one featuring a toy digital camera and the other a stuffed pony that kids could actually ride and scoot along by bouncing on the saddle. We really needed three days to get all the shots on the storyboard, but the budget only allowed for two. We decided to shoot over a weekend so we wouldn’t have to deal with school issues for the kids. Still, it was a pretty tight schedule and one that made me nervous. As luck would have it we found a location in Studio City with the perfect house interior and, right next door, the perfect driveway for our ponies. This would allow for maximum production time as we could prep one area once we were up and shooting at the other.

All was in readiness as we began on Saturday. Everything went swimmingly and we miraculously got all the shots we had intended. (Did I mention one of the spots included the classic Hollywood Headaches: dogs and a baby!!) So I was feeling pretty good on Sunday morning since the most difficult day was behind us. Things were going so well on the Pony Driveway set I decided to check on the prep for the afternoon back at the house. I was feeling pretty smug about things as I watched the caterer setting up on the lawn for our lunch.

That’s when I noticed a peculiar odor coming from the front of the house. Upon closer inspection, I noticed a flow of raw sewage literally pouring from a pipe in the ground. My heart sank. Just when I thought I was cruising toward the finish line, disaster struck. And it was my fault! In one of those “Producer moments” I had decided to save some money by forgoing the normal “honey wagon” (mobile outhouse) rental because the homeowners had graciously offered up their bathrooms.

Oops! I was 30 minutes away from the crew, the clients, and the kids coming over for lunch with no where to go to the bathroom and raw sewage flowing onto the lawn just a few feet from where that lunch was being set up. It was Sunday. Way too late to call the honey wagon folks. Fortunately I had a very resourceful Production Coordinator who was instantly on the phone and with offers of money and food enticed a Roto Rooter company to make an emergency stop.

They were there and gone within twenty minutes with the problem handled. When the cast, crew and clients showed up for lunch, the only evidence was a slight lingering smell. No one was the wiser and we went on to produce a great commercial spot which ended up selling out all the Giddy-Up Ponies for the 2008 Christmas Holiday Season. But as I said earlier, you just gotta remember that “Sh!t Happens”.

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