Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Letting the Cat out the Bag

Perry’s Blog
Letting the Cat out the Bag

Over the course of my career, I have worked on many productions alongside our furry and feathered friends; the occasional reptile, amphibian and even the odd goldfish. The old showbiz saying, “Never work with children or animals” (you could add to that list: actors, production crew and the general public…), could not be more accurate. With a few rare exceptions, nothing goes to plan when animals are involved.

Two stories that spring to mind involve cats, and illustrate perfectly why these animals should not be exploited by film-makers.

The first involved the first 3D picture I ever shot, a 3D horror film. We were filming in the graveyard of an abandoned church on the beautiful island of Bute. Picture the scene: it was a dark and still night, and I was providing swirling smoke and dry ice to add to the spookiness.

Our animal handler brought along some rats, an owl and the obligatory black cat. The rats behaved impeccably, sitting on the gravestones, washing behind their ears and generally looking cute. The barn owl, too, did all its swoopy stuff on cue and in breathtaking fashion. However, the cat - when finally coaxed from its basket - took one look at the crew, took one look at our blinding key light, took another look across the road to a thicket of trees and… took off!

The cat was never seen again. The embarrassing thing for the animal handler was that he had borrowed this cat from a friend of theirs in Edinburgh, and the cat had now successfully migrated to the other side of the country. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall watching him, cap in hand, explaining to the owners what had happened!

But cats don’t just cause mayhem on location. I had the pleasure of being prop buyer one year for the BBC’s flagship Hogmanay show, Scotch and Wry. Moreover, I had the pleasure of working with Rikki Fulton, who was playing a vet in a sketch. The animal handler was pretending to be the owner of a cat which he let out of a basket. Gingerly, the cat walked out on to the desk to be man-handled by the actor, and took exception to the actor, took exception to the audience, took exception to its surroundings… and took off.

It shot off in a straight line to the studio wall, hit it at high speed, and bolted vertically up the wall (made of fibreglass on a mesh cage, so it wasn’t difficult). Within seconds the cat was 60 feet in the air and clambering on to the grid, well out of sight of those people pursuing it.

Strange, how one little animal can cause such chaos… because if there are people on the studio floor, there can’t be anyone on the grid (not even a cat) in case items become dislodged and drop sixty feet on to unsuspecting heads, so an emergency evacuation in the studio was called. Hard hats were donned and a retrieval team were sent in to the roof space.

I remember we got this particular cat back, but I can’t remember if the sketch was finished! Take my advice – use a preserved jellyfish where possible. A lot less hassle and they do as they’re told. 

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