Sometimes, even with the best planning, you find yourself going into a shoot with a few loose ends.
We’re at the front end of producing several TV spots for a mid-Michigan hospital. The NYC agency’s concept is to dramatize situations where people could find themselves needing emergency care: recreational sports, premature labor and a deer “encounter” – as in – “nearly hit by a car”.
The scenarios, budget and schedule are discussed in detail. We express concern over the deer encounter idea which could mean trained deer and stunt drivers – neither of which there is budget or time for. “But our client really wants this one . . . do the best you can . . . just use stock footage or something . . . ” the agency counters.
For several weeks, we prep the shoot based on input from the agency, the parameters of budget and schedule, and our intuition. We work with locals to scout and find the needed locations somewhat in proximity to the hospital’s main campus which is to be featured.
For the deer encounter, we find the place: a two-lane country road that we can arrange to have closed.
For the deer: we’ve been working on it.
It’s clearly not in the budget to bring in a star deer from L.A. with it’s own motorhome and personal assistants. And this is well before you could do complex modeling, compositing and motion tracking with $30/month software on a laptop. Still, we keep post efx in our hip pocket on the in case.
As the agency suggested (and we had planned), producer Lisa Mulry scours the stock footage world.
How about a stuffed deer? Even though it wouldn’t move, with some camera tricks we can make it work. And we can place it right on our road.
In Michigan, opening day of deer season is like a national holiday. So, you’d think there’d be an abundance of epic deer hunts forever memorialized by talented taxidermists.
We put several people on a multi-state search. A few are found, but they’re partial – heads, busts, upper torso – none just right. Short of pulling off a museum heist, we need some luck finding a full, standing, stuffed deer with the right pose or we’ll be limited in how to pull this off.
So, the search continues.
It’s fall in Michigan. It could rain or snow, be sunny or cloudy – all in a few hours. So, while we are hoping to bag a better stuffed deer, our fingers and toes are crossed for good weather.
The weekend before the shoot, we’re sitting on our back deck at dusk mulling over the disappointing stuffed deer options, production life and alternative careers. Out of nowhere, an 8-point buck is standing in our backyard not 20 yards from us! He stares, snorts and runs off.
No further luck finding the perfect stuffed deer. We’ll have to go with what we have.
Crew, gear, talent, locations, moho, everything in place – and it looks like we’ll luck out with the weather.
We also luck out getting our good friend and DP, Rich Lerner, in from Denver. We’d worked together at many locations including a nuclear missile base for a story on alcohol misuse (not a good combo).
Rich’s storied career includes filming an Arctic Inuit family for three months, as well as chasing tornados and polar bears for PBS’ Nova, National Geographic and others. He sports an Emmy and Academy Award for his docu work, and was on the beta team for Panasonic’s 24p technology – a development which relieved all of us film people now having to shoot on video.
With a great eye, positive attitude and deep bag of camera tricks, Rich is big asset and one less worry.
We’re on schedule as Day 2 wraps before dusk settles in. Deer Day is tomorrow, first thing – and still no perfect stuffed deer.
On the main drag back to our hotel with Rich, we decide to grab dinner. Out of numerous options along the strip, we randomly choose one. Ever the producer, Lisa jumps ahead to get a table.
[dramatic pause for effect]
In the entry is a complete, head-to-toe, fully racked, stuffed deer, in a run pose, and on a movable stand!
Negotiations between producer and owner begin as we sit down for dinner.
Back at the restaurant at the crack of dawn, our crew rolls up the racked taxidermal specimen into one of the grip trucks.
By day’s end, we successfully film the deer encounter.
Just as planned.