Thursday 5 November 2015

Shooting “MEOW”

MeoW (2015)
It sounded like a perfect idea. A much-loved horse loses his brother, after living together for 26 years. He's so sad, his two-legged friend (and owner) adopts four cats to keep him company. They all live happily together. Erkki and I wanted to make a cheerful, public service music video about animal adoption, after watching so many sad abandoned animal commercials on TV. This story was sweet, seemed doable and had a happy ending. I arrived at Donnamarie's barn ready for action. Almost. Camera, a chair (for low shots), a cap (the sun was brutal) but forgot my  tripod. Turned on the camera,  trying to hold it steady. Two hours went by. The horse never stepped on the cats but seemed more interested in eating the hay. The cats roamed around, but every time I pointed the camera they would jump out of the frame. We finally gave up, made another appointment and went out for lunch. This time when I arrived and set up, I started shooting anything that moved.  When I checked the footage no scene showed the cats and the horse together. I made another appointment and called Erkki in Finland. I griped and groaned  (he calls it whining) and asked for advice. He said, “I've been in this business 27 years – the only thing worse to film than animals are kids.” Depressed, I hung up.

After  the fourth and fifth time (when my camera's memory was filled) and I missed the best shots,) I got a sinking feeling that this sweet little story would never be caught on my camera. And made a sixth appointment. By this time Cherokee seemed to know what I wanted. I'd say, “Look sad Cherokee.” And he would stand by the window of his stall  and (to me at least) looked sad. He was a trooper, especially since he had a bum leg, that hurt and needed painful treatments. But Kickapoo, Smokey, Foxfire and Pumpkin did exactly what they felt like doing. Sometimes nothing. I kept shooting. Finally, with my camera pointed in the right direction, and rolling, the scene was perfect: Cherokee was happily eating his hay, Donnamarie put out the cat's food nearby, all four ran out with their tails erect and started gobbling their breakfast. At exactly the right moment, Kickapoo turned her head and looked straight at the camera. A perfect shot. And a transition to the next scene in the PetSmart store, where volunteers take abandoned animals every Saturday to be adopted. But we needed a happy end shot. I told Donnamrie we had to try to get the cats to come out of the barn. I turned on the camera, yelled “Action” and she opened the door. Two of the cats walked smartly out and to my surprise, so did Cherokee.  I said, “It's a wrap.”

Cute cat videos are hot and they get the most hits on the internet.  PURINA Friskies cat food division gives an “Oscar” (or the cat equivalent) every year for what they think is the best cat video. I watched, what looked like a compilation. It didn't have a story but it did have lots of funny shots of cats doing crazy stuff, such a eating with a fork, or opening a drawer. Grumpy, the cat with the famous tuned-down mouth, became an instant sensation after the owner's brother posted his photo on the internet and it went viral. Grumpy reportedly makes one million dollars a year and travels with his own entourage: an agent, a vet, a groomer and his owner.  The WALKER museum in Minneapolis , Minnesota, curated a cat video film festival that has been shown in different places, including the LOFT cinema in Tucson, Arizona.When I told our story editor all the problems I had shooting “MeoW”, she laughed and said, “Ha, now you're planning to make a 30' documentary with kids. “Well, good luck.”

Thursday 15 October 2015

NEW PRODUCTION: littlemargieproductions website

Maggy as Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple.
Whenever I checked our website I thought we've gotta get rid of that pic of me posing like an ancient Shirley Temple – hands on hips looking bratty. Then one day I went there. The screen was bright red and totally blank, with the ominous word “FORBIDDEN' written in bold letters. Cripes. Maybe Elisa (our Finnish server) thought littlemargie was some evil porno or pedophilia site. Or worse. How could we have got into such a mess.

Then I remembered a form letter I received from Elisa in Finnish. I understood a word here and there but not the gist. So I wrote them back (in English) and asked them to translate it and send me an emai (in English). And sent it off registered mail and waited. Nothing happened. When I got back to Europe from Colorado I started calling every number I had in my book for Elisa. Pentti, Pekka, Ilpo, Juusi and a bunch of other guys were all nice, spoke English and said they couldn't help me. Finally a contact was made with someone named Henri. He seemed to have some clout. He said that the system had changed, the payment would be due every two months instead of once every three years and that we would have to make a new contract. YIKES.  This was getting complicated. After four months we sorted it out. But they had lost all our files and Erkki stuck something up provisoire.

The site looked worse than ever. Erkki is always “putting out fires”  - meaning clients need his help NOW. Every monday I'd call and he'd say, “I'll try to get to it next week.” GROAN. Finally I was in Finland, working on one of our public service music videos in his studio. “Erkki puleeeeeeze can we fix the website.”  He said “It's complicated.” And admitted it wasn't just a matter of putting a few new photos up, but of making a template, that would make it a snap to change and add. We decided it had to be done. He got his working and band buddy, Era, who knew a lot about how to do it to help. They kept talking in Finnish and I kept quiet. Every once in a while Erkki would say, “Once we get this done it's gonna be a cinch.” And then I had to leave Finland. Every Monday I called to find out what was happening. He'd sat, “I'll try to get to it next week.” ERKKKKKI! But last monday I called and he was working on it. And I saw a bit. And then a little more. And then it was done. Everything we've ever made was accessible. And looked fantastic. Check it out:

Eki's comment: I'm not a web designer, and i haven't really done much of real www design work other than to maintain my own and Maggy's site in the last 15 years. And... as you can guess, both my site and Maggy's were still really just the same 15 year old frames/html designs with some quick plaster over the worst cracks to somewhat hide their outdateness (well, at least Maggy's was, my own site hasn't even had a facelift in this millenia - and probably never will).

In the last year or two, i had done some content for our studio's site though, and while doing so i realized that maintaining the Wordpress-based SW4 site (designed and set up by my friend Era) was just sooo much easier and sooo much less hassle. So, as Maggy's site needed to be built from scratch anyway, i thought we really needed to go that route with it too. Especially as nowadays sites need to work on mobile devices too.

The only problem was, i had never set up a Wordpress site. After quick surfing on and around the subject, i realized that learning to set the site up would take some considerable time, as well as very likely messing it up many times before getting it to work properly - i had no illusions about my mad skillz on that topic. It's not rocket science, but not something a newbie can do in an hour either. At least not this newbie. So, it got postponed until i knew i had enough time to actually make it work. Which turned into an eternity, of course.

Cut to Maggy's last visit - we were editing at the studio, and Era happened to walk by, and was kidnapped to the web site team. He was kind enough to spend the time to show me how the initial setup needs to be done. It was kind of simple, but only when you know exactly what you're doing. You just need to do the right steps in the right order, all of which i have blissfully forgotten already.