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.”