Production Diary: 96 Meatballs and Half a Whopper
Stuck on a tough shoot? Well, it's Better Than Working.
By Stefan Sargent
1972 Bristol, UK.
Ever filmed processed food? It’s a stomach-turning experience.
We are in a frozen food factory in Bristol, making a series of short films for a convention in Belgium.
It’s clean and hygienic — we’re in hospital scrubs wearing blue hairnets. It’s not the manufacturer’s fault that we’re both feeling queasy. These aren’t your average Ikea meatballs. Nope, they’re a traditional English peasant's dish.
THE OFFAL TRUTH
In the old days, the peasants used pork offal: all the leftover bits and pieces of pig mixed with onions, milk-soaked breadcrumbs and herbs and wrapped in a sheep's caul from unborn lamb fetus.
Today’s manufactured balls skip the fetus bit but it’s just as scary. There are small mountains of white solid fat on the floor. Nearby, tubs of ingredients like pork liver and soggy bread crumbs, are ready to be poured into the machine — which is going “glubber, glubber, glug,” extruding steaming round lumps onto a conveyor belt.
Any moment now, I’m going to throw up. Try to make this look attractive — which just isn’t possible — “glib, glub, glub.”
The factory manager is pleased that we’re here and keeps leading us to undiscovered treasures — like the thick West Country Sauce — “squirt, squirt, squirt.”
Hurray, we’ve finished the shoot. In his office there’s a presentation pack of 96 meatballs, a gift for a job well done.
“Thanks.” Quick, we need fresh air.
Friends, neighbors, and passing strangers dine on meatballs in the coming weeks. We can’t even look at them.
It made us feel sick but, it’s BTW: Better Than Working.
2008 Boston, MA
We are in a hospital lab. People pushing past each other, telephones ringing, nurses and technicians clinking glass beakers. In short, a terrible place for an interview.
LITTLE LAB OF HORRORS
I find a conference room. “Is this room free?”
“Sure go ahead and use it.”
While Tricia and Harry move the conference table and take out the chairs, I’m back in the lab shooting five minute locked off shots that could be useful as backgrounds for the interview. Great, I’ve captured all the un-staged hustle and bustle of a busy clinic. Will look terrific behind the interview.
Tricia sets up the greenscreen in the conference room — I do the lighting and lineup the camera.
We’re ready but where’s our victim, the head of the clinic? We were told to be here and set up by 10:00.
Midday comes and goes. What’s happening, we flew here yesterday from San Francisco? Our next interview is in Florida tomorrow morning. We have a plane to catch. Diva Doctor is not answering his cell. Where is he?
Waiting, waiting; we miss lunch. Finally, our star arrives, takes one look at our greenscreen setup and says, “I’m not doing it here.” Harry tries to explain how the lab is too cramped and noisy and besides, we’d be in the way with our camera and lights.
“Follow me,” he says and we are all marched back into the lab. “That’s my corner. That’s my chair. And that’s where I want to do the interview.”
Ugh! It’s slap bang against the wall. “I’ll just get my lights…”
“No lights — this isn’t Hollywood.”
FEED ME, SEYMOUR
Worse, we’re running so late that we’re going to miss the plane to Gainesville. Mad taxi dash to the airport. We just make it — no lunch and no food on the plane, not counting peanuts. Charlotte, we land and have to change terminals. We get to the Gainesville gate and they’re boarding.
The second plane is tiny. We are in the first row. It’s bumpy. The flight attendant says that they won’t even be serving drinks. “Go on, give us a peanut.”
We arrive around midnight. Ask the cab driver for food recommendation. Burger King is the only choice. Tricia shouts into the drive in window, “Three Whoppers, please.”
We get the hotel at 12:30 a.m. Give Harry his Whopper. Hey, where are our two? Only one. What happened?
1:00 a.m. in bed. “Your turn to bite.”
“There you go. Now your turn.”
One Whopper between two is no fun, but better than sharing a meatball.
Once again, BTW, Better Than Working.
You'll find Stefan's latest work at his site at www.stefansargent.com.