Film shoots that go bad are often described as "pig fucks." In our case, however, there are literally pigs fucking.
Day 4 of our 8 day feature-film shoot extravaganza is set at an upstate New York "hog farm." The "farm" is basically a hilly piece of land dotted with broken down trailers and trucks with 200 or so just-this-side-of-feral hogs roaming the land, eating all the greenery and getting it on whenever the urge strikes them, which based on eye-witness accounts is pretty much always.
The last film Chris and I did together, the 2006 horror-thriller Blood Relic, actually did okay for it's micro-budget pedigree. We then went our separate ways, but always stayed in touch. And like an 80's supergroup getting back together for a reunion tour, we decided it was time to give filmmaking another go.
Tarpit is a gritty tale of upstate New York heroin dealers. It began life as Tweakers, a web series about meth Chris and a friend produced a few years back. The Tweakers concept was expanded to a feature, then promptly put on the back-burner while Chris and I first developed a WWII vampire movie, then a WWII action movie, followed by a WWII zombie movie. None of these actually got made, which is a shame. The WWII zombie script kicked ass.
WWII and zombies sounded expensive, so Chris returned to the gritty mileau of Tweakers, only now altered to concern the current heroin epidemic sweeping rural America.
And I have to admit, it was perfect, visually. A green landscape dotted with the wreckage of modern civilization, a perfect visual expression of our theme. Visually great, with just a few logistical problems. The first problem was lack of a toilet. Oh sure, there's a Porta Potty on the premises, right next to the main house. Trouble is, the farmer decided to have one of his hogs for dinner the night before our shoot and the head, entrails and feet have been left out in the dirt about three feet from the Porta Potty. Apparently the other pigs will eat this stuff when they're done screwing.
So no bathrooms. Much of our crew is hardcore NYC, and one of our actresses has literally never been out of the city before. No way in hell are we telling anyone about the Porta Potty. Who the knows what will happen when one of these city kids sees that pile of guts. And we need them because we have 10 fucking pages to shoot that day. (For those not in the business, that's a lot.)
The other problem is the pig shit. It is everywhere. You quickly learn that you can't avoid stepping in it and just resign yourself to washing your boots off if you ever return to civilization again. Not only do you step in it, but the smell is everywhere, you don't get used to it, it just attacks, attacks, attacks.
And they are fearless. Charge at them clap your hands at them, shoot a starter pistol off near them and they just give you this "the fuck you want, and do you have any more potato chips?" look.
So take after take after take is blown by pig noise.
Like many low budget shoots, the food situation is grim. The one thing we have going for us is a huge box of Powerbars people hit at various points during the day to keep themselves going another few hours.
That is until the pigs find them.
We walk twenty yards away from base camp (and our base camp consists of a cooler set on a non-pig shit laded piece of ground and maybe a copy of the script in a binder) to shoot a scene and come back to find the cooler overturned and 300 pound sow chomping our Powerbars. They're wrapped, but she smells food and is going for it. She's got a bar in her mouth, chewing on it trying to pierce the wrapper, but can't. And she's done this to every barn in the box in turn. They lay scattered on the ground covered in horrible pig slobber to the point no one will even pick them up much less eat them. Our PA finally dons latex gloves to dispose of them.
So logistically, the location reeks. It's basically hell on earth. But everyone, cast, crew, sucks it up and deals with it. Because despite the hardship, something magical is happening on this movie. Everyone, actors, director, producer, DP (me) soundman, are all really, really into it.
There is an excitement in working on a low-budget movie, working as hard as you've ever worked in your life, completely consumed by it for the 14 to 18 hours a day you spend doing it, only to collapse in bed for a few hours sleep before dragging your ass back out to start up again, that can't be explained. It's fun. So much fun. Will the final product be any good? Doesn't matter. When you're in the middle of it, the thrill of the making is all hat counts.
And all the pig shit in the world, all the gutpiles in the world, all the copulating, Powerbar stealing hogs in the world can't take that away from you.
For more tales from Matthew Howe, buy his book Film Is Hell now!