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Attention, Filmmakers: Don’t Panic on an Indie Film Set

Attention, Filmmakers: Don't Panic on an Indie Film Set

Things will go wrong on an indie film set. As a producer, or anyone in a leadership role, the key to solving problems is: Don’t Panic!

This was pivotal for me as a new producer on the set of “Tar Pit” (2015). Potential disasters came at me a mile a minute, but recalling this simple rule allowed me to move (most of) them swiftly aside—even on that day in June of 2014 when we shot “Tar Pit”‘s last gun battle at an absolutely revolting pig farm and slaughtering field deep in the country of northern New York state.

Hot, dusty air carried the stink of rotting pig carcasses over junked trailers, over putrid milk feeding troughs, over masses of hogs, living and dead. It was a location that director and seasoned indie filmmaker, the brilliant J. Christian Ingvordsen, had arranged for our crime drama. Our gifted DP and screenwriter Matthew Howe was unfazed. In fact, he thought the pig fields were phenomenal. I began to wonder in whose mad hands I had placed myself and the crew.

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But don’t panic, I told myself because, as Chris (known as the East Coast Roger Corman) had explained to me: no one could have art directed the backdrop of this gunfight with more genius than the gruff, feral man who ran the place.

Upon our arrival at the edge of the property with the actors and crew ready to film, I stepped out of my car to shake the farmer-butcher’s pig-shit dirtied hand. A shard in his eye made me worry he thought a small woman such as myself might make a nice change of diet for him. Or for his pigs. Don’t panic, I told myself. There were too many witnesses for him to pull out that knife from its blood-spattered leather sheath clipped to his belt.

Nevertheless, I decided to wait safely in my sedan with our New York City actors while Chris and Matt fearlessly scouted the pig fields for shots. When the duo returned, they pulled me out of the car and made everyone else stay inside the vehicles. “Listen,”they whispered to me a little too calmly. “There are some dead pigs here and there in the fields.”

Their smiles were reassuring and their hands pressed slowly down on the hot summer air. “No big deal, but, uh, let’s keep everyone from wandering and, you know, don’t panic.”

Right-o. And so we refrained from panicking and led the cast into the fields cooing calmly at the crowds of pigs. Weren’t they cute? (We said.) Wasn’t this a neat country experience seeing live pigs so large up close? (We said.) The actors looked so shiny and clean as we led them in grinning and joking. Wide-eyed with phone cameras, they filmed and giggled, stepping in piles of crap, over corroded, razor-sharp barbed wire, around broken, upended refrigerators, and through gangs and gangs of pigs big and small.

As we walked, I spotted a fresh piglet corpse, around which I steered us without anyone noticing. The actors walked on cheerily. My jaw ground and my eyelid twitched when they defied my smiling “stay-with-mes” and bounded off like glowing children to take selfies against rusting, side-tipped vehicles overgrown with high grass and surrounded with pigs. Then, one of the sound guys was gawking at a pig spine embedded into the mud … kicking it. Miraculously, our unsuspecting beatific thespians passed him without seeing a thing.

When we arrived at our first shot, I confined the talent to what I thought was a safe place nearby. Happily, they stayed where I’d asked them to, huddled together comparing the photos they’d gotten so far. The crew set up the shot. My shoulders were relaxing away from my neck when suddenly one of the lead actresses squealed, “Oh my God!”I spun to see I’d accidentally corralled the troupe next to the rictus grin of a large pig skull and its freshly decaying guts and bones. Few things about the anatomy of this sow were left to the imagination. A couple of pigs began fornicating nearby, seemingly in response.

“Don’t pan—” I started to say, but was muffled out by the sound of laughter. Our actors were doubled over, all of them, in stitches! The members of our cast were such good-humored, hardworking professionals, that our day with the hogs became a highlight of the shoot. They giggled and gleamed throughout the ordeal. Later, proud to have survived, they even shared the story about about the pig fields on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, perhaps a bit too jubilantly… 

Watch filmmakers Chris Ingvordsen and Matt Howe talking about the importance of not panicking on the set in this short video. (Admit it. You want to see the footage of those pigs, you sickos! Hint: watch through to the end of “Tar Pit”…)

Roz Foster is a producer and publisher at Roots Digital Media, as well as a literary agent with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. “Tar Pit,”a rural crime drama, is available to watch now at: vimeo.com/ondemand/tarpit.

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