Propaganda Cogent Elliott Swamp

Shoot horror stories

By The Drum, Administrator

April 3, 2008 | 24 min read

Shoot happens

David Watson, creative director Rebel Virals

As I drove up the M6 towards the Lake District in the back of a van, I was focused on my task of keeping our lead actor comfortable and relaxed. This was Tracy’s first film and I could tell she was nervous. She was a big bird and ate most of the way there. Tracy was a Turkey.

Our short film ‘Free Range’ was about a young boy from the city who visits his grandparent’s remote farm in the week leading up to Christmas. With no mobile signal, unplugged from the web and without friends the boy develops a fascination with the Turkey on the farm. He plans and executes an escape for the bird on death row and thus our story plays out.

Tracy the Turkey was given to us on loan from a local radio station in Bristol. They had launched a campaign to save a local Christmas turkey and thought a cameo in our short film would raise her profile.

It did.

She was a natural performer, clucking on cue and actually looked pretty good on camera (for a turkey). We all grew close to Tracy on the shoot and it was sad when we had to give her back to the radio station at the end of our shoot. Little did we know that the vegetarian animal extremist group PETA were about to go for the kill! It wasn’t long until we were receiving masses of emails accusing us of giving Tracy back to her captors and sentencing her to death. As far as we were concerned Tracy would go back to the farm. The animal-loving fundamentalists expected us to free her, maybe even throwing in a trip to Disneyland to boot.

The level of aggression we received was actually quite scary.

It finally stopped... I can only presume their attention was diverted by a duck being fed non organic bread.

My advice for production companies: Cast your film carefully...or you’re stuffed.

Warren Gaskell, creative director,Gyro International

I once did a shoot in Turkey for a clothing company. They insisted we use ‘their’ choice of model. I suspected she was related to one of the directors or something because she had never modelled before and even though I advised against taking a completely inexperienced model on a five-day shoot with a demanding schedule, the client insisted.

We arrived in Antalya to perfect weather. Clear skies, long summer days and turquoise seas. First day I was on recce with the photographer and we arrived back at the hotel early evening to meet with the rest of the team for dinner. While we were all sat in the bar the young ‘model’ walked in and literally lit up the room. She was bright bloody red from head to toe. You can take the girl out of England, but you can’t take England out of the girl.

The shoot ended with a huge retouch bill that the client hadn’t bargained for (and they never really looked right). A word of advice to any client reading this who may be thinking of sending his beautiful daughter on a photo shoot to live out her dream of being a ‘model’. Don’t.

Andrew Brown, creative director, Swamp at Brahm

We were shooting an online teaser ad to promote the launch of a new England football shirt. It was a weird brief as we weren’t allowed to show the product we were trying to sell as the ads were going out pre-reveal. So the creative involved photographing and animating a ‘big boned’ lad who had a comic version of the new shirt painted on his body. We turned up in Manchester for the shoot only to discover that, as he was being body painted, the model had assumed he needed to be fully shaved – no chest hair, no underarm hair, nothing.

I didn’t want a big chunky, shiny bald chested bloke really and his underarms, even painted, just looked weird. I don’t know what circumstances the stylist had been in before which led to this discovery, but apparently the best thing to use for fake underarm hair is a hair net. So after painting we spent some time cellotaping hair nets to this poor bloke’s pits.

Nick Galanides, creative head, Cogent Elliott

I remember a couple of years ago coming in to land at Manchester Airport after a shoot in South Africa. Near me, was Steve – one of the crew – who had a Russell Brand success rate with the ladies. As the plane descended, a gust of wind caught it and we had to quickly abort the landing. Stifled screams, ashen faces, white knuckles. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Steve, cool as you like, carrying on his chat-up sequence with a young blonde air hostess. No fight or flight impulse with him, just a pure shagging instinct. Steve was also the same guy who turned up late on another shoot. Just as the shoot was starting, he turned up happy as Larry.

Apparently he had got-off with Kylie Minogue the night before, and instead of getting shouted at – the grudging respect and understanding amongst the rest of the crew was palpable. Steve, if it wasn’t you – it should have been!

Lu Dixon, creative director, Propaganda

Years ago, at a former agency, we held a PR stunt on the steps of a leading charity, intended to draw attention to how lethal a cold winter can be for the elderly. The big finale involved a very famous elderly actress melting a huge ice sculpture of a house with an oxy-acetylene torch. Unfortunately, the actress in question was well into her 80s and very, very frail, and the torch was a good deal bigger than she was.

Despite grave concerns over the safety of this exercise, all of London’s press were assembled and the actress was a game old bird, so we thought we’d give it a go. Cue two burly firemen taking the weight of the torch for our frail star until the director shouted action, whereby they hit the ignition then legged it out of shot. Unfortunately we hadn’t taken into account the force with which the flame would erupt - we might as well have strapped an 80lb octogenarian to the side of the space shuttle and hit the launch button. Thankfully, the quick reflexes of a couple of crew members meant we didn’t rob the nation of a most-loved performer.

Paul Alexander, creative director, An Agency Called England

I remember going on a photo shoot in The Highlands a few years ago for a very posh welly boot company. One shoot required a moody shot of an angler (the client services director from the agency) wading in a river wearing some of the client’s premium fishing gear.... anyway the shot required it to be raining, it wasn’t, so picture the scene.

Five in the morning, a very cold day, a very high river. One photographer (thank you, Michael Swallow). One very cold art director having to stand in the water shovelling river water up in the air with a large cardboard box so it looked like it was raining. All that echoed round the Highlands that day was a certain client services director (wearing size 8 wellies instead of size 10, so no socks) screaming ‘you missed me you *•*@@**! idiot”, or ‘that went right in my @@**! face). Small pieces of soggy cardboard then started to drift downstream along with the expletives of some very cold advertising chaps from Leeds.

Ian Watson, managing director, Expose

There are so many. In Beijing, art director and producer ate live scorpions on sticks; South Africa, a six foot snake was about 10 foot from camera and crew; France, I put a family of four on a leaf in the middle of a lake; built a 40ft sledge on a manmade mountain top at minus 12 degrees; needed a change of underwear after stunt driver took client around the Lotus Millbrook Test track; a random member of the public drove a golf buggy on the runway at Gibraltar airport whilst drunk.

But one moment stands out. On a recent shoot in New Zealand the creative team did the NZ adrenalin trip in a snowboard park but after the helicopter recce was successful, we headed back to base and the helicopter pilot did the usual initiation to first timers and asked did they want to go back via the ‘tourist scenic route’, which is code for stunt flying all the way back to landing. Yes, they chundered.”

Paul Sheldon, creative director, Live & Breathe

It was December 2006 in Cape Town. Shooting the Spring campaign for a fashion brand.

Staying in a small guest house, our photo shoot team of seven and a few honeymoon couples. We had to put up with our rooms being constantly redecorated and rearranged by the owner, while we were still staying in them. So at the end of a busy shoot day you would quite possibly return to find a new piece of furniture or a whole wall had changed colour. Amusing to begin with and a regular conversation of each evening meal. But on the final night of the shoot, we had our end of shoot party. Letting our hair down and relaxing before flying back at 8am the following morning. Our taxi was 5.15am so after a late night, a little worse for wear. I awoke to quickly grab my case and pull out the plane tickets and passports from the safe in my wardrobe. Except my wardrobe had been switched along with the safe and all its valuable contents.

In a blind frustrated panic I rushed to find a member of staff still awake, who in turn had to enter everyone’s room, sleeping, honeymooning or otherwise, to check each safe, until he found the passports and tickets. By this point, the entire house and every guest was up, and aware of a late departure and desperate situation.

After the relief of finding them, our taxis never turned up and it was by any means necessary we found our way to the airport with only 20 minutes before the flight took off. We affectionately look back on that place as Fawlty Towers after that.

Steve Hall, group executive creative director, Bray Leino

Killing the grandparents...

My worst moment on a shoot was actually the very first shoot I was involved in.

I was working client side for a food company and one of their specialisms was in breeding poultry. My boss had asked me to come up with an idea for a leaflet about a grandparent turkey flock of about 18,000 birds somewhere in Lincolnshire.

Keen to impress and only a kid, I went back to him with an idea which involved a picture of the flock shot head height - that’s turkey head height - down the length of the huge shed they were kept in. Shot from that angle I thought you would get a lovely and quite graphic picture of all these turkey heads going away into the distance.

The boss loved it and came up with enough money to get a top photographer up from London. On the morning of the shoot we spent several hours fixing little flash units all the way down the length of the shed. When that was done we set up the camera on a tripod at one end of the shed. I looked through the lens there it was...a beautiful impression of turkey heads exactly as I had envisaged.

‘While you bang off a few polaroids, I’ll step outside and have a fag.’ I said.

I went through one of those doors with a glass panel in it into an area where they kept all the turkey feed. Without looking back through the window I was aware of the flash going off and a split second later the photographer came staggering through the door utterly desperate and quite literally speechless.

He gesticulated for me to go back in the shed and look inside.

Having left only seconds before with a beautiful impression of turkey heads what I now saw was an equally stunning impression of turkey feet. At the flash they had suffered heart attacks and fallen backwards, feet in the air.

If I tell you that these were several thousand grandparents then they would produce hundreds of thousands of parents, and the parents would then produce millions of the commercial generation that get eaten at Christmas. In other words this flock would untimately produce a high proportion of the turkey meat tonnage consumed around the world. Serious shit.

I can still remember how my wellies felt as I ran to the farmhouse. They were trying to come off. I couldn’t run fast enough.

They got some cheap labour in to remove all the dead turkeys...and they were big birds, all fully grown up to 40lbs.

Definitely not funny, and I still don’t eat turkey.

Pete Armstrong, creative director, Iris Manchester

About ten years ago I was on a shoot for Glayva Whisky. We decided upon Budapest as a location for a number of reasons. The intriguing architecture was most definitely top of the list but access to a low cost crew that normally spent most of their time making porn films was another.

Things took on an odd vibe as soon as we touched down on Hungarian soil. Bearing in mind this was ten years ago and the country still had a distinctly communist feel. We were met off the plane on the tarmac by an official holding up a board with our names on. Without explanation our passports were taken from us and we were whisked away to a different part of the airport. In the end it turned out they just wanted to give us special treatment as we would be filming in their country and we were given a free lift to our hotel. But this set the tone.

On the penultimate night we were relaxing having dinner when the account director said he thought he’d lost his plane ticket or worse still he thought it might have been stolen from his room. The TV producer and the production company producer knew exactly where the tickets where… they had always been with the agency producer but the opportunity was taken for wind up. The account director was panicking about getting back to the UK so he was told for a price a fake ticket could be purchased on the black market. Such was his distress at not being to get home he fell for it hook line and sinker. The production company producer, Simon Mallinson, faked a telephone conversation in front of us all in which he arranged to have a Hungarian ‘gangster’ turn up in a Trabant and hand us the fake ticket out of the window before speeding off. The account director was exceptionally grateful and amazed at the quality of the forgery. He said it looked exactly like his ticket, right down to a crease he remembered in the top left hand corner. All this from a suit educated at Oxford. Isn’t that where they recruit for MI5?

Another time we were on a shoot in a big indoor studio. It was adjacent to another studio. On a break one of the crew was taking a walk when he saw something that has probably scarred him for life. The shoot in the next studio was for Pedigree Chum and he happened on one of the dog handlers with her pet Alsatian. She was wearing Marigold gloves and was busy, no word of a lie, giving her dog hand relief. Yep not walkies, but it does begin with a “W”. He rushed back shocked and told the story to all. Another member of the crew just nonchalantly replied, ‘Oh yeah, they do that all the time. It calms the dog down and relaxes them for their piece to camera...stops them trying to shag each other.” A good tip if you’re ever making a home movie with your pet dog?!

They do say never work with animals or children so here’s one more animal story. This one involves about 150 snakes. We were shooting an anti drugs campaign about 14 years ago in Scotland and one of the executions involved building a giant Strawberry and filling it with snakes. The idea being that taking acid can turn into a bad trip. So the nice looking Strawberry suddenly morphs into a nasty Strawberry and snakes begin to ooze through its skin. Thing is, the lights were making studio pretty warm and snakes tend to be quite still in the warmth. They just weren’t performing. In steps the snake handler. He volunteered to climb inside the giant Strawberry and “stir them up a bit.” He wasn’t fazed, as he had been bitten “thousands of times before.” All I can say is it’s a good job we didn’t shoot for sound and used music and Ewan McGregor for the voiceover, as the sounds coming from the giant Strawberry were priceless.

David Bell, creative director, Poulters

Whilst at W&K, a former art director of mine Jim Bucktin went to Germany on a photography shoot while I was on a different TV shoot. He was having a great time, getting on really well with the photographer, and worryingly pleased that the client was on the TV shoot with me. “All is good” he kept reassuring me. After the shoot he was really excited: “we have some great shots”... And true enough, they were great shots, just not the shots that he was over there for. Not even close. After seven days and nights of hard work, we managed to cobble it into a better campaign than the original one and sold it into client, who never asked to see the original shots. Jim is no longer an art director; he’s a photographer. A good one at that.

Dom Raban, managing director, Corporation Pop

Commissioned by Arts Council England NW to produce an animated ident for its Art05 awards, we came up with the idea of recreating the logo out of 1250 tea lights. We would film the tea lights from different angles, mounting the camera on a skateboard and towing it past the candles. The final shot involved dropping the camera on fishing wire from a height of seven metres.

The client loved the idea, so we set up our 1250 tea lights and camera. Then we tried to light the candles, but we couldn’t get them all to light at once. One of the team had the bright idea of creating bridges between the lights using match sticks so that one candle would light the next. Of course, the matchsticks became a conduit for hot wax and before long the floor was covered in a pool of wax. Suddenly the whole thing went up in flames and we had to rush for the fire extinguishers.

We ruined half the candles and the blue template that they were sitting on. We had just two hours left. We managed to salvage some of the candles and struggled on, doing pick up shots in our studio the following day.

Mark Huddleston, creative director, fuse8

A couple of years ago, a memorable day occurred that involved a football, an open window and a brand new Audi TT.

During an exciting day’s shoot, a 10 minute break for drinks came along, but boys being boys, we thought a bit of a kick about would be much more fun. Just to set the scene, the shoot was taking place in a studio on the top floor of an old chapel in Headingley, which we thought was perfect for football!! And as it was a sunny summer’s day, the large stained glass window at the end of the studio was open.

After huge amounts of skill and ball control (likened to the Brazil squad at the airport, you all know the ad) one of the photographers, Guy, gracefully took the ball down on his chest, then his knee and then in one slick movement smashed the ball, full volley into the top corner (imaginary goal of course). All of us watched as the ball, in slow motion, traveled in a direct route to the open window... Saved we thought, but as the ball fell beautifully into the void it clipped the window latch which in turn set off a chain reaction which was worthy of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

The window slammed closed, and instantly shattered into a thousand pieces which showered onto the road below. All was well until we looked over to Snakey, another one of the photographers, who had turned a very odd shade of green. Then we all remembered the earlier story he’d told us that morning about the MD of the PR department below who had just taken delivery of a brand new Audi TT, which he’d parked in his usual parking space - you guessed it- directly below the window. We all ran to the window expecting to see the worst, but thankfully all that was there was a pile of glass and a lonely football.

We all felt like eight year old boys with a copy of the Beano down our shorts, but as all eight year olds know, it was Guy the photographer - we had nothing to do with it.

Tyrone Probert, art director, Mason Zimbler

At a previous company on a shoot out in South Africa we were shooting a beach scene for a popular mobile phone company. The creative required a male model to be well tanned for a head and shoulders shot. I briefed the very camp make-up artist and model who seemed to be getting on like a house on fire, and left them to it while the photographer, assistant and I scouted the stunning location.

After a few hours we returned to find the make-up artist still putting the finishing touches to his model. Except his hands were applying tanning creams to regions a lot further down than the required head and shoulders!

He replied that he thought we may want more bleed on the shot rather than the tighter crop we had initially envisioned on the scamp. This explained why our male model was now beautifully tanned, creamed and lathered all over his body, including his crotch.

James Trezona, managing director, Mason Zimbler

I remember selling in a concept that showed the real faces behind the brand (that old chestnut) - and how they're real cool human beings. The Marketing Director identified some people and their interests. First one we did was one of the engineers who was a mad mountain biker.

We got a top of the range Cannondale, a high-end sports photographer, and got everyone up a mountain to a great DH course in Wales. Set up the lighting at various points on the course and multiple action cameras. The Chap, let's call him "Dick" turned up. Turns out Dick was overplaying his skills a little. In fact he'd never really been off-road. He liked bridleways, flat things, less mud the better. He had a lot of allergies.

We ended up having him cycle off a curb while the 20 strong crew watched in amazement. It took around 10 takes before we could get a shot that we could play with to make him look like he was even slightly in the air. £10k well spent. I have the ad somewhere.

Never do shoots with animals, children or real people.

Another fun one was where we borrowed a Bentley sports for a shoot, and the lovely girl and guy at the showroom took no details, or deposit, or proof of ID. Just we said that we'd spoken to head office, and they gave us a £200k car. Almost the start of a life of crime.

Mark Loughlin, senior art director, Rebel Virals

There is the one about a photographer (no names mentioned) who turned up and didn't know how to focus the camera.

And of course there's always models, they turn up after a night out dressed to party (many still mentally there) instead of for a business shoot or they call in with fantastic excuses straight out of the 'the blaggers guide to getting away with it' So below is a selection of the excuses I've been given:

Someone died

I broke my leg

My car was stolen

Didn't know it was today?

They never said I was to wear clothes

I got on the wrong train

The train went the wrong way

I fell asleep on the train so now I'm in Manchester

They never told me until I was at the party

My flat mate locked me out of my house so I had to come in the Bermuda shorts

I was mugged

Laurence Mann, creative director, twentysix Leeds

The TV and print ads for Johnston Press were to show fine English scenery of green hills bathed in sun. Reality was some of the worst weather of the season with 6 days of constant rain, heavy fog, mist and strong winds - all with two weeks to produce a campaign for all print media and TV. We had to hold on to some of the equipment to stop it from blowing away!

Steven Johnstone, creative director, The Hub

I’ve known photographers flinch when you tell you them want to use real people for a staged shoot, but I had the pleasure of witnessing a whole new range of twitches and ticks when briefing in a recent campaign for the NHS.

We needed shots of 5 ‘real’ girls in various roles using an edgy fashion editorial style. The girls were in their early-twenties and of various shapes and sizes. They had never been in front of a camera before and in most cases would have their boyfriends and mums on the shoot for moral support… as well as their kids … oh and we needed to shoot them whilst they’re breastfeeding… really breastfeeding… real babies.

We chose Andy Farrington from Rossendale, and over a period of 4 amazing days created some of his and our best work to date.

Tony Temple, senior creative, Mason Zimbler

Once had to shoot a smartly suited guy walking across Westminster bridge with no trousers on.

People were supposed to look on in amazement/shock and point and giggle and stuff as he walked by.

This was London, midday, loads of people: All of them crossed the road to avoid him and I had to go and put a suit on to get the shot we needed.

Propaganda Cogent Elliott Swamp

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