Herding Cats

Right, don’t eat the dessert until I say so. Got it? Good.  

We will come back to this…

In the course of our work we have to direct quite a lot of talent. Meals have to be eaten, coffee drunk, cakes scoffed, rooms enjoyed, views admired and so forth. Not arduous tasks by any means and they are usually tackled by the clients themselves, members of staff or their extended families. It isn’t difficult to rope someone with the lure of a free meal or encourage them to pretend to enjoy afternoon tea or coffee if they are actually enjoying a  latte and tucking in to cakes, scones, pastries or shortbread with no bill at the end . Especially as this is the Scottish Highlands, home of exceptionally good baking.

However, there are times when it becomes a little exacting. The more people involved the more complicated it gets. When you have to create a bustling restaurant  in the background of a shot that means you have to make sure that up to thirty people are behaving themselves when you press the button.

Getting 30 people to pretend to be enjoying themselves when you’ve just told them not to drink the wine, beer, tea or coffee in front of them and that, as mere background artistes, they will not be getting any of the food the foreground talent is so happily tucking into can be tricky. It can create small moments of rebellion…

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Not that the foreground talent are much better. On one shoot at a very lovely West Highland hotel part of the task was to photograph the restaurant, lounge and the very nice pizza and seafood diner it had next door. Talent was to be provided by the owners friends.

On the day a group of enthusiastic volunteers gathered in the diner just before lunch ready to do my bidding. They happily complied to my directions and were rewarded with much drink and seafood. Everybody was happy. They were then herded into the restaurant for their second lunch. There was some good-natured complaining along the “where will I fit it/couldn’t eat another thing/absolutely stuffed” lines. Again things went smoothly…until we got to dessert.  One of the talent had a particularly tempting pudding in front of him and while I was imparting the “Right, don’t eat the dessert until I say so. Got it? Good.” line to the assembled talent he was eyeing up the plate in front of him with some relish. By the time I had turned and walked back to the camera (a good three, maybe four steps) he had demolished half of it. I admonished him, his wife admonished him and the chef who had to make a replacement would have admonished him if he wasn’t busy making another pudding. The hero of our tale didn’t look very admonished. He was looking forward to a second dessert.

A few minutes later a replacement arrived. I repeated the “don’t eat the pudding” line.

My obvious mistake was to turn my back on him. As soon as I broke eye contact he tucked in again. I went back to the kitchen and asked very nicely for a third helping.

It arrived and the “Don’t. Eat. The. Dessert.” line was trotted out yet again. Very firmly. This time I walked back to the camera backwards, holding eye contact all the way. I maintained eye contact while taking the shot . One eye on the viewfinder the other firmly focused on the voracious gourmet at the table. all the while backing up the one-eyed Paddington stare with a pointed finger . Once I had declared the shot got, broke eye contact and my commandingly pointed finger dropped he fell upon his third pudding with all the subtlety and ruthlessness of a lioness on a three legged wildebeest.

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After this we repaired to the lounge and a lovely afternoon tea was set up where  scones were served with lashings of jam and cream. Guess who ate his before I had my lights set up…

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