Written By Barbara O’Brien
Making movies is a little bit like making magic. It may look real on film but, of course, it is all an illusion. I was reminded of this a few weeks back when a good part of the country including western Wisconsin, where I live, was in the grips of a dangerous heat wave. Temperatures soared and heat indexes were at 115º F plus.
As I sat working in my home office, sweat dripping off my brow in spite of the two fans positioned on either side of me, I was reminded of when I was working on a feature film called Here on Earth. It starred a young Chris Kline, and equally young Josh Hartnett, and a lovely young actress named Lee Lee Sobieski. We had been contracted to provide a herd of dairy cows to give reality and atmosphere to the dairy farm location.
We dutifully hauled the six Holstein cows to the set every morning and once they were unloaded, cleaned up and made comfortable we waited around for their inclusion in a scene.
Movie work is a classic case of hurry up and wait which means everyone must show up at 6:00 am because they just might change the shooting schedule in which case you better be ready when the first assistant director runs up to you, walkie-talkie in hand, and says breathlessly, “The director would like to use the cows now.”
This in itself is not so bad, but shooting happened to be taking place in a record heat wave not unlike the one we all just experienced.
We had a place in the shade, and plenty of water for the cows so they were ok when we were not working but once we moved into the lower level of the barn it was stifling hot and we felt the cows were at risk.
I mentioned this to the first assistant director who expressed our concerns to the director. The order was then given, “Cool the cows!” and a large plastic duct was pushed through a window and cool, clean conditioned air began to pour into the barn. It was heavenly if you were a cow. But if you were a trainer or just about anyone else, you had to stay back out of frame and almost die as the barn heated up even more because of the monstrously huge movie lights and close pressed bodies of the crew.
The actors were treated well, also. The crew had broken for lunch in a large event tent, which offered shade, but there was still no breeze and the heat and humidity was oppressive. I was watching as everyone moved as slowly as possible to avoid any extra exertion when I noticed Lee Lee Sobieski exiting her trailer. She looked liked an angel just stepped down from the clouds as she approached – every hair on her head in place, her makeup perfect and completely sweat free, as if she was immune to the weather. She came with her plate and sat at our table, which was unusual, as animal trainers are pretty low on the film crew totem pole. She happened to be an animal lover and wanted to know more about the cows. So we enjoyed a brief, if hot, lunch break with her. Then she floated back to her air-conditioned trailer and we went back to the cows.
In my next life, I am either going to be a beautiful young actress or a beautiful young acting cow. In either case, I will be cool.
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