Monday, June 29

The View From the Office

Over the years I have worked intermittently for this production company, mixing film production work with my other (quite different) freelance work. For the last few months I have been working here full time.

Our film crews are currently working in the US and in Africa. Miss Whiplash and I remain, up to our necks in budgets, schedules and cake, in the production office.

We hear from the field when there are problems; the Monarch butterflies have been unseasonably late arriving in Wisconsin and excessively cold weather has arrived in Africa. This weekend, after days without word from Africa I received a call from a cold and exhausted Director, he has decided to break camp and the crew will make a 2-day journey to another location which should be easier to work in.

Being in a good communication zone a new post has been emailed for the Botswana blog, it is full of details of the local wildlife and practicalities of making a film. Meanwhile back in the office the phone calls fill us with the visceral sense of how these projects lurch from triumph to tragedy.

Today I have dealt with a batch of invoices - they tell a story too.

Here’s a section from the African camp suppliers:

1 X replacement battery charger
2 X replacement radios
Long Johns
10mm wing nut
Brazing Rods
5 X Famous Grouse Whisky
2 X cases of Red Bull
1 X box re-hydrate powder
Game Powder Energy drink
Rennies tablets (large)
1X bag of rags
1 X tarpaulin + 6 X duct
vehicle respray for filming vehicle*
re-modelling of filming vehicle
ski rope

*The standard safari vehicles in the area are white - ours is resprayed khaki, partly because a white vehicle is a distraction to hunting animals, but more importantly, as camouflage against other humans out on safari, once they spot a vehicle parked up, they pile over in their droves, creating an instant car park, which is also off-putting for the animals.

Thursday, June 25


Zena joined us in the office this week, a ravishing Swiss scientist who has been doing some research for an upcoming production on complex insect societies. We have given this film the working title of Superorgasm.

The Latin names of many insects trip off Zena’s tongue, but Whiplash and I need the Idiots Guide to Relevant Species that she has made for us and stuck up on the wall.

TV companies like a bit of sensationalism in their programmes so I’m looking for 'stories’ – ideally someone who has had a limb dissolved by ants or people who have had their car stolen by wasps.

A Pink Evening
In my continuing quest to get reacquainted with my neighbourhood, I have spent the evening at my local cinema, it’s the sort of place that serves Spanish brandy and carrot cake, their films are scheduled to start at 8pm but everyone knows that they never start on time and turns up later, the cinema staff wait until they think everybody has arrived before they start the film. Tonight their Japanese pink film season opened with A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn which is about a woman who pretends to be a cow.

Actually it was about more than that and managed to be touching as well as ludicrous. I think Jim Jarmusch must get inspiration from this genre.

Sunday, June 21

Rubbery Cleaners Revisited

In the mornings, on her way in to work, Miss Whiplash brings us excellent coffee from the lesbian café near the office.

These days it's just the two of us in the office - everyone else is away filming. Whiplash spends half her time nagging a television company to cough up long overdue payments and the rest of her time is spent trying to reassure our creditors. I talk about biscuits and help think of ways to raise finance. In the absence of people I have noticed that enormous dust bunnies have been breeding under the desks,  I’m also thinking of ways to brighten our lives a little.

I do the afternoon coffee run. yesterday, three closely shorn women were sitting outside the café arguing about the qualities they’d be looking for in a nude cleaning person, I don’t think I’d like a completely unclothed person cleaning around me but fancy dress could be diverting. I remembered the ad for rubber cleaners that I’d spotted earlier in the year - I’m still a bit confused about who pays who, but it has occurred to me that if I get it the right way round I could kill several birds with one stone.

I kicked myself for not asking the lesbians where their fetish staff come from, but I had noticed that the café advertises communal stitching afternoons (an activity that has flourished in this city while I’ve been away). I decided to join in and see if I could infiltrate their intelligence network.

As it turned out, communal stitching is not attended by the lesbian community, it was full of girls who like kittens and sparkly things - I have returned knowing far more about knitting gonks than I did before - my quest for a cleaner has not advanced.

Wednesday, June 17

Leaving France Behind

The car incident from the previous post was the last thing to happen before I left France last autumn.

Earwig Sandwich has been largely based on the journals I kept while we were filming Smalltalk Diaries

Many incidents did happen at the time of writing and everything that I have written about actually happened, all of those people exist and I maintain contact with many of them.

We kept the Lovely House on after we’d finished filming Smalltalk Diaries and did other filming work there. All the work lined up for the coming year is away from Europe so we reluctantly handed it back to the owner.

Smalltalk Diaries
is a series for children, it’s been aired on various BBC channels but for the moment there is no sign of it being shown anywhere else (this has been a frustrating saga and and too tedious to relate).

We can't sell dvds yet (however I can give away dvds to the first 10 people who email me an address).

The Director is filming in a very remote place in Botswana at the moment – I’ve set up a blog here for his reports from the Kalahari.

Monday, June 15

Dodgy Car-Dealing

We’ve pretty much ticked all the boxes on our sequence lists and I’m now in full packing-up mode, this includes selling the old French police car, a Laguna that I'd bought for this project last year.

I’ve been telling everyone that the car is for sale. A couple of weeks back, when I was alone at the house, I had just stuck a 'For Sale’ notice in the car's window when I saw a familiar Mercedes pulling into our drive, M.Mullet got out of his car, greeted me a little too intimately, prowled around my car and asked me why I was selling it so cheaply, ‘Leave the car with me when you go - I will sell it for you’.

The paperwork for selling vehicles in France is complicated and I told M.Mullet that I needed to have the car sold before I left France, but if he found a buyer he’d get a cut, I went into the house to get drinks for us. When I came back out M.Mullet's demeanor had completely changed, he seemed to be trying to control himself, then he put his face close to mine and snarled, ‘you will never sell that car’ and drove off.

That shook me up

I stepped up my campaign, there was a pétanque tournament at the village bar on Saturday, so I drove the car there and parked with my ‘For Sale’ notice showing prominently, by the end of the afternoon one of the players, a Dutchman, had made an offer and we shook hands on what we both knew was the bargain of the century, he insisted that I took the ‘For Sale’ sign out of the car, I passed it to him and he tore it up. We drank many glasses to celebrate the purchase and he said that he would come by and exchange cash for the vehicle a few days later.

While the Dutchman was out test-driving the Laguna, The Walrus who is also Dutch looked at me and gave me a warning.
be careful! he is from Holland – he will not pay what you are asking.
So when I received a call that evening from another prospective buyer, I said that it was probably sold - and I took her number.

Sure enough, a couple of days later the Dutchman phoned, having assessed my urgency to get the car sold, he was offering me a considerably lower price than the one we had agreed - he said that his new price was all he was prepared to pay, he would call back when I’d had a chance to think about it.

I phoned the woman back, asked if she still wanted the car and took it over to her that evening. She lived a long way away and it was midnight before her husband drove me back home with 3,000 euros stuffed in my underwear.

...and I got to tell Mr Dutchman where to put his money when he called the following day to see when he could pick up his Laguna

Thursday, June 11

Dressed To Impress

12th June
I haven’t seen the Maire since we went hive shopping a couple of weeks ago – he’d said that he would come and move our bees into the new hive - we’ve been poised for bee action, but we've also been busy with other things…

Yesterday we were all in the garden filming the hatching eggs of a swallowtail butterfly when hoards of winged ants started coming out of the earth behind us and climbing up the stalks of chili plants to launch themselves off on their nuptial flights. We’d just scrambled another camera to film the ants when the Maire’s car pulled into the drive and two men in futuristic-looking white overalls got out and walked towards us, the Maire was pumping bellows attached to a metal jug that puffed out smoke, it was like Gardener’s World had merged into an episode of Lost in Space.

The smoke calms the bees down, the Maire and his son set the new big hive next to the one already in the garden, they opened the lid of the new hive and put in a couple of frames of new wax, then they opened the top of the old hive and pulled out frames full of bee larvae and honey and crawling with bees, these were slotted into the new hive.

We wanted the frames spaced wider inside the hive for easier filming - we couldn't do this - the gap between the frames should be the width of a bee, otherwise they get stressed trying to keep the hive temperature constant.

The Maire left us with the smoke blower and his bee outfit, we will have to improvise more protective clothing from net curtains and the dressing-up box when we start filming.

Monday, June 8

Insect Striptease

8th June
We’ve been filming a lot of insects getting out of their skins lately; cockroaches, spiders, dragonflies, butterflies and this firebug

The most astonishing transformation to my eyes has been the bluebottle. The boys have been fighting over who gets to go down to the dead badger in the orchard, filming the arrival of flies, the laying of eggs and the resulting maggots*.

We took the maggots that dropped off the badger to the studio to film them pupate and then emerge as a fresh new fly.

You might not want to scroll down any further if you’re eating your dinner...

A set was ready in the studio; a fox carcass placed on a tray of earth with a few leaves scattered around (set-dressing – creating a mood). The maggots were placed on the set - we did have to pick them up off the floor as they kept wriggling off. But many of them did make a brown shell.

Then an amazing thing happens - the pupa cracks a little, a white balloon is inflated from the inside forcing the pupa to crack open further until it splits revealing a damp and naked-looking fly with enormous eyelashes.

*we are thinking of rebranding maggots as fly caterpillars – would that make them more popular?

Sunday, June 7

Making An Entrance - Twice

7th June
My friend Florence recently organised a birthday picnic bash for her husband who has been neglected of late due to the recent arrival of a baby.

I baked my current speciality, a MegaCherryFrangipane Tart and set off in the police car but the road into Florence’s village had a big hole in it, and I couldn’t pass. Roads around here will often start off as tarmac and then dwindle without warning into a narrow gravelly track before petering out altogether. Trying to find another way into the village I found myself up one of these tracks and then, in my attempt to turn the car round, ended up backing it into a ditch.

I was tantalisingly near Florence’s house so I left the tart and champagne in the car, crossed the field, pushed through a hedge and walked up the lane to the party, arriving triumphant in torn frock and hair stuck with twigs, Florence ordered the men to accompany me back to the car and get it out of the ditch. They did so in great high spirits but were a bit competitive about how to deal with the problem and managed to further entrench the car, so Florence found a jeep-owning neighbour who came and towed me out. In gratitude I handed over the MegaCherryFrangipane Tart to Jeep Man but then felt thoroughly embarrassed about first stealing the men from the party then re-arriving tartless.

I needn’t have worried, the party had improved since our disappearance, the email that David sent round a few days later includes a reassurance to his friends (who seem to be mostly in their twenties) that being 30 is fine after all, and he then goes on to thank the attendees for their contributions, including this appreciation of my piéce de théatre:

Merci à Lulu pour l'animation de l'après-midi intitulée "A car in a ditch !"

Thursday, June 4

Mr Potato Head Under Pressure

5th June
I went down to the woodyard to get some ply from Mr Potato Head, his mother is extremely tiny and fierce. As I walked up her drive she threw back her head and yelped which is her way of calling her son's attention. Four little dogs joined in the racket, barking and jumping up at me until he arrived.

I had to wait to tell Mr Potato Head what I wanted because his mother had to shout at him first - she was telling him he wasn’t allowed to do anything until he’d delivered the truckload of wood sitting outside the house.

When she’d finished shouting, Mr Potato Head asked me what I was after and I said that I needed three sheets of ply but I was hoping he’d cut them up for me and he said fine and took my drawing away leaving a red-faced and distraught woman on my hands. She told me that her husband is going into hospital soon to have his leg amputated - the protracted result of a tractor accident and spilt battery acid many years ago. This is too sad to hear, Mr Potato Head put the ply in my car and said he must hurry and do the delivery before his mother bursts, I remind him that he hasn’t ever sent me a bill yet and that he must do it soon because we will leave next month...

Omigod we’re leaving! - there’s still loads to be filmed and masses of leaving stuff to sort out (like reselling the police car!) and I’m coming up to the one year mark for starting this blog which was only intended to run for the duration of this project...

Tuesday, June 2

Testosterone Poisoning?

2nd June
We're all in a bad way at the moment - not me obviously because I'm a girl, but the boys have all got bad legs or fingers or something, one of the Camera Boys is so badly affected by hay fever that one eye is bandaged up and he appears to be out in soldarity with Pirate Cat. Ms Woolsfoot is concerned that we have succumbed to Testosterone Poisoning.

The Director has something snuffly - what could it be - Man Flu? ... no worse,

Swine Flu? ... worse even.

It must be Swan Flu!!!!

Watch out - it's coming to a menagerie near you.
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