Claire Lewis on the trials of working with animals

0

I’d worked briefly for Steve Morrison on his first drama, the Orwell drama, The Road to 1984, because I desperately wanted to do drama. And because I was working in local programmes, everything I was doing was in local programmes, I was working with Steve on a number of programmes and he got me in as a researcher and as a researcher to work with him on his George Orwell drama, which was directed by David Wheatley. Again, absolutely amazing experience. We shot it in in an old hospital in Trafford Park. My responsibility was getting all the animals for The Road to 1984, for the script was written but my job… Steve Morrison and David Wheatley, who were running the film, would feed off each other’s fantasies.
And one day Steve said to me, “We want to use real pigs in the scenes for Animal Farm.” And I went, “Okay.” And we want we want real pigs, and we want the real pigs to be performing and doing all the things. There was a long silence and I sort of said, “You do realise that 1984 was fictional, don’t you?” And they both looked at each other and said, “We want to find real animals.” So I was dispatched to find real pigs who could perform. I have to say, probably one of the most challenging things I’ve ever had in my TV career, because pigs don’t perform. They’re really, really… they’re intelligent but they’re not very good performers. So I went and befriended the pig keeper at Tatton Park Farm where they had a lot of pigs. And he was called Ted Heath, believe it or not. And Ted Heath and I got on. And I said, “Look, this is my brief. My bosses, who are completely mad, want to use real animals in the Animal Farm sequences. How am I going to do this?” And he said, “Okay…”
So we had a few plans and we got some pigs and he started training up one particular pig called Christine to have a paintbrush in her mouth for the sequence where they had the commandments written on the wall of the garage doors on Animal Farm. You know, the commandments. One, two, three, four. What they wanted was to film the sequence where they had a pig with a brush, and it looked like the pig was painting. Then there was another sequence of all the pigs coming in to the house to eat their food and sit up at the table. All of which was… I mean, nobody realised what a complete fantasy that was anyway. So that was my job. Anyway, Ted got this pigs quite well trained, and we did a few practices and we realised that we could do certain things with them.
Christine was wonderful. She would actually pick the brush up and she would stand with the brush, and just had to go up a ladder; she had to go two or three steps so that she looked as if she was painting. So come the day of the shoot, big film shoot, crew of 500, James Fox, actors, trailers, hospitality, the whole thing; my first experience of a proper feature film shoot. We were doing the animal sequences. Okay. So we start and was all going swimmingly. And then it came to the scene where Christine had to appear. Right. No Christine. Didn’t appear. Nothing. We were waiting around. “Claire, where’s the pigs?” I said, “I’m sorry. I’ll go and find out.” So I ran and said to Ted Heath, “What’s going on?” He said, “I can’t get Christine out of her pen. I can’t get her out.” I said, “What do you mean?” “She won’t come out.” “What do you mean, she won’t come out? We’ve got to film this scene. I got a 500-person film crew here. What are we going to do?” “I can’t get her out,” says Ted. So we tried our hardest and couldn’t get Christine out at all. She would not come out of her pen. She’d never done it before and we didn’t know what the problem was, but she wouldn’t come out.
So then we had one more scene to do, Christine was supposed to lead all the pigs into the house to get up to the table, and she wouldn’t. So I said to Ted, “What are we going to do? This is a really expensive film shoot. We’ve got film stars here. What are we going to do to shoot the house scene?” He went, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We will use a bunch of pigs we haven’t even worked with before, and we won’t use Christine. We’ll try this.” I went, “What?” he said, “It’s okay.” So we went and put food on all the plates in the house. Nobody knew that we hadn’t used these pigs before. And so we started to shoot the scene. So we herded the pigs, and the one that he hadn’t used before went into the house – and you can see this, because we actually shot it for the actual scene – these pigs went all the way around the table, it was a circular table, and each one got up onto the table and started to eat out of these bowls. It was unbelievable. We just stood there with our mouths open thinking, “We’re okay, we’re fine, this is working.” And we shot the whole scene and everyone thought it was wonderful. Nobody knew that we hadn’t worked with those pigs before, they were a completely different set of pigs, and that Christine wouldn’t come out of her pen. So we had to go back the following week to shoot Christine because she did know what she was doing. I said, “Ted, why wouldn’t she come out of her barn?” And he said, “Because she was in season and she had to walk past the male pig,” and she wouldn’t do it. She wouldn’t go near him. And she wouldn’t come out. He could smell her, and she could smell him. And so sex reared its ugly head! And then, of course, I had to do an interview for the papers when the film came out. And I told them the story about Christine, and one of the reporters said, “Well, what’s happened to Christine now?” and I said, “Sadly, she’s pork pies.”

Share.

About Author

Leave A Reply