Health & Safety Lessons from a Pig Shoot

DISCLAIMER: This post is not about how we should shoot (anything) again within Covid-19 guidelines. I present the information below from point-of-reference health and safety experiences on past shoots at commercial hog barns – long before the pandemic. Many of these actions parallel current discussions about establishing new universal on-set guidelines.

I’ll never forget my first creative call with an Agency about an upcoming shoot—at a hog facility—and that moment near the end of their long list of guidelines, “…and the crew will need to shower in and shower out. The location will provide inside clothes, boots —and underwear. It’s all for the safety of the animals.” I silently paused, raised an eyebrow, and may or may not have muted the speakerphone, “Ok. Nobody on another hog (pig) shoot or their equipment less than two weeks prior to our shoot. Clean gear ahead of time. If any of the crew is sick they shouldn’t be on set. The PPE is for the pigs. And — underwear?”

You see, out here in farmland USA, us production people who collaborate with agricultural-related clients often find ourselves in wacky scenarios — while addressing health protocols and taking safety steps specific to the product, service, and / or location.

A commercial hog facility and the land around it are biosecure locations. Many basic shoot procedures and crew positions are eliminated by default. The biggest adjustment is pace of work. Imagine any set you’ve been on but moving methodically SLOW.

This type of shoot is different from the moment you arrive at location. You get to park but DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR VEHICLE until met by a Location Rep. They give you shoe protectors (plastic booties) BEFORE YOU STEP OUT and the instructions to cover your shoes are precise. After you have the covers, open your vehicle’s door BUT STILL DON’T STEP OUT unless the cover is over your shoe. DO NOT PUT THE COVERS ON INSIDE YOUR VEHICLE. The idea here is for no strange surface material to touch the biosecure surface. Only when shoe-covers are on should you move on to the property (still guided). This is one list of guidelines for one procedure. Keep in mind, we’re not even near the front door yet.

  • No pressure, but hogs are high-risk to catch infections. If one animal gets sick, they can infect the entire facility.
  • Hogs can get a virus from people and vice versa.
  • Hog shoots require more pre-production discussions and a different type of scheduling IF you want to attain any storyboard and shot list.
  • You’re at the mercy of the protocols and process.  Again, everything is slower than usual.
  • Gear doesn’t touch the ground on load-in but there is another phase of wiping it down before crossing into the pens.
  • The only way to walk inside is through the shower stall. Yes, it is a thing. Your clothes and shoes with those covers on stay behind in the entryway. You use their clothes (jumpsuit or Tyvek suit) – including socks and underwear.
  • On a shoot last year, we were permitted to keep our own underwear; which was welcomed. Yes, it is very strange. And by the way if there’s a mix of sexes on the crew; whole other discussions are required in pre-production.

Once inside the pens, us pros dab Vicks vapor rub under our nose. You know, like pre-autopsy you’ve seen in movies. Prior to your mind conjuring the stereotypical image of a pig pen, know they are way cleaner than you’d think. Before you get to to shoot anything in a hog facility, there’s a brief walk-through / mini tech-scout because – this is the first time seeing the space.

  • Hogs are the talent who happen to live at the location but you still have to “cast principals.”
  • If shooting humans – such as Livestock Producers (their proper title) or employees or veterinarians – they also come with the location but you’ll be seeing them for the first time too.
  • Livestock Producers and Farmers are great collaborators and some of the kindest, hard-working humans on the planet.
  • When meet-and-greets are complete, vanity checks (for pigs and people) done, final misc. prepped, the shoot begins…

After a few set-ups and shots are captured; the crew, client, and pigs get comfortable working with each other. This is a job and hey we’re professionals but like all properly pre-produced shoots, you can work hard and still have fun, learn new things, interact with curious animals, and smile at some of the things we get paid to do for a living.

When wrap is called, figure at least one hour to repeat your steps just to get back to the door. This process is SLOWED further to clean gear (pro tip: less of anything with cords = good). Beyond the shower stall, getting dressed, loading up gear, and driving away – there’s still a bit of work to do. You should shower again asap — and launder your clothes. If you’re at a hotel, do the former and bag your pig clothes and throw them in the production vehicle.

Ok, done for the day. Your title on the shoot will reflect your next project-related tasks but one thing not on your calendar for the next two weeks is shooting in another hog facility. It’s yet another guideline and health measure—for the hogs. Need more irony? Our clients on these shoots make vaccine for livestock. We shoot them getting their shots.

Before I go, a few more related side bars about these newly suggested Covid-19 guidelines:

  • You touch your face 100 more times more while wearing a MASK versus without one.
  • Wearing latex GLOVES is senseless without simply being trained how to remove them.
  • There are large fans on hog barns which allow INTAKE of fresh air and OUTFLOW of heat, moisture, and gas (yes, that kind). I’ve heard the word VENTILATION mentioned in Covid-19 chats and listed on guidelines. Aside from many questions such as what specifically does that look like to is that pumping air out or in — or both (?) — my first reaction was: Is it a good idea to be moving any extra air on a set with mostly people which may contain a respiratory virus?

Funny, not funny. The upside to shooting with a few hundred pigs is you can smell and see the obvious… Covid-19 is odorless and invisible.

I share these experiences of working on a hog shoot to suggest possible new roads you may be traveling on toward future shoots. The one commonality will be the slowing of all actions in every department. In an industry of “gotta go” and chasing the light and we need it yesterday – we’ll have to see how that works out.

My personal motto on any shoot is: pre-production saves lives. On a Covid-19 era shoot, this will be literal.

Be smart. Have fun. Stay safe.

 

Post content COPYRIGHT Jamie Vesay. 

Wind Farm, Wind Turbines

There is something mesmerizing about them. If you’re lucky enough to get to work around them or even for them, the view gets better as you get closer.

Windmills and old one near Petersburg Jamie Vesay WM LBLD treated IMG_5281In my opinion, the best array in Nebraska is near Petersburg*.  Firstly, there are many of them there – over fifty (50) spread out over one area. Additionally, there is another array near here with about twenty-five (25) in that group. The amount of turbines here on land that is topographically diverse, make this location worth the trip. From Omaha, they are about 130 miles northwest (about 2.5 hr drive). If you plan on shooting for a full day or hope to shoot at sunrise or sunset – consider staying closer to them. Moderate lodging and food exist in Petersburg, Neligh, or Albion. Larger scale amenities can be found in Norfolk or Columbus (each about an hour away).

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If you are shooting for the energy company or maybe a related client, your access will be easier and more fluid. You can shoot from the county road (and the array mentioned above does have roads close) but please know that most of the turbines are planted on PRIVATE PROPERTY, so you need PERMISSION (if you want to work close to them). SIDEBAR to those already saying, “I don’t ask permission,” location scouting and shooting is as much of a professional process as operating the camera. If nothing else, you are being respectful of people’s property and feeding production karma.

th_Wind farm Petersburg house IMG_8224  Back to the turbines.

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Time of year is equal to and comparable with the time of day you’ll be shooting. In late fall and winter, the sun is on a lower southern track. Keep this in mind if you want the sun backlighting them. If you’re getting on top of one (ONLY with company permission and climbing gear) there is such thing as being too high – as the sun may actually be under them.

CAUTION – WARNING about shooting in WINTER: Ice can build up on the blades and fall off. In extreme temps we’re talking heavy ice falling from a high point. Vehicle destruction or death can occur.  Dress warm, stay focused, and be safe!

th_Wind farm Petersburg old outbuilding early summer IMG_1712 copy
Mid June

Another hint about TIME OF YEAR: If you want green, early summer is most lush and best. If you want crops, later summer to early fall is best. Understand if you are not shooting at these times, the land is brown, the crops are cut or non-existent or buried in snow, and there are no leaves on trees.

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April

Regarding WIND, Nebraska is indeed notoriously a wind prone State and most of the time, there is at least a slight breeze. Good thing if you’re shooting wind farms and most turbines do move with even a slow wind. But every now and then, there is nothing. Hence, a non-spinning turbine is just not interesting. There is at least one APP and a website to help track the wind.

Here is a filming TIP: If it is windy, show it. The lovely tall grass below is a natural foreground element, connecting what you’re shooting.       You’re welcome.

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The following is important intel so please read slowly: WIND changes direction and turbines spin INTO it. If you pick a shot that looks great on one day – the turbines could be facing the opposite direction (even profile to your view) and will look vastly different on another day. The best view of course is when they face you.

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Finally, as with any shoot, SAFETY should be paramount. While the wind farms are indeed mesmerizing, you should treat your shoot like any industrial environment. Weather, time of year, how close you’ll be working are all considerations. Also, have proper permissions. From the farmers to the owners of the turbines, please ask before you shoot. If you’re project has any value, I am confident they will be open and even interested in collaborating with you.

Be safe and (always) have fun.

* There are other arrays in the State. Google “Nebraska wind farms map” to find a list and the best one closest to you. Honestly, you will waste your time shooting at just one single or two (like near Lincoln) especially once you’ve seen a large array. If you are in Omaha, and are unable to travel to Petersburg or others, there is a large array in Iowa near Walnut – which is only about 30 minutes from downtown.

Images and words Copyright © Jamie Vesay