Unpredictable personalities, skimpy budgets, wild weather conditions, wilder animals: Commercial productions can be very scary things. Here, we round up some horror stories from on set. Proceed at your own risk. There will be actual ghosts.
Ben Briand, director, Stink Films
While scouting for locations for a recent project I wrote and directed for Woolmark, my producer and I ended up in an isolated ghost town in rural Tasmania. We like to go off the beaten track and find locations that aren't necessarily in the scout's file pull.
As we walked the streets, the townsfolk stared holes in us, some even yelling. But as fortune would have it, we came across the perfect location: an abandoned mental asylum. Huge rambling staircases, peeling paint, wooden children's doll heads propped in the corner and even the large tables to strap down the occupants. It was frozen in time, and the centerpiece of this unusual and isolated town.
We found the caretaker, who spoke in a soft voice, which forced us to lean in close and not focus on the spray of blood across the ceiling of his office. He explained that when the Australian government changed the law to make it illegal to detain patients in institutions such as these, the caretakers of the day simply opened the front doors and allowed the residents to freely walk out into the town. They didn't travel far and soon became the residents. So almost every present-day member of the town was a descendant from the asylum.
Joel and Jesse Edwards, founders, Evolve Studio
We were filming the Original Redneck Fishing Tournament. At the event, 50 to 60 boats—and we were in one of them—race up the river to catch 15- to 20-pound Asian carp. Suddenly, fish start jumping in the air and the speeding boats collide into them. Fish blood and guts go everywhere. It was the craziest thing.
And then, on the very last heat of the race, we get hit by a huge wave. A woman in a Confederate flag bikini shouts from the shore, "Going down!" Our boat flips us straight into the river. We try to hold on to everything we could, but we were almost drowning trying to save our gear. In the end, we just had to let it go. So $30,000 worth of equipment sank to the bottom of the Illinois River in a shipwreck. We didn't have insurance at that point and had no idea how we'd get our next job.
Will Elliott, creative director, Goodby Silverstein & Partners
We were shooting ice skaters with a motion-control arm on a frozen lake in New Zealand at three in the morning. It was at the end of winter and so cold that the first skater collapsed on the ice and was unable to perform. The wind was blowing so hard the giant robot arm of the motion-control rig was shaking. But here's the other thing: It was drop-dead beautiful. The shot was going to be amazing—moonlight on snow. And then the earthquake hit.
All of us—the crew, talent and a motion-control rig—were on the ice. The producer actually ran the wrong way towards the middle of the lake.
We were OK. But the earthquake cracked the ice and because it was the end of winter it was never going to refreeze. We finished the shoot in a local ice rink and insurance paid for the whole thing.
Ari Kuschnir, founder and managing partner, M ss ng P eces
I could tell you tales of celebrity talent showing up four hours late to a giant set and not knowing the words to the song they "made" for the spot, or about the new camera that never quite worked, or the memory card that was corrupted with the whole commercial in it. Or how about the time the client fired the agency and then we had to do this one last job with them. Or having 500 extras and the honey trucks [portable bathrooms] are no longer in service.
But for me, the scariest production story is seeing those tiny water bottles on our sets. The little, little ones. It's an environmental nightmare, and every time I think we've overcome the issue, I'll show up to set and see those little suckers just staring at me! We need to do better when it comes to green production.
Thomas Laget, head of integrated production, Sid Lee Paris
We're in the Mojave Desert, which is the driest in the U.S., and indeed in all of North America. It really never rains there; it gets something like two inches a year. Just as we're getting to our location spot, a raging storm starts up. I'd never seen anything like it. They forbade us from getting out of the cars, so we all had to sit around and wait. It was two hours of watching lightning strike all around us, terrified it's going to hit one of the cars, because what else is it going to strike in the middle of the desert? Things went comparably smoother after that, but those two hours were among the scariest of my life.
David Webster, managing partner, Bartle Bogle Hegarty Singapore
A military coup broke out in Bangkok four days before we launched a major activation on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. The junta closed down all waterways and imposed a curfew after 10 p.m., and security protocols meant the whole agency team had to be evacuated from the city. Two days later, though, we were back.