BAD DAY AT BLACKPOOL Just The Way It Happened! Dec ’09

“Mind not looking at me like that?”
Mortician: “Like what?”
“Like a potential customer.”
Mortician: “Huh. Everyone is…”
— Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

LONDON 1998. Setting off for a shoot — any shoot — is dead scary. Why? Because I am a potential customer for the big screw-up mortician in the sky. I know it. He will get me in the end.

Blackpool tomorrow. I check everything. Shoot something and play it back. Batteries charged? Enough tape stock? Wireless mics: “Hello, testing, one, two, three.” Lighting kit — plug in, switch on. Got gaffer tape, location maps, shooting schedule?

Yikes, three locations in Blackpool, then a long drive to Leeds for another shoot in the afternoon. I’ll drive to Blackpool tonight — take my strong assistant, James.

He’s a good driver and a great help on location. But where is he? Not here. Not answering his cell. James, where are you?

After half an hour, I give up. No time to find anyone else. I’ll go alone. A bad start.

I meet my client at a seaside hotel. Poor Rob has MS. Some days are good. Some days are bad. Today is bad.

We go to dinner at the hotel restaurant. Order steak. Wait and wait. Nothing. Where’s the waiter? I go inside the kitchen. All gone. The Marie Celeste of kitchens.

No dinner for Rob; he goes to bed early. I drive around looking for a burger and maybe the hotel kitchen staff. Rob phones. Can I get a prescription filled? Rob is really sick.

In the morning, we make our way to the beach where the ICI Autocolor Eastern Division is riding beach donkeys. The sales team is dressed as Mexicans with sombreros and toy rifles. Each member of the team has one line to say about how they thrashed the competition. Not my idea or Rob’s. This is what they wanted for their part of the sales conference. The donkeys don’t want anything to do with this video. Me neither.

I’m shooting from the beach looking up, straight into an overcast sky. I really need to be up high, shooting level. Can we get a truck on the beach? No. I will ride a donkey. Ever tried shooting paint salesmen from a miserable donkey? Don’t.

Centerpiece to the Pleasure Beach is The Big One. It cost over $20 million to build and is the biggest, longest, fastest, ugliest roller coaster in Europe (see below). The regional Autocolor boss wants to make a to-camera speech in front of it.

Everyone in Blackpool knows that huge waves hit the sea wall and land on innocent cameramen.

He does his piece and out of nowhere the Irish Sea lands on me.

A typical day at Blackpool's Pleasure Beach

Blackpool locals shriek with laughter. This is why they call it Pleasure Beach.

They look great and their fiberglass body is painted with (you guessed it) ICI Autocolor.

TVR Tuscan-C Sports Car

My job: shoot a five-minute documentary about it. The only problem is my wet camera has stopped working and I didn’t bring a spare.

I put it in a spray paint booth to dry off. That’s what they teach in film school, isn’t it? After an hour of cooking, it still doesn’t work. I’m desperate. Give the poor thing a good shake and suddenly it’s running. In fact, it won’t stop. Take out the battery — it stops — put it back in — it runs. Who needs a switch?

I shoot a spray paint sequence wearing the full protective clothes and facemask. The donkey shoot was easier. I’m pulling the battery in and out. But I’m getting there.
Now I’m late for the Northern team in Leeds. No James to drive me. Rob’s too sick to come.

I arrive three hours late. “Where the f*&$, have you been?” No point in explaining.

The big day, my videos are run at the sales conference: “Hey, Stefan, those Blackpool clips are great. What a fun day you had!”

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