We’re in England this time, shooting a 14 page fashion story at an old country estate about three hours from London. I am to meet the driver and photographer’s assistants at 5 a.m. the morning of the shoot to load the 12 trunks, racks, steamer and all the lighting equipment into the back of the trailer. I’m safely asleep in my hotel room the night before when my phone rings. It’s the driver. He’s only just looked at the call sheet I sent him three days previously, and he’s refusing to drive us such a long way. I open a bleary eye. It’s 2 a.m. and I’m being blackmailed. Unless I give him $350 more he’s not going to turn up for the job in three hours time. After what feels like years of arguing I give in, if only to get some much needed rest.
Wait nervously the next morning for my blackmailer to turn up. He opens the back of the van to reveal 200 folding chairs in the space where our equipment is supposed to go. He refuses to take them out, saying I never told him we would need his van to be empty. Big screaming fight ensues as I try to point out the rational sense of hiring a van generally means that you have something to transport. I give in and call Fashion Director after he has dramatically declared that I have ruined his life. My sarcastic observation that this is quite a feat since we’ve known each other less than a day does not go over well. After more than a few choice words from FD he unpacks all the chairs one by one, we load the equipment, and, more than an hour late we set off on one of the more tense journeys of my life.
Arrive on set to find the Home Owner (appropriately, HO) has banned us from entering the house in shoes. We have to set up all the clothes, accessories and props under a tent in the driveway. It’s raining sideways. We’re also not allowed heels on the driveway, heels in the house, or heels on the grass. FD comes over to peruse the clothes and asks me to show her the favorite hats. We open box after box and I am filled with a sinking dread as I realize they’re back in the office. Oh, and apparently there was a bike in the stairwell that I was supposed to bring, but the prop stylist forgot to tell me. Local intern sets off back to London on a six hour round trip to retrieve bike and hats.
A loud scream echoes around the garden...
A vintage car we’ve hired for the shoot is parked on the paved driveway, and it’s owner is a bald, bespectacled English gentleman who now is snapping photos of his young Thai wife. She’s posing at the doorway of the house in her 5 inch stilettos and short tight skirt, as if she owns the estate. Our battleaxe in a barbour jacket, HO, has found this horrifying scene on her doorstep and is now in the throes of an epic conniption fit.
Meanwhile, intern arrives back at the office in her car, a VW bug that clearly will not fit a bike. With the help of the receptionist she struggles for half an hour to jam it in and get all the doors closed. Sets off on the long drive back to set with a wheel spinning constantly over her head and the handlebars angled dangerously near her eye. Pulls over twice to throw up on the highway, apparently from a combination of stress, travel sickness, spokes whirring by her face and sheer blind panic that her last day alive will have been spent like this.
Back on set, the prop assistant has dropped and smashed a five foot tall champagne flute, the only prop needed for the cover. I am head-to-toe covered in thick brown mud after running to get an Erickson Beamon ring and slipping flat on my back. The need for the ring was so urgent I didn’t get a single minute to go to the bathroom and wipe it off either my face or my once-pristine new white Ralph Lauren blazer.
Run back into the house to find a scene from my nightmares: model, Fashion Director, and Makeup Artist are standing on chairs, HO is screaming, and the prop team and I are now standing ankle-deep in brown gunk. We had been told not to use the sink in the kitchen of the house, but Prop Stylist had kindly tried to unclog it in a peace offering to HO. Apparently an old house like this requires a little more plumbing knowledge as the pipe under the sink is now gushing a thick brown liquid through the kitchen and into the dining room.
Intern finally arrives back at the house to be dispatched immediately to get fish and chips for nostalgic American photographer. We’re so far from any town that it takes her an hour. Producer calls time for the bike shot, but where is it? Safely ensconced with Intern on the dinner run because she forgot to take it out of the car.
We finish shooting at 9 p.m. Location van driver has missed his family barbecue and we’re going to hear about it all the way back. By midnight we’re finally backing down a tight bar-lined street to get to the loading bay. It’s a Saturday night, streets are packed, and we feel a tough crunch and a screeching noise. We’ve crashed the van, much to the delight of the drunk businessmen outside the bar. The combination of their heckling, the Japanese hair stylist’s high pitched laughter and the arrival of police is finally too much for our crazy French makeup artist. Without lowering the stairs she leaps over the side of the van with her suitcase, telling me it’s been the worst day of her life and she’ll never work for us again. As she sprints off into the distance I wonder how the day could possibly get any worse...until we’re towed two blocks away and have to carry all the lighting equipment and trunks by hand back to the loading bay over the course of the next two hours. It’s 3 a.m, raining, and I’m still covered in the mud I acquired eight hours earlier.