The making of the Morrison’s advert

A phone call just prior to Christmas 2012 from Andrew Loftus with a request to provide cattle for a TV advert to promote Morrisons British meat policy caused quite a lot of head scratching as to how we were going to be able to achieve the brief whilst still adhering to movement restrictions and maintaining some calm amongst the cattle.

Two location scouting visits later and it was decided that the filming would take place in the New Year on farm with a confidentiality requirement so that the set would not be swamped by public on the day of filming as ‘Ant and Dec’ were going to be the stars.

A few props had to be gathered together for the filming such as an old tractor and a pair of wooden gates artfully draped with scraps of sheep’s wool to look authentic which could be erected anywhere in the fields to create a scene. The day before filming Trojan had a wash and spruce ready for his role in one of the story boards.

The evening before the filming the advance party arrived with lorries full of camera equipment, two Winnebago’s for the stars, a double decker bus kitted out to act as a restaurant, two catering vehicles and a makeup vehicle. The yard was quickly turning into a massive car park.

The morning of the filming and a thick fog hung over the farm. At around 6am, the yard began to fill with mini buses full of crew with over 120 people being involved with the filming. The fog turned out not to be a problem as huge light reflecting sheets were unloaded from the lorries with equally big spotlights being used to create imaginary sunlight.

At 7am, Ant and Dec were on location and the catering staff provided a hearty breakfast before filming started in earnest. Well it would have but the first location was deemed unsuitable, so it had to be reconstructed in different area. Everyone went through make-up and all advertising logos were covered up with masking tape.  The cattle meanwhile watched it all unfold with complete disinterest.

The first shot required Trojan to be looking over Dec’s shoulder as he talked with the Morrisons butcher Anthony and Ant. Trojan had to be manoeuvred between cameras and huge light sheets plus umpteen camera and sound men. He very good naturedly stood whilst his position was altered down to the last inch. The camera crew had wondered “if he could possibly stand there without his halter on”, but when confronted by the bull in the flesh decided that the risk of him flattening Dec might just be too much of an insurance risk. However he stood there perfectly whilst they took take after take of the same piece of footage.

In the yard facing him were a bunch of cows two of which had recently calved. They watched calmly as cameramen wandered in amongst them with huge cameras mounted on their shoulders with another team member leading the cameraman backwards as if this happened every day.

 One lovely roan 7-year-old roan cow in particular took the Director’s eye and a request was made for her to be walked up and down in the background of one of the shots.  Although she had been shown as a 2-year-old, she hadn’t had a halter on since but obligingly she was happy to be haltered up and walked up and down whilst the shot must have been taken twenty times before it was deemed in the can. This was with cameras and lights sheets and a camera from above stationed in the forklift man cage. She never turned a hair.

Lunch was called and 120 people were fed in very speedy fashion before filming began in an outside location. This entailed a set of gates being re-created in a grass field for Ant, Dec and Anthony to be walking towards whilst Charles walked in the opposite direction greeting them on the way.  Three heifers were required to create background atmosphere. The heifers hadn’t been outside since October and so it was with some trepidation that we let them out into the field. After a couple of frolics they dropped their heads to graze and we manoeuvred them into position in the back of the shot. 

They happily obliged with staying put with some gentle persuasion for the next couple of hours whilst Charles and Ant and Dec repeated the walk up and down the field endlessly. Again this was with about 100 people variously engaged with filming, sound, makeup etc. even coat holders for Ant and Dec all milling about in their area.  Filming completed they happily made their way back to their yard although probably a bit miffed that they didn’t have longer at the green stuff.

Everyone from Ant and Dec to the film crew to Morrisons marketing team had shown great interest throughout the day in the cattle and what was happening on the farm. They were hugely impressed with the quietness of the animals and how smoothly everything had gone. It was certainly testament to the docility of the Beef shorthorn which enabled the shots to be taken.

A whole day’s filming condensed into about 30 seconds of advert which was shown in the early part of February during prime time TV. It also received a huge number of views on YouTube together with a short film on the making of the advert.

As the light began to fade the crew swung into action to clear the site and as quickly as Pode Hole had been turned into a film set it returned to its normal appearance. The cattle continued to quietly go about their business and as far as we were concerned the real stars of the show – well definitely the cattle.