Video production set up is hard work, but this time it actually turned deadly

Days before visiting a client at her house for a video shoot (just filming aRoll), I checked the location out on Google Maps.

I admit it: I am a conscientious planner who doesn’t like avoidable surprises on set, so I figured there’d be a value in checking out the parking situation and where the house was in relation to the sun coming up in the morning (we were filming in the client’s backyard).

Looking at Google Map’s street view, there looked like ample parking in the driveway, as well as an RV gate on the side of the home that provided an easy way to transport my gear to and from—without trekking through the house.

Because we’re filming in Phoenix in August, a month which has two temperatures: hot and unbearable, I suggested we start early—5:30am early.

Like usual, I meticulously organized my gear the night before: making sure SD cards were clean and batteries were charged.

The next morning the client text messaged me at 4:44 in the morning, “We still good for this am?”

“Yep. I am heading over now,” I replied.

After an uneventful 30 minute drive, it was still dark when I turned into the client’s quiet neighborhood. There weren’t street lights so spotting her home was a challenge, but I figured illuminated porch lights will give me a clue which house is hers (after all, how many people are up at 5am AND have their porch lights on?)

At 5:19am I rolled up to the client’s place. The house, the horseshoe driveway, and the gate to the backyard were exactly as they appeared on Google Maps, and the porch lights are on. And in fact, the very moment I pulled into the illuminated driveway, the client shot me a text, “The gate’s open. Just pull in the back.”

“Okay,” I thought, “she must have spotted my headlights from her window, but isn’t ready to come out yet. After all, it’s still around 5am.”

I unpacked the gear from the car, unlatched and opened the gate, which coincidentally, now had an ominous “Beware of dog” sign that was not on the Google Map street view that I’d seen a few days before.

As I moved the gear, I scanned the yard for areas that we might be visually interesting to film. I don’t see much. Mind you, it’s a normal Arizona-type backyard with gravel, some grass, and a lot of concrete-block walls, but I was puzzled why the client suggested that we film there. I didn’t see anything special about it. Worse, when I turned the corner of the house, I noticed the churning sound of an overworking pool pump. That’s going to cause some audio problems.

I also noticed, and had to dodge, several large piles of dog refuse that looks like they could have been made by a Clydesdale. If that wasn’t enough, I then could hear this thing barking. And it wasn’t that bark little dogs like the two I own make—you know, the “I am scared, so I am going to bark in the hopes you go away.” No, this dog’s bark was an “I can’t wait until my owner opens this door so I can chew the flesh off your bones.” This dog woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

Despite the dog barking, nothing happened. I plunked down on one of my Pelican gear cases and tried to get as comfortable as possible.

After a few minutes passed, a light in the house flashed and then turned off. However, the client doesn’t come out.

“What the heck’s going on? Why is it taking this long to get ready?” I wondered. I checked my phone again to see if she sent me a follow up text message. Nope.

Okay…so the client knows I am there, (I am just sitting there looking at the sun rising) and yet no one comes out to say “hello.” In fact, I’d met the client’s husband before—nice guy—I figured at least he’d come out and say “hi.”

I like this client, but I was beginning to wonder if she was rude or just really bad with time management. I couldn’t, however, make either of those explanations work in my mind. Maybe there is something I might be missing. Then it hit me—another potential but remote explanation that made this situation make sense (maybe you’ve guess it already).

Holy crap. Am I at the wrong house?!

Horrified, I hurried to the front yard—hoping to find the house’s street number displayed somewhere so that I could compare it to the one the client provided me.

The two numbers don’t match…Holy crap. I am at the wrong house.*

Worse, my gear is still in the backyard (a couple of hundred feet away) and so is that dog.

In a move that was more stupid and desperate than brave, I reluctantly went back to reclaim my gear. What choice did I have?

The difference now is that I know I have the wrong house; I know I am trespassing; and I know that the dog could come bolting out of the house at anytime. This reminds me of those old Bugs Bunny cartoons: a character runs off the side of a cliff and yet doesn’t fall because he doesn’t know the danger he’s in. Only when he recognizes there’s nothing below him is there an issue.

I now know I am at the wrong house.

While on my slow, loathsome trudge back into the backyard and demon dog’s domain, I thought it might be best to sort of show the homeowners (who still could be watching me from their windows) that I was no threat—just an idiot with a bad sense of direction.

How do you show others you’re not a threat?

The best I could come up with was to slowly and sheepishly stroll back to my gear with my hands sort of up in the air as if I was being arrested (praying they don’t call the police, or worse, let that dog out of the house).

After hurriedly getting my gear and my butt out of there (all the while trying not to look frightened—dogs prey on fear) I closed the gate with a short prayer and a sigh of relief.

The most wonderful sound I heard all that day was the sound of the gate clicking shut. I rightfully felt like a dolt, and was annoyed at Google Maps. However, I was grateful to be in one piece.

Well, it turns out the client’s home was catty corner to the home I’d just trespassed on, and the rest of the shoot was uneventful. However, the client informed me that in addition to the dog (a hefty Doberman Pinscher named Jadu—pronounced “ja doo”) her neighbor does have an ample arsenal of guns (of course we are out here in Arizona).

After we finished filming, the client and her family wished me a good rest of the day. Having been spared not been chewed or shot to death, I had a feeling it would be.

Making my way out of the client’s neighborhood I made two declarations:

  • I’ll be a hell of a lot more careful using Google Maps in the future, and next time, I’ll verify the number on the house (that was completely my fault).
  • I’ll get the homeowner neighbor an Amazon gift card as a peace/mea culpa offering. In having been spared from being used as a rubber squeak toy, perhaps they can get Jadu some new (and more appropriate) chew toys.

* It’s worth noting that the neighbor’s house was blurred out on Google Map’s street view. So when I was looking at the house a few days before on the computer, I wasn’t able to see that the house numbers didn’t match. I’d like to think I would have spotted that and saved myself a lot of aggravation 🙂