Allison Whitmer recounts her unexpected job expectations while producing a film in Milwaukee. Time is running out as she tries to properly dispose of the remains of her producer's deceased pet.
For the past 18 years, Allison has been involved in filmmaking, beginning with The Horse Whisperer, a Robert Redford classic, and most recently, an adaptation of the Native American breakthrough novel, Winter in the Blood, penned by the acclaimed author James Welch. She brings the knowledge of her own pioneer grandparents and a love of open spaces to her work as a Producer and Production Manager, and augments it all with degrees in film and economics from Montana State University. Her worldwide clients have included Valentino, Virgin Records, and Italian Vogue. She actively promotes historic preservation and youth education, sitting on museum boards and the Bozeman Youth Initiative, a project of the Turner Foundation.
This episode of Tell Us Something was recorded in front of a live audience on October 1st, 2015, at The Roxy Theater in Missoula, MT at the opening event of the first annual Montana Film Festival. 6 storytellers shared their story based upon the theme “Reel Stories”.
Today’s story comes to us from Allison Whitmer and is titled "Here Kitty, Kitty” or “The Producer’s Dead Cat goes to the Vet”. Thank you for listening.
So when I was visiting, earlier with these guys about what kind of stories to tell, we decided to do a classic film technique and focus group my three stories. so, you get to choose. My stories probably could use the guidance of Mr. Grady's crow, and here are the titles: "The Day I Took the Producer's Dead Cat to the Veterinarian", "The Jungle Room", and "How I Shot the Last Sleeping Deer on the Crow Reservation". So, you get to pick! [AUDIENCE SHOUTING SUGGESTIONS] "The Dead Cat", oh good. We love the dead cat!
Alright, so I come from a ranch and farm in Eastern Montana. My grandfather came here in 1915, and I grew up on the Assiniboine - Sioux Indian Reservation. So, I'm a little pragmatic, I guess is the word for it, and so I come from films from a production perspective. It's all about getting things done, and my goal is to get things done.
So, I'm on location in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and in Milwaukee -- I've been traveling around the Midwest making movies, and I happen to be on the 100th anniversary of Harley Davidson. And we had been filming this Harley Davidson extravaganza, with pretty cool people. Like, I'm not into motorcycles, but I got to take Jay Leno through like the Harley Davidson Motorcycle Museum. We like [whispered] "tell it's his motorcycle". So, I'm having a pretty good day, and we survive the last night of the Harley Davidson extravaganza, in which over 100,000 bikers gathered in a field to watch the headliner of the Harley Davidson concert, who was Elton John. Does the word riot come to mind? Yes.
OK, so I have been with this major New York production company who has been hired to produce the behind the scenes - all the big stuff on this screens we've been shooting, we're crazy. And what we have done is the good people of Milwaukee have wisely packed up and left town, wisely. And we have rented an array of houses in the Milwaukee University district. Big beautiful three- four story Victorian ten bedroom houses, gorgeous houses. And today is Sunday, and we are packing up and leaving town, so we have editing equipment, and crews and truck and people and flights, and there's a lot of stuff going on. So, I am running a whole crew of people who are going to clean out all of these houses and put all of their furniture back, and put all of this editing equipment into trucks and we're going to drive away from Milwaukee. Think Keystone Cops, doors doors doors doors doors, stairs stairs stairs stairs stairs, trucks trucks trucks trucks trucks. OK, I have my whole day planned. Chugga chugga chugga chugga, alright.
So, I go down to breakfast, 7 o'clock in the morning, and I hear someone weeping, and it is my producer, who is this lovely woman from New York, who has brought her pets out from her - from New York. And one of them has been ill, and it turns out over breakfast I find out that one of her pets has died. I'm like OK, I'm very sorry, your pet died, breaks my heart, I really need to go. I have stuff - I'm really sorry, but I have stuff to do, and you have a plane in like three hours, like you need to be on a Milwaukee airport plane, going to New York. Tears, tears, tears. And I'm still, you know, work friendly with this woman to this day, um, so I go off and I start preparing my day and I'm waiting for my crew to show up, and I've got people coming in to do all of these things. And I turn around and she's holding a towel. And in this towel is an object, and the object is her dead cat.
And she's weeping, and she's like, "What do I do with my cat?"
And my Eastern Montana brain says, "Um, well. You can throw it away - I mean it's dead, right? It's dead. No one cares about your cat anymore." I'm like there's a garbage bin out back, I can throw it away. I can freeze it and mail it to you, through the Postal Service. $17.95 - one dead cat. I'm like, “I can dig a hole in the backyard and bury it, or I'm like you know, you can have your cat cremated and they can send your ashes to New York.”
And I turn around and I dash off to do something. A couple of minutes later she tracks me down again, and but this time I'm like, I have so much to do, why are you still talking to me? And she's like “I want you to find a veterinarian and cremate my cat and have the ashes sent to New York.” I'm like “OK, whatever.”
And she says, "I want you to have this taken care of before I leave on the plane today."
Uh huh. Did I mention it's Sunday? Yeah, when 10,000 people are leaving Milwaukee. Uh, so all of my work comes to a halt, this is the producer. I'm like, "Mike, I can't get fired. It's really impossible." I was fired once for losing a piece of paper that I never had, um, that was entertaining. But yes, I'm like, "Mike, I, I cannot get fired. Because people don't fire me that ask me to do crazy things like find veterinarians for their dead cats.
So, um, this is pre-Internet. I mean the internet is like a baby with one tooth, um, it's like AOL or nothing. Um, and there's no smart phones and there's no text messaging. So I find a Milwaukee phone book in this poor woman's house we're living in and I call every single veterinarian in Milwaukee. I find a veterinarian that is open on Sundays. Yay, angels! I get in the minivan, well no, I don't get in the minivan yet, but I make an appointment because you have to make an appointment to see this veterinarian. So in the meantime I have to wait for my van because someone else has it down the street, so I'm hanging out on the front lawn where I have all of this work to do with cleaning out all of these houses and turning them back to the good people of Milwaukee.
So as my crew shows up for the day, they say, "what do you have in your arms?" and I'm like "Wanna pet the kitty? Right here." They run in horror, I maintain my hold on the lovely cooling dead cat, and finally my van shows up. Kitty cat goes in the passenger seat, I considered a seat belt and went eh, whatever. Off I go, like this is me and the producer's credit card going to the veterinarian. Off I go, I drive and I drive and I drive and I drive and I drive, now I'm 20 minutes away from my location and I have found the veterinarian and I go into the veterinarian's office, with my package and I say, "Hi! I am here with my - my deceased animal, who needs to be turned into a little box of ashes and sent to New York."
And she goes, "Great! Sit right over there and you'll be next up in a few minutes to see the veterinarian."
I'm like, "Uh, can I just give you my cat?"
She's like, "No, you have to see the veterinarian first."
She obviously has no joy in her job.
So I take my towel wrapped package and I sit down with all these other people with their cats and their dogs and their birds, and I wait. And I wait. And then I wait some more. And pretty soon I am very anxious because by this time, the clock is ticking, because one of our houses is owned by a lawyer who has taken his whole family to Colonial Williamsburg for the week who is returning at noon, and expects to be able to walk into his house as beautiful as the day he left it. Only he doesn't know that we have completely destroyed his house. We've moved all the furniture, we've rearranged all the rooms, we've taken down all the curtains, and 35 people have been living in his house. And I'm the one responsible for turning this house back to him at noon. OK, finally my turn comes at the vet. I'm very excited, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp.
I go over, he says, "Oh, put your pet on the table."
And I do this, and I'm standing and I'm like, "Come on, I have places to be!"
And he unwraps the cat and he looks at it and he pulls out his little stethoscope and he puts it on the cat and there's a moment and he looks at me and he says, "Ma'am. This cat's dead."
And I'm like thank god! The Cat's really dead! And I said, "Great, how much does it cost to cremate him and send him to New York?"
And he says, "That'll be $100, fill out this form."
So I'm like, fill it out, fill it out, fill it out, fill it out, fill it out. Great and I said, "Is there anything else I need to do?"
He's like, "Do you want the towel?"
“No! You can keep the towel, donate it to the cats in the back room.” Great, this transaction is finished. I look at my watch, I'm like, I have got to get back!
So, I dashed back and we do a Keystone Cops routine. Up and down the stairs and stuff and stuff and stuff and the housekeeper shows up and is like, "Oh no! All this furniture's in the wrong place!" And we move it around and move it around and move it around, meanwhile the producer keeps calling me to find out when the cremated remains of the cat will arrive in New York City, and I'm like, "At Tuesday, right?" I'm lying, I don't care. And we close the front door to the house as the truck full of equipment backs out of the back door and the lawyer and his three nice children drive in from Colonial Williamsburg. Ugh, thank god. And that is the day that I took the producer's dead cat to the veterinarian. [CLAPPING]