All creatures great and small
First published on Campaign
From a raspberry-blowing parrot to a golf ball-eating golden retriever, a Vets4Pets slot captured the professional and emotional challenges of a vet’s daily working life.
This is a story of real heroes and the lengths we had to go to in order to capture the reality of what they do.
The long journey towards the nation’s first ad for vets started in lockdown. Two years ago we were talking about how to make the vets side of our Pets at Home client more high profile. We had a script.
Then Covid-19 hit and people started getting more pets – 3.2 million of them. Vets were under pressure like never before. In fact, the whole industry was on its knees.
Pretty soon we realised that they didn’t need an awareness campaign any more. They needed a recruitment campaign, and a heartfelt thank you.
So, we sold in a new script celebrating vets as the everyday heroes they are. Our intention was to mix actors with real vets and nurses.
But our Vets4Pets clients were adamant that in order to fully celebrate their colleagues we had to feature real vet teams only. And all operations must be genuine. With no performance training or time to rehearse, this gave our producer Ant Borkett kittens.
But, indefatigable Ant got on the phone and, by some Herculean effort, managed to find us two Vets4Pets practices that would let us film in them. One in Manchester and one in Leeds.
Soon we found ourselves sitting in the back of a minibus in a retail park in Leeds, surrounded by families doing their shopping or getting a coffee while we were watching vets perform life-saving operations, live from the 24-hour animal hospital on the other side of the car park.
There was a moment we both remember, as we watched the scalpel cut into the flesh of a dog in the first operation of the first day. That’s when the gravity of what we were doing kicked in. This really was real. No props. No second chances here. This was serious stuff.
The main story arc in the film is a golden retriever who is rushed into surgery. (Spoiler alert, she makes a full recovery.) Clearly we couldn’t rely on that happening for real, but thanks to a golden retriever who was due to be spayed and a perfectly matched stunt double, we mixed parts of a real operation with some set-up scenes that told the story.
We’d spent a long time agonising over the scenarios pre-shoot – should the dog have eaten a necklace? Or maybe a pair of knickers? But then in reality truth was stranger than fiction – on the second afternoon a dog got rushed in after having swallowed a golf ball. Kerching!
We were gripped by the determination of the vet teams. They didn’t stop until one and a half hours later they’d hooked out the golf ball like a hook-a-duck at the fairground. You could feel the relief as the vet nurses clapped and cheered. They even filmed it on their own phones.
Over the three days of filming there were a few standout characters. Like the parrot who’d flown into a cactus and got a spike in his eye. He belonged to one of the vets. She’d inherited him from an elderly gent that had taught the parrot to blow raspberries whenever anyone went to the loo. Fart gags never go out of fashion.
Being a vet is a high pressure job, so it was important to us and the director, Tom Green, not to portray it as all happy-clappy pets. It can take its toll mentally. But Tom built up a great rapport with the vets, which is even more impressive if you’d seen the tight space they were working in together. He managed to turn these real-life vets into on-screen heroes.
A week after the shoot we were sitting in the edit suite, ready for the first viewing and we were proper nervous.
We watched it together and we cried. Relief. Pride. Relief. Joy. We played it to Toby, our ECD, and he cried. (Either that or there was something in his eye.) We played it to the vets and they cried. Proud of seeing themselves like that for the first time.
It’s not often you get to make something that means so much to people (and animals).