WRANGLING BABY CHICKENS
A DESIGN4FILM STORY
FROM THE FILM
RAISE THE TITANIC
Unfortunately, the film version of Clive Cussler’s “Raise the
Titanic” was extremely expensive and never came close to returning its
original investment. Its producer, Lord Lew Grade, remarked "it would have
been cheaper to lower the Atlantic" than raise the Titanic.
as a young art director, I found it an incredible learning experience in the art
of movie miniatures. The Titanic miniature (55 feet in length) cost some $5
million, a cost of construction of $3 million more (in 1980 dollars) than the
original cost (un-inflated ) of the full sized Titanic. In addition, a small
companion feet was built including 3 model subs, 5 naval vessels, plus 2 other
smaller Titanic models, one 8 feet in length, the other at 4 feet. There were
many challenges presented in building and transporting this fleet half, way
around the world. Not least of all was navigating the Titanic down the Long
Beach Freeway via the Port of Long Beach to a water tank on the Island of Malta.
Given all this, one story continues to rise to the surface (pardon the pun). It
is the story of the 500 baby chickens.
I was back and forth to the island of Malta during the shooting of the water
sequences. However, I must admit that I was not there on the night the following
story purportedly took place. However, I was sitting in my office at CBS Studio
Center in Hollywood when the following invoices hit my desk. They were covered
with a cryptic post-it which said… “what the **** is this all about?”. The
invoices in the file were as follows: a) from an Italian chicken farm an invoice
indicated the purchase of 500 baby chickens, b) another from a whiskey
distributor for one case of Vecchia Romagna Italian Brandy, c) six dozen boxes
of eye droppers and last but not least, from a doll manufacturer in China, 500
rubber sou’wester rain coats and hats. A small design sketch was attached to
the invoice which established the scale of these rain coats at about 4” high,
with zippers up the front and hats, to scale, with elastic chin straps.
By now you may have made the connection. Yes the baby chickens were zipped up in
their tiny rubber sou’westers with chinstraps holding their hats on. After
suiting up they were administered a drop or two of brandy (via the eyedroppers).
The result was that when placed on the deck of the Titanic they reeled and
waddled about like drunken sailors. They appeared, to the camera, as hundreds of
frightened passengers scurrying here and there about the deck of the ship, in a
terrible panic. Yes a few chicks toppled over the side making beautiful swan
dives into the water below.
I dislike ending on a down note but unfortunately this unique cinematic moment
never made it into the screen. It, as so many memorable sequences do, ended up
on the cutting room floor. We were never too sure if this was because the
producers concluded that the passengers would not have had time to put on rain
gear during the real incident, or perhaps they were afraid to lose their
““No Animals Were Harmed” disclaimer from the American Humane Association?
In any case, all chicks were rescued and returned to farms scattered around the
island of Malta to grow up and do what grown up chickens do. Upon growing up can
you imagine the wonderful stories they had to pass along to their kids regarding
what might happen to a baby chick if it doesn’t behave.
You tube has an excellent video of the raising sequence. For my students you can
note the scale of the water is still a bit off. This challenges the old ¾ of an
inch to the foot rule of thumb for building miniatures in water.
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