Table Manners

Several years ago, I was called upon to shoot a commercial at a manufacturer of custom billiard tables in the Midwest. The company had asked their advertising agency to come up with a concept to illustrate the strength of the company’s line of high-end tables. The agency decided, after consulting with the manufacturer’s engineers, that they could demonstrate the strength of the tables by showing a live elephant standing on top of one. The manufacturer agreed that this would be a startling and memorable visual.

The manufacturer’s plant had a beautiful showroom attached to it, with various grades of pool tables, including an ornate rosewood version that would be at home in any royal palace. All the top management from the billiard table company and the agency were in attendance.

After completing the required beauty shots, including several amazing billiard ball tricks by the company pro, it came time to get the most difficult shot of the day: the live elephant standing on one of the tables. The agency had arranged for an animal trainer to be on location with three of his animals in various sizes. After a discussion with the engineers, it was decided that the "medium-sized" elephant would be our actor for the climactic shot. The elephant was carefully positioned next to the top-of-the-line rosewood table. The trainer urged the animal up onto a riser next to the table and then to put his front right foot on the table.

In hindsight, we all should have listened to the elephant, because when he put his foot on the top of the table and it started to sag under his weight, he let out a loud bellow of resistance. Not to be deterred, the trainer slapped the elephant’s rear end with his stick and the elephant obliged by putting his foot firmly on the top of the table.

In less than a second, the room was covered in rosewood toothpicks and broken slate, with the elephant still standing on his riser looking apathetically at the pile of rubble. Wide-eyed agency people stared silently at one another with open mouths. After a few seconds, we heard uproarious laughter coming from the back of the room. The president of the company was standing with tears running down his cheeks, as he playfully choked his chief engineer.

After considerable nervous laughter from the agency folks, the destroyed table was swept up. A smaller elephant was brought in. The legs of a new table were wired together with some hastily acquired aircraft-grade cable, and in about 45 minutes, we had a shot of a cute baby elephant standing proudly on top of another custom-made rosewood billiard table.

Albert "Bud" Osborne is a veteran DP, videographer, still photographer and educator who owns A-V-A Video Productions in Indianapolis.

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