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Bold Choices: Making the “Film-to-Table” Short Film, The Slaughter

It’s March 2012. I’m standing outside a warehouse with 18 people. We’re about to watch a pig die. Three cameras are ready to roll: two for the movie and one for legal purposes.

My actors have the morning off; because of my agreement with SAG, they’re not allowed to be on set for this particular scene. Rory Royston, the operator of an independent slaughterhouse, as well as his assistant, stand in for my lead actors, dressed in their wardrobe; they will make sure the slaughter about to be performed is both safe and humane.

Rory looks to me; it’s time.

A single thought pings through my head:

What the fuck was I thinking?

I take a deep breath, then call action. No turning back now.

That screaming doubt followed me throughout the shoot, which went as smoothly as such things can, and all the way through to the final dinner.

Like any filmmaker, I wanted the wrap to be a celebration of the filmmaking process. But for this specific film it was also important to celebrate the life of the animal portrayed.

Brian Polcyn, a renowned chef, prepared a three-course meal for the cast, crew and supporters of the film. Aside from Mike, my lead actor, no one else on the cast and crew had ever eaten an animal they’d previously known. Our film-to-table philosophy was thus complete.

The short film we made, The Slaughter, is about a pig farmer who tests his unemployed son’s resolve to join the family business.

The film’s inspiration came from personal experience; my dad raises pigs. In the fall of 2011 I participated in my first slaughter. It was a transformative experience, one that showed me a humane alternative to our industrial slaughterhouses and demonstrated how essential it is to have a relationship with the animals that provide our food.

The slaughter also showed me how elaborate and physically demanding the transformation of an animal into food really is, something you can’t exactly pick up at Trader Joe’s.

Killing an animal for food was once a familiar process for most Americans; it was the only way normal people could get their meat. As I saw a slaughter for the first time, I realized how hidden this process had become and how genuinely strange that is.

As a nation, we haven’t stopped eating animals, we just decided to stop watching them die.

As a short filmmaker, I also realized that I had a freedom that most feature filmmakers, with their larger crews and financial responsibilities, didn’t. So I decided to make a bold choice; to try and make this invisible act, one we’re all complicit in, visible.

As someone born and raised in Michigan, I’m interested in characters uprooted by the global economy. Already out of options, when the shit hits the fan my characters are forced to make some radical choices. I call my stories “absurd thrillers for the age of inequality.”

Fast forward one year later to March 2013. The Slaughter has its world premiere at SXSW. The film continued on to several other festivals, including Locarno and BFI London and was also a Student Academy Award Finalist.

Amazingly, around the world, people seemed to get it. The only incident came at my hometown East Lansing Film Festival, where it apparently shocked a jury member into quitting. The rest of the jury seemed ok with it though; they gave it the prize for “Best Student Short.”

And now I’m proud to finally bring it to you, the online audience. Thanks for reading, and happy viewing.

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