I’ve been a fan of the Doubleclicks for some time now, ever since the first time their anthemic Nothing to Prove made me tear up at my desk in grad school. I’m sure it wasn’t just the insecurity and emotional exhaustion of churning out a dissertation in a male-dominated environment that was talking, but hey, there was something in their song that really spoke to me. From songs about burninators to burritos, they could have played the soundtrack to my geeky and socially awkward life.
So when the Doubleclicks sent out a call inviting their fans to be part of an upcoming music video, I knew I had to be involved.
For their song, Cats at Parties, the Doubleclicks wanted their fans to take a picture of themselves with their pet, holding a word from their song. All I had to do was email them to sign up, be assigned a word, and submit a picture of my pets with the word (so long as the image met certain specifications, such as legibility and size).
That sounds easy enough, I thought.
I’m a foster mother for two ferrets, Ben and Jerry, and volunteer at the Washington Ferret Rescue and Shelter, where I spend time taking care of and socializing ferrets that had been surrendered there. I had found out about the video opportunity literally the week after I discovered that my application for fostering had been approved. While they were still waiting to come home, Ben and Jerry were still living at the shelter, but I could visit them when I worked there. What better way to introduce my furbabies to the world than to have them in a music video?
I quickly smashed out an excited email to the Doubleclicks expressing my interest in being part of this epic project. “I know ferrets aren’t cats,” I explained, “but they are kind of like cat-snakes, right?” And lo, I received a reply, saying that I had been assigned the word “SCANNING”.
I was in! After some attempts at making the word appropriately visible on a sheet of paper—it should have been my first warning that not everything would go as planned when I couldn’t even fit all the letters on a page legibly—I headed in for my shift at the shelter. I had bold dreams of how I wanted to set up the shoot with my ferrets, where they would be obedient and incredibly cute, and how they could frame themselves around the word perfectly.
And that’s when I found out that the old adage about never working with children or animals is, for most part, true.
For one thing, ferrets are very excitable creatures, often described as being like a kitten or puppy that never grows up. If you wave a blanket in front of a ferret, it will freak out and bounce around the room. I think the excitability may be more so with ferrets at the shelter; although they have human contact every day, it’s not the same as having them at home. They clamor for scritches, kisses and cuddles when they see their human carers, and it’s really hard to say no.
To start with, I tried leaving the word with Ben and Jerry their pen, and photographing their interaction with the word (so that they might look like they were scanning what it was…and that was the extent of my trying to be clever with what I was working with). To a ferret, paper is scrunchy and has a fascinating texture. There was a lot of nosing the sign over and trying to chew the paper. I very quickly lost count of the number of times I had to reset the sign, or rearrange the ferrets, or wave maniacally to get their attention.
Ferrets also have sensitive footpads, so standing on the paper was a particularly fascinating experience for them. Of course, in order to have all their feet on the paper, they had to stand over the word, so that it was obscured.
Why, oh why couldn’t the Doubleclicks have written a song about “canning”?
Initially, my plan was to have Ben and Jerry pose in the picture themselves, but asking a ferret to sit still is like asking a small child to do advanced calculus whilst performing acrobatics. I’m sure it’s possible, but it’s incredibly unlikely. Getting their attention for a split second was barely enough time to take the picture. Further, working with two ferrets made it doubly hard: even if I could get one to look at the camera, the other would run out of shot.
With a combination of envy and pity, all I could think of at this time was that there were people that made pet photography a profession and dealt with this madness on a daily basis. Either they had some animal-whispering superpower that I clearly lacked, or they had the patience of saints. Or both.
About halfway through our ordeal, I got a brilliant idea. Maybe I could hold both of them with one hand, and the word with the other, and set the camera on a timer! I don’t know what sort of demented desperation led me to that belief, but at that point I was willing to give anything a try. The Doubleclicks were counting on me, and I didn’t want to let them down!
I gathered up Ben and Jerry, thinking that if I was holding them, they would think that they were being cuddled enough to calm down for the three seconds it would take for the timer to go off. I suppose they were several steps ahead of me, because they managed to lull me into a false sense of security around the two-second mark, before squirming out of my grasp. At one point Ben clawed onto my head in a failed escape attempt, and that’s to say nothing of the other violence I experienced at their paws.
I was punched, scratched, licked and bitten in my quest to get the perfect picture. When it became clear that the “perfect” picture was a quickly-fading ideal, I was further punched, scratched and bitten in my attempt to get a remotely passable picture.
I guess animal wrangling isn’t my forte. It turns out that animal photography isn’t either. I ended up taking about 400 photos of my ferrets. If someone had chanced to look at my phone during that time, I’m certain that I would have come off looking like a deranged ferret lady with an unexplained obsession with the word “scanning”:
At the end of the day, I went through my photographs and found out that, of the 400 I had taken, only about 70 came out remotely non-blurry. I sifted through those and took out another 40 where the word was obscured. From the remaining 30, I took out ones where a ferret was out of shot, and then looked at what was left.
Four photos. FOUR. I had put my ferrets through an afternoon of awkwardness with a 1% success rate. It was disappointing, but I didn’t feel right putting them through more photography. I picked one of the photos and sadly emailed it in. I wanted to submit the perfect picture with Ben and Jerry posing like adorable little cherubs, but instead I sent in a picture where my cat snakes were trying to escape my death grip. And they weren’t even looking at the camera. Jerks.
Despite its imperfections, the picture was accepted! I’d seen some of the other submissions, and I was really impressed that other people had gone to extensive amounts of efforts, with hats, drinks, bunting and party blowers—not that I had any hope of achieving anything like that with Ben and Jerry. And when the video was released, my worries were allayed. We were in the video, and it was truly exciting to see how our word would fit in. In retrospect, I can’t believe I did that much work to be in a music video for a few seconds (although, to be fair, it had multiple syllables in it and was at the beginning of a line). But hey, this really was a labor of love.
I’m sure that my story is not unique among the 300+ participants in Cats at Parties. I’m sure that other people also took an inappropriate number of photographs in their attempt to get an acceptable picture to submit. I’m sure that other pet owners were subject to abuse by their pets in the process. Even so, seeing us make it into the video made me feel like a proud parent whose kids are onstage in a school recital, even if they didn’t have a starring role. It was a wonderful feeling knowing that we had participated.
For their efforts, Ben and Jerry got extra kibble and cuddles. I also tried to show them the video, but I think they’re done with the music industry.