They say never work with children and animals, and while Mercy Peak's kiddie count may be low, the award-winning drama series' art department had its hands full with livestock this season.
On the September 26 episode of Mercy Peak (8.30pm on TV ONE), Alistair (Craig Parker) takes delivery of a litter of piglets to further his genetic engineering ambitions.
"Did you know that animals are a lot more expensive than real actors?" says series co-creator and executive producer Rachel Lang. "It's part of the reason we never let any of the characters have a dog, although William should probably have had an old, fat Labrador. But animals cost, and they need handlers and maybe even training, so it's very expensive."
"But we'd established Alistair's interest in genetic research right from episode one, so we thought it was about time the pigs turned up. Unfortunately, the star piglet was not very well behaved, and distinguished itself by pooing on Craig Parker every time he had to handle it."
(Craig Parker's comments about the star piglet are not printable…)
The art department, responsible for all sets, props - and animals - on Mercy Peak also have mixed memories of the piglets.
"We bought the pigs from a wholesale breeder, but we couldn't start filming with them right away," says production designer Gary Mackay. "We had to wait two weeks for them to be acclimatised to people."
"Then once we were shooting we had to make sure they were thoroughly covered in sunblock, and had to take them out of the sun between scenes. And unfortunately for Craig, the star piglet was a little nervous…"
But ultimately, the pigs proved less trouble than the pigeons used in the baby-naming ceremony in last week's episode.
The scene called for Nicky (Sara Wiseman) to release a white dove. But doves can't fend for themselves in the wild once released, so the art department provided eight white pigeons instead. Each pigeon was to fly out of the box for the camera and then head home.
But the location, Ransom Wines (which serves for Kieran's Mercy Peak Vineyard), proved too much of a temptation for the birds. Instead of flying off as planned, the birds discovered the joys of vine-fresh grapes, and a week later were proving themselves real pests.
"The vineyard has been so good to us for so long that we felt terrible," says Mackay. "We had to send a team back up, to net and remove them."
By far the strangest animal request this series was for a flattened hedgehog, a victim of Amanda's (Katie Wolfe) driving. Art department staff almost mutinied after being asked to go and find suitable road-kill during an unseasonably warm autumn, so instead they got creative with a stuffed hedgehog from a taxidermist, sausage meat and lots of fake blood.
This story and photo comes from the home site of Mercy Peak on NZOOM