My customers come from all genres and are as eclectic as my jewelry box. Many have been with me through my career changes. One of my favorite groups of customers are those in the film industry. When I transformed from diva to pest control operator, I brought my clients from that business with me. I also market my pest control services to the production companies and theater groups.
Tennessee is a mecca for production companies. Generous tax incentives given to lure Hollywood to the Volunteer state and Tennessee’s right to work status causes companies to flock here in droves. Because of the state‘s climate, pest control issues can plague a set while filming a film, commercial, video or producing a play. Recently, I got a call from one of my favorite casting directors about a pest control issue that threaten the future of a film project. Never one to miss an opportunity to network and audition, I was out the door as soon as I hung up.
Following an hour drive to Smith County, I arrived to see a crew looking anxious and rattled. I was ushered to the production office as if I was Nicole Kidman and the star of my own show. There I was greeted with hugs by the executive producer, production manager, the director and a host of staff. Feeling the anxiety, I asked what could possibly have everyone so uptight. I was informed by the AD that the rented home, which was the backdrop of the storyline, was vacant except for the brown recluse spiders.
Geez. God must be angry with me, I thought. Why not fires ants, cave crickets, funky Mexican beetles, even a snake...but not that nightmare with legs- the brown recluse spider. My acting skills kicked in big time because I was cool as a cumber outwardly, but I could feel the pressure on my chest. Brown recluse spiders, with a production company, were a tall order. I did not want the film company’s budget on my shoulders. I asked Anna, the accountant and long time customer, to give me the production cost per day for filming and the schedule for scene sequences. She jotted a few figures on a note pad that made my jaw drop. With that in mind, I told them I would need to be paid in cash and needed to see the home before I committed to the job.
The AD and I walked up the long drive way to the rustic two-story home. I asked how they got into this situation without talking to HPC beforehand. Oftentimes, we would service a home or stage days prior to the shoot date. He said the location scout knew the home owners. I gave him a "fire the scout look" and he nodded silently. As we got closer, he reminded me of the number of referrals he had sent me over the years and stressed how much he needed me.
Entering the home, I realized why it was chosen for the scenes. The view was beautiful and the empty, spacious rooms were perfect for filming. We moved up the steps quietly. Reaching the top of the steps, I suddenly felt as if I had entered a house of horrors. Spiders were everywhere and suddenly I became conscious of my exposed arms. I returned to my truck to get a Tylek suit, which is a white head to toe coverall. I could sense the fear from the crew as they watched silently. As I was zipping up my suit, I felt the eyes of the camera operators looking as if they were third graders watching “Saw”. I jokingly told them that the suit was my secret weapon to dropping twenty pounds before hitting the red carpets. My joke was not acknowledged. No one laughed. The air was thick with tension. This group of people was knowledgeable about brown recluse spiders.
We returned to the house. Spiders and insects from every genus lurked in the rooms. In light fixtures, on the walls, in cracks, and along the baseboards--bugs had invaded the house along with a profusion of brown recluse spiders. I could not hide my dismay. The look on the AD’s face could not be produced by any bloodcurdling movie. And the sweat on his forehead had nothing to do with the heat. After being upstairs for only short while, a few spiders were on my suit.
We made our way outside and out of view of the crew. We carefully peeled off my suit and double checked for spiders on our clothing. Then we had a brutally frank conversation. The job was not my dilemma but adequate time to complete the work thoroughly would be the challenge. Several days would be needed to work and filming was scheduled to start the next day. I told him he had a huge problem on his hand. Working on a set with a brown recluse infestation, would produce unscripted screams and frightening consequences. If I committed to doing the job, I was not willing to make any guarantees. The staff would want to hear from ME about their safety and I was not going to withhold information from the crew, which were made up of long time customers and friends. Their confidence in me was too valuable to lose. He was in a serious jam and we both knew it. Once we exhausted the number of “what ifs” and risks involved, we took back all talking points to the waiting staff and the crew.
My message to everyone was worthy of an Oscar. I explained the possibilities and what was impossible under the circumstances. I needed to reschedule commercial clients to accommodate the Smith County job. HPC was not made up of miracle workers but we would do the job, without promises, if we were given more time. We agreed to start that day and I made a phone call to an elderly couple in Wilson County who owned a home with a similar majestic view. She contracted to allow them to film outdoor scenes while we worked to rid the house of the fear-provoking spiders.
We started working at 2:00 pm and did not stop until 8:00. The next two days, we worked from 6am to 9pm with an hour break. The home was unfit for filming or living. Spiders were in every imaginable corner of the house. The attic was the mother of all lairs. Vacuuming removed many spiders but the more we vacuumed the more the bugs kept coming. We cracked and creviced the entire home with environmental insecticide sprays, dusts, and aerosols. HPC is one of the few companies that will not laden a home or office with sticky boards and hand over an invoice. We use the old fashion method of seek and destroy. It is very time consuming and tedious work. Did I mention an outside wall was covered in ivy? And not to leave out the creep chimney that had a throbbing web in it that looked like a glob with hairy legs. This was not the largest brown recluse job we have ever undertaken by any means but the turnaround time made this job complex. We are known for our public awareness ads educating families about the dangers of brown recluse. The ads are placed in program guides of Little League sports teams. Knowledge is power and informed moms and dads give us customers who are concerned about the family’s welfare. Rarely do we deal with price shopping landlords or government entities.
Brown recluse spiders thrive in homes and offices. They breed inside walls, in boxes, basements, attics and other out of the way places. This vacant home was the perfect environment for spiders that have no natural enemies. Left untreated, a bite from this spider can cause serious damage to living tissue within hours. Necrosis, death of the flesh, is extremely painful. The venom from the spider is lethal to the muscle. The dead tissue must be surgically remove often leaving scars that are disfiguring and gruesome looking. I have seen bites that have left individuals in the ICU. A wound can take months to heal and sometimes reopen years after a bite.
When we finished the job, the crew returned to film but asked us to remain on the set. I was the pest control guru complete with a trailer and phone in movie land. Talk about the role of a lifetime. The crew was gracious and thankful. I got my ‘star’ in the production manager’s rolodex. I received a call from Tennessee’s film commission office asking me to submit my info to the state’s website. For you non-Hollywood folks (via Tennessee), that’s big. This horrific story ends with happy customers and my kid’s tuition getting paid.
To my former agent who told me I was a fool to start a pest control company, watch the credits baby-my name will be on the big screen after all!