For most of us, we pay respects to our pets by burying them in our backyards, flushing them down the toilet, or having the vet do whatever they do with our dearly departed pals. But that’s not so for Becca Barnet, Charleston’s darling taxidermist. When her pet rat, Fishhooks, passed away, she knew she wanted to do something special to pay homage to her. So she put her artistic skills to use. Luckily for us, a crew from Lunch + Recess was there to document it in their new short, the appropriately titled Fishhooks
The flick is just under four minutes and follows Barnet as she does her magic on the rat. But Fishhooks wasn’t Lunch + Recess’ initial subject. “They originally wanted to make chicken soup with a chicken I was going to taxidermy,” she explains. “But we couldn’t find a chicken that looked nice that wouldn’t be killed [solely] for the project.”
Enter Fishhooks, who had died close to a year before the doc was shot. In fact, Barnet had been keeping her in the freezer. “I had not planned to necessarily do anything with her, but you never know when you might need a rat for something,” Barnet says. “I try to keep all relevant materials around as I see necessary.”
In the documentary, Barnet talks the audience through what she’s doing, from how she cuts into an animal depending on the seams she wants to the difficulties of getting the mouth and face just right, since that’s what people look at the most. For Fishhooks, she employed a tube skinning approach — which is basically a way of skinning an animal where the cuts are minimal, Barnet explains. “You don’t create a large seam down the belly or back,” she adds. “You would only tube skin something if you know you can fit the skin entirely over the form without needing the extra wiggle room. It’s pretty common to feel the back of a deer’s head (trophy mount) and notice a seam all the way down the back. With life-sized mounts, from bobcat to bear, there will always be a seam under the belly or down the back. The question is how big it is, and when you skinned the animal did you consider the position it would be in.”
And with Fishhooks Barnet wanted freedom with how she could pose the animal. “I was thinking, since she’s my pet, maybe doing something sweet, like she’s sleeping or something,” Barnet says in the film.
It was also her first time taxiderming one of her own pets. But why document it at all? Well, there’s a practical reason.
“We were looking to buy a new camera,” says Ryan Cockrell, director of Fishhooks
. “There is a weird camera we wanted to try, called the Ikonoskop A-Cam dII, which is a Swedish camera that shoots gorgeous uncompressed raw footage. We rented the camera and got Becca’s permission to invade her studio and personal privacy.”
The word invade seems aggressive, especially considering the naturalness of the documentary. The short offers a fly-on-the-wall look into Barnet’s home and work. “Basically, they just took lots of shots of me working, and I spoke freely,” Barnet says. “I didn’t prepare for it. It was just kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing as I didn’t really know what they wanted from me. I think that’s the best part about Lunch + Recess, they take what they get and they see the magic in it and present it beautifully.”
Sometimes those magic moments aren’t the most glamorous. Case in point: The three seconds of film that show Bruce, Barnet’s bull terrier, dragging his backside across a rug, as dogs will do. It creates an interesting juxtaposition. One second she is cuddling with Bruce before the documentary cuts to her cutting away at Fishhooks' mouth. Her moment with Bruce allows the audience to see Barnet in a more relatable way.
“We probably shot several hours of footage, which we cut into the three minute-ish piece you see today .... About an hour and a half into filming, we had filled all of the supplied memory cards, three I think,” Cockrell says. “So we took a break, washed our hands, and went to lunch. When we came back, we were ready to film again.”
The eight-hour shoot was the perfect test for the rented camera, which the teams says shot really well, but used too much memory for Lunch + Recess to use in the future. And they used another project to test a camera too. “After that [Fishhooks
] we made a piece called Cataloguing my Dream
s with Matt Smithson, an animator at Man vs Magnet here in town. That was the camera test for the Sony F5, which is what we ended up buying,” Cockrell says.
And both Fishhooks
and Cataloguing my Dreams
made it into the festival circuit, with Fishhooks
showing at the Charleston International Film Fest (CIFF), Florida Film Fest, and Indiegrits, and Cataloguing
was at CIFF and Indiegrits. “We made it onto the poster and T-shirt for Indiegrits! They drew a picture of Fishhooks as well as Becca’s fox and used it in the marketing materials,” says Cockrell. “That was pretty cool.”