The Perils of ProductionBy: Marian Olson
The client needs a television commercial. Concepts are discussed, and the script is approved. You choose a director, call a talent agency with a description of the cast you’ll need, review the audition tapes they send over, narrow down your choices to three or four possibilities, call them in for a live audition, make your final selections, set up a production schedule, spend a day or two shooting footage, spend another couple of days editing the scenes, and end up with a spot that everyone can be proud of. It’s just that simple.
Sure it is.
He had the “Dad” thing down on the audition tape, his résumé looked great: lots of commercial work, and an acting background that encompassed stage, screen and television.
Unfortunately, some of that television work had occurred the night before our production – in point of fact, the entire night before our production – so that our Chicago talent arrived in Milwaukee having had absolutely no sleep.
We were shooting two spots that day: “Dad” and his “son” in one; “Dad” and “daughter” in the other. The father/son pairing was first.
The 10-year-old boy had his lines down cold. Dad, however, was having a problem.
“That was good, but remember: your response is ‘oh’.”
We shot another take, he got to his line, and said “ah.”
“Okay, now. Let’s try it again: ‘oh’.”
“Heh heh.” “Ah!” “Huh?” “Um.” “Hmmm.” “Ha!” “Whoa.” “Yeah!” “Ho, ho.” “Uh.” “Eh?”
But we couldn’t get one stinking “oh” out of him to save our lives.
Dad’s performance wasn’t getting any better. We had so much great stuff of the boy, though, that we knew we could edit around Dad and make him look good in spite of himself.
So we called it a wrap.
While the crew was setting up for the second spot, I thought that maybe all Dad needed – besides a good night’s sleep – was a little conversation to help him loosen up.
“So, you say on your résumé that you’ve worked on ER. That must be really exciting!”
“Ah’ve been a stain-in own the show fur both Jorj Clewney an’ Ainthonie Aidwurds.” Dad had turned into an Elvis impersonator.
“Do I detect a slight Southern accent?” I ventured.
Further conversation revealed that he was originally from Arkansas. Apparently, being over-tired had stimulated his twang reflex.
It’s a producer’s job to maintain a calm demeanor during a shoot. If something’s amiss, quietly see to it that it’s corrected.
Something was amiss, all right: I was in the presence of Gomer Pyle.
By the time we started shooting the second spot, however, Dad – reaching deep into whatever reserves he had left – had stopped channeling one of the cast members from Hee Haw.
The effort, however, was not without its repercussions: A huge vein was now visibly throbbing in the middle of his forehead. Throbbing so much, in fact, that the director became concerned that an aneurysm might be imminent. Throbbing so badly that it was casting a shadow across his face. Throbbing to the point of frightening the little girl playing his daughter.
The guy was kaput. We shot the little girl from a few more angles, and wrapped it up. The edit day arrived. Dad’s performances were as bad as I remembered, but, somehow, splicing him in between the wonderful stuff we had of the kids, the spots turned out great.
And no one could tell where we’d had to run the footage backward in order to get Dad’s expression just right.
© Copyright 1999, Marian Olson, Blue Horse Inc.