Monday, April 2, 2007

A Career Goes Right Into the Crapper

As filmmakers we have had the opportunity to shoot a lot of fascinating projects, meet a lot of interesting people and go places where the general public just doesn't have access. Michael Jordan drove Jim around Chicago for a Chevy Blazer commercial, we climbed across the dome of the Nebraska state capitol 300 some feet in the air. In 2001 Peter Gabriel gave us access to film his first live show in North America in eight years and to talk to him about it. (By his own admission he wasn't very good "That's what you get with just two days of rehearsal," he said seconds after walking off stage.)

Those are the fun jobs, the ones you get to brag about, the ones you use to get more work, the ones you talk about at the bar. At the other end of the spectrum are those jobs that pay the bills, which brings me to... cleaning toilets.

For some reason (The ad agency liked us? We were the low bid?) we have done a series of commercials for Vanish, the toilet bowl cleaner. The first time was a test shoot at the SC Johnson lab in Racine, WI. They have a room of 35 toilets- not a bathroom, just a toilet room- where it's some engineer's job to create and monitor toilet bowl stains. (Insert your own joke here.) Our task was to shoot two, 21 day-old stains and compare Vanish to the "other leading brand." As film work goes, it was pretty easy, but what we didn't factor into the bid was being in a room of 35 toilets, randomly flushing. 1) It's loud. 2) It makes you have to use the bathroom- ALL THE TIME. We spent half the day running down the hall to the nearest functioning toilet.

#2- SC Johnson has two glass, see through toilets so you can see the amazing cleaning power of Vanish. These commodes each cost about $50,ooo and have to be shipped to the sound stage. You build a raised set, where some poor p.a. crawls under the toilets and makes sure they "evacuate" properly. These 50K toilets are so rare they come with more guard protection than the crown jewels. Nothing is allowed to happen to the see through toilet. Meanwhile, a classically trained actress plays the role of frustrated bathroom cleaner. Her Yale School of Drama education literally going down the drain.

#3. Another sound stage, another toilet, this time for some "New and Improved" Vanish. We take two days and build a bathroom set. Near the end of the shoot, the agency art director gets the bright idea that as a gag for his boss he should sit on our prop toilet and we take a picture. (Hysterical!) We advised against it because if something goes wrong the one thing everyone would remember would be the art director on the can. "No," he insisted, "I'm going to be made a v.p. and everyone at the agency will love it- it'll make a great Christmas card."

Cut to: Three Days later. The agency calls for a re-shoot, there is a problem- theirs not ours- with some packaging. The art director had the wrong mock-up Vanish bottle. Re-shoot, re-transfer the film. No v.p. stripes, no X-mas card, no job. He was let go.



vice said...

Yeesh, that's a harsh way to loose one's job. What started out as a joke, turned out to be a lesson!
Similar thing happened to a buddy of mine. Only it involved 25,000 Toronto Blue Jays promotional 8X10s, that were made from the wrong neg! He's no longer in advertising either!

PeterH said...


There is a lesson to be learned in there some where. Thanks for reading.


strunny said...

this was hilarious to read, i can only imagine all the jokes and fun that must have been. too bad for that guy though. at least he has a good story out of it. seems like these things (getting let go, fired, whatever) always end up working out for the best anyway, for that person. i'd be curious how it worked out for him after time passed.

Chuck Anthony said...

Hey Peter, funny story and interesting outcome. By the way, I heard that the "Tidy Bowl Man" was accidentally flushed down the toilet during a commercial shooting in 1984 -- Tell us you had nothing to do with that :-)

PeterH said...

No, nothing to do with the Tidy Bowl Man, but we often joke that OUR career is going into the toilet.