Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Wiener and Still Champion

The only thing I remember about the film Reversal of Fortune is Jeremy Irons saying, “You have no idea” in response to a comment from Ron Silver telling him he is a very strange man. That line- you have no idea- could be our mantra when talking with ad agencies. I have written here before about the battle between good and better. A bigger problem, one I often see with students, is when there is no real idea, just sort of a general concept. The thinking goes, “We’ll figure it out later,” or “We’ll save it in editing,” or “We’ll fix it in the mix.” It never works out.

A few years ago Jim and I were hired by an ad agency to make a TV commercial for Consort Hairspray. The copywriter came up with what he thought was a brilliant, funny idea- “It’s gold, Peter!” It was maybe tarnished copper at best. Here’s the gag. A man is acting “cool” in a series of shots. We hear James Bond-esque music. At the big payoff, we see him filling an inflatable pool as his embarrassed wife watches. Hysterical, I know.

It goes from bad to worse. At casting instead of looking for character actors who could be funny, we look at male models- mimbos. Walking and talking at the same time is not their strong suit. After seeing 50 of these guys we insisted on seeing some actors, so the next day we saw some. One in particular was great- I am not mentioning his name to save him embarrassment, but he was in Second City, you have seen him on film and television and most recently he did a two-man off-Broadway show in New York. In the casting room he was making us laugh, he would have been great. But no, the copywriter wins, we hire a Haircut to be our lead actor.

On the shoot day we have a male model making his first TV commercial, and instead of hiring a character actress as “the wife,” we get another model, Ken and Barbie. Both were very nice people and would have made for a great print ad, but this is TV and we are asking them to act.

About six hours into the shoot we are filming the hysterical filling the pool shot. It’s not working. I know it, Jim knows it, the actors know it, but we keep tweaking. After the 10th take the copywriter bellows, “That’s not funny!” Immediately both actors assume it is them who are not funny and begin apologizing. What little confidence they had left, just went away. I tried to console them, while Jim spoke to the agency, then we traded places. It was a mess.

We shot for a few more hours. The gloom was palpable. Funny, was nowhere in sight. The next day we transferred the footage and began the edit. We ended up with a spot that aired on TV. I can’t say we saved it in editing, but we salvaged something. The funniest thing in the entire commercial was Jim’s dachshund, Molly.

When the funniest thing is a wiener dog, you know you have no idea.


No comments: