FOR YEARS, MY BUDDY PAUL has been telling me that I could
make a decent buck directing commercials. His encouragement wasn't exactly
flattering: "A chimp could direct a commercial. In fact, a lot of commercial
directors aren't as smart as your average chimp. You'd be a great
commercial director." Thanks a lot, pal.
I've been spending every weekend for a month or so now
directing a music video for my friend Linda. It's pretty low budget --
shot on digital video, no crew, cast with friends and non-union talent,
to be edited on an iMac DV. Still, it's been pretty exciting to play director
and cameraman, especially since the results have been pretty good. It's
been years since I've shot moving pictures, and I have to say that the
forgiving nature of video is a real load off my mind, especially after
the technical insecurities of 16mm film. Whatever we shoot, I can be certain
that I can play with it on the computer, and make something that looks
at least as good as most of the music video product out there. For an insecure
beginner, the standards of competition in the video world are pretty encouraging.
A few days ago, K. helped me make up the first
real resumé of my adult life, to help sell a grant application
for the video. Looking it over, Linda and her husband Franc thought it
was pretty impressive. A day later, a friend who had been enlisted as an
extra for the video gave me a long pep talk, saying that there was nothing
stopping me from making the sidestep from photographer to commercial director.
He'd had some experience in the commercial world, and thought that I was
more than qualified, especially since talent was always in short supply.
Besides, the money was excellent.
Get thee behind me, Satan.
THE ONLY THING STOPPING ME from jumping head-first into
the commercial world is my fear of assholes and terror at being implicated
in the culturally absurd. Well, two things -- until the video is finished,
I don't have any product to show. (Still, as my friends have told me over
and over, you don't need much of a resume to direct a commerical. Interesting
-- and frightening -- thought.) As for the assholes and the absurd, here's
a couple of stories that might illustrate my fears:
1. A couple of years ago, my buddy Paul was shooting a
commercial for a vacuum cleaner. The concept was cartoonishly simple --
the vacuum is so powerful that it'll suck dirt from your downstairs neighbour's
floor. To illustrate the point, a set was built with a raised floor, so
the camera could pan down through the carpet and the floorboards, through
to the ceiling of the downstairs neighbour. A further continuation of the
pan down to the neighbour's floor would be joined to the shot digitally.
The client showed up en masse -- marketing directors and
V.P.s and consultants...and a midget. Paul was unsure of the midget's role
in the whole business until the set was prepped for the big shot, where
the vacuum rolls over the filthy carpet, and the camera starts its pan
downward. The set dressers had finished their work, spreading a generous
coating of lint and cat hair and dirt on the shag carpet, when suddenly
the midget burst from the crowd of suits and, without bending down, got
eyeball-level with the raised floor of the set. After an intense moment
of scrutiny, he turned to the clients and crew and said, enthusiasticlly:
"Good dirt. Great dirt."
It was all Paul could do not to burst into hysterical
2. A few years previous, Paul's dad, also a cinematographer,
was directing a low-budget commercial for a small-time, local client. There
seems to be some kind of rule that, the smaller the client, the bigger
the pain in the ass.
Every time Ivan did something on set, asking for a light
to be moved, or re-positioning the camera, the client, would come tearing
over to him, past the producers, and demand to know what he was doing.
He would answer the client with a technical run-down of the shot, which
probably mystified the client as much as it placated him. This went on
most of the day until, inevitably, Ivan snapped.
With a few shots left to go, Ivan turned to a grip and
asked him to move a potted plant at the corner of the scene. The client
burst across the set and, in a voice mixed with outrage and pleading, bawled:
"How can you do that?! I mean, who do you think
you are?! What are you -- how can you do that?!"
Ivan turned to him and, surveyed him through hooded eyes
and, in a deep, Hungarian accent, said:
"Because I have an enormous cock."
The client deflated like a spent condom.
I HAVE, SEVERAL TIMES, BEEN LESS THAN diplomatic with
clients. I once called the art director of one of this country's only fashion
magazines an idiot. I made another -- a man -- cry, while I demanded overdue
payment. When an editor from Harper's Bazaar asked me, in a plummy
British accent, if I'd ever heard of the magazine, I answered in a voice
dripping with sarcasm: "Sorry, ma'am -- we only get the huntin' and fishin'
magazines up here in Canada." She laughed. I cringed.
I'd like to think that I don't suffer fools gladly. In
all probability, I'm just a poor p.r. representative for myself. I'm sure
that I probably need an agent of some sort, to protect me from myself.
So would I be able to flourish in the witless world of
commercials? If I can just keep the paycheque foremost in my mind, maybe
I can sit and smile in the face of the worst imbecility. Even the dimmest,
most cliche-spouting corporate v.p. can be suffered if I'm sure that the
paycheque I'll be getting is the better part of a down-payment on a house.
"Great idea, Ted. This tampon commercial definitely needs
more leaping, dancing women. I'd never have thought of that."
I AM NOT A MEAN-SPIRITED, BITTER PERSON. I only play one
in this diary.