2005-05-14
There was the time when we spent three days shooting a television
commercial for a large grain company. When we were all ready to get
into the smoke filled van and head for the airport and our flight home,
the director realized we didn't have a sunrise shot. We were in a
little town in Saskatchewan which consisted of a grain elevator, a
small general store which was also the post office and liquor store,
and several houses.

The problems with getting a sunrise shot were many and varied:

- it was well past sunrise

- it was a one hundred mile drive to our hotel

- we had already checked out of our hotel

- our plane reservations were for later that night

- there were far too many of us to sleep in the van

- The grain elevator office was heated but it was so small we would have had to sleep standing up

- the temperature was -23 Fahrenheit so sleeping on the ground was not an option

- we were all totally sick of this commercial after three days of shooting


Our director did what directors do when they are stymied. He paced and
stroked his chin. Suddenly he froze in mid-pace and mid-stroke.

"He's on point," said the sound man.

"F***, it's cold," said the make up artist.


The director whirled on us, an action that made him look like some
grotesque ballerina doing a pirouette, and I honest-to-God expected him
to say, "Eureka!" Instead he said, "Sunset!"

We looked at him
in awe. It was a brilliant, if obvious, concept. Make it a sunset shot.
The damn shot was pivotal to the commercial, because, I, as the grain
elevator manager, was supposed to be leaving the grain elevator at
sunrise. I would then drive to the city to take grain elevator manager
training classes with other grain elevator managers. Please, no
comments about the fact that grain elevator managers do not live in
their elevators but in houses like normal folk. Logistically, the shot
should have been me, leaving my house at sunrise to . . . well, you
know the rest.

Also, if we took the sunrise shot at sunset,
instead of sunrise, the lighting on the elevator would be more
dramatic. Everyone quickly bought that rationale. Only the locals would
know that the sun actually rose behind the elevator, not facing it.
Most of them didn't have cable TV anyway, so they'd likely never see
the commercial..



It was only a half hour to sunset! The weather was clear! It was do-able! Hurriedly we began to make preparations.


From the time we realized we didn't have the sunrise shot, to the time
we started preparing for the sunset shot, the temperature had dropped
to a bracing -33 Fahrenheit. This is common in the middle of flat
prairie land, where the only break in the horizon is another grain
elevator forty miles away. I kid you not. Just the occasional tree and
miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles.

We did get the
shot. It was almost dark when we finally had it. I had to keep going
into the elevator and warming up because my face, like everyone else's,
turned beet red within seconds of hitting that cold air. The members of
the crew grew increasingly restive at this obvious preferential
treatment. They were freezing their collective asses I should have
been doing the same. I understood. It was bitterly cold so cold that
you had to constantly check to make sure you were wearing pants.


The other part of the commercial, the part that caused no problems for
anyone but me was the classroom section. I had to sit in a room with a
bunch of elevator managers who actually knew what the instructors were
talking about. My job was to look intelligent even though what was
being said might as well have been in Farsi.

Sample:


Instructor: "Now fellas, you don't ever want to combine your Anhydrous
GS-35 with a post-emergent mix of Q-37 and 4PX93. You'll end up wasting
your money and have no control over magotty foxtail thistle.

Student: "What about using a pre-emergent mix of 4 Ply Z-60 and Cougar 2690.

Instructor (thoughtfully): "Yes that would work."

Camera zooms in on me, trying to look intelligent.


I tried lots of things chewing my pencil, looking at the ceiling,
looking at my pencil, chewing my nails, looking at my nails nothing
worked. I looked like I really felt. Puzzled and somewhat lost. They
were speaking English. I just didn't know the meanings of any of the
words.

Finally, they managed to get some reasonably
sane-looking reaction shots of me. This was accomplished by waiting
until after the actual class had finished and having all my classmates
stay in their seats instead of going out to smoke and discuss farm
chemicals. We all looked toward the front and the cameraman zoomed in
for my "intelligent and thoughtful" close-up. I managed to look
intelligent and thoughtful because there was nothing being said by the
instructor, ergo nothing for me to be looking confused and slack-jawed
about.

A couple of weeks later, the commercial was edited,
presented and approved. The client was pleased and everyone got paid.
Translation a successful commercial shoot.

Next week: "Let's put an umbrella down his pants."