Slapstick is hard!

This was only the first ever TV ad i did. I was lucky. I was working on Bud Light. They had huge budgets back then. If a TV spot came in for under half a million dollars that was considered being prudent and thrifty. and this was back in 1995. real money.

So i naturally went for big executional ideas. the money was there. I knew it. let’s take advantage of that.

This spot was shot over two nights at a railway museum in Sacramento CA. I remember driving up to the set and seeing these huge lights miles away from our railway station. I later learned these were movie “moonlight” creating superlights. first and last time i ever saw those. this was a big production.

any film shoot is a bit intimidating first time round. but this was like a real movie. it it starred a steam train. our idea was Dr. Zhivago meets the Road Runner basically.

it was a night shoot. and it was going really well. the director knew i was a newbie. we got along well but i’d never raised an objection to anything. i got my casting. that was huge. for a newbie!

and then, at about 4 in the morning as we chugged the steam train back for the millionth time, i looked into the monitor and saw that the director had changed my line “AT LEAST GIVE ME THE BUD LIGHT!” to “GIVE ME THE BUD LIGHT!”. i wasn’t having this. I spoke up.

I told him that “GIVE ME THE BUD LIGHT!” made the guy look like an alcoholic asshole. and that “AT LEAST GIVE ME THE BUD LIGHT!” made him into a loveable lover.

This erupted into a major battle. he claimed my line was too long for TV comprehension. and it was long but it was also as short as it could be. and totally readable in the time.

The director tried to intimidate me by shouting disagreement passionately at me. thinking he would bowl me over. he even promised that this would entail a further night of shooting at my expense. somehow. he ground things to a halt and tried to make me feel bad.

but he didn’t know that i had learned my craft from the biggest and smartest screamer in the ad game. i wasn’t afraid of someone shouting at me. not him shouting especially. who the fuck was he?

So i stood my ground. And i vividly remember looking around to my fellow agency types to back me up. only to find that they had literally vanished. scurried away. it was hilarious.

i was alone on the steaming train platform at four in the morning arguing with a then bigtime commercial director. I got my way though and i was right. and i knew it was right.

And i stood alone on the train platform for what seemed like an age as what i wanted got shot by the director i’d hired.

Then finally, after what seemed like another age, the gay wardrobe guy sidled up next to me and whispered “You were so fuckin’ right there! Good for you!”.

6 responses to “Slapstick is hard!

  1. Good call.
    The other way wouldn’t have been half as good.
    However, rather than the scenario you describe, couldn’t you have suggested shooting it both ways and having the row at the edit?
    Your mates sound like a bunch of twats by the way.

  2. yes eddie,

    had i been more experienced i might have suggested that. but it was the director who was hell bent on doing it HIS way. He should have had that idea. but i remember him acting like we could only shoot it one way. it did take ages to back up the train each time. and dawn was approaching.

    yes, my “mates” were spineless twats.

    looking back i’m very proud of my younger self. would have done exact same thing today. i always figure it’s my idea, and directors are there to help me realize and improve my idea.

  3. I’d like to echo the Gay-Wardrobe-Guy and say good for you, Vinny.

    I think with things like that you have to say to yourself “what will I find harder to live with: one small moment of hassle, or a lifetime of regret?”

    I hope I don’t have to draw on your experience but I’m sure at some point I will, so in advance of that I’m going to say “thanks for sharing”.

  4. You’re welcome guy! that’s the single biggest thing to remember about shooting film. whose idea was it? yours. who has the final say? you do. no hopefully the idea is great and so is your judgment. that’s where things get tricky ;-)

    but it happens all the time. and the one with the most energy and conviction usually wins.

    don’t get bowled over by nobody!

  5. Better lines than ‘F-U Biatch!’ LOL
    I remember this spot very well. Never knew it was you. Great spot. Hilarious. and loved the story line behind it.

    If you get a chance to do this again have the guy pull out an RPG and have him say ‘if I can’t have the Bud Light neither can you!’

  6. glad you liked howie. maybe next time he should have worn a jihadi style bomb belt.

    the spot was a big hit in the sports bars. no dialogue! i remember walking into a huge sports bar during the NCAA basketball tournament and the bar broke into spontaneous applause after the spot aired. blew my little mind! me liked that.

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