Tuesday, January 25, 2005

aaaaand... Action!

Last night I hung out at my first commercial shoot. This is not something I was expecting to do, it just sort of happened.

This is one of the weird things about LA - you get used to driving past photo, TV or movie shoots. Last steamy July, about half a block down the street from my place was transformed into a Christmas stroll: the lamp posts were wrapped in ribbon, the big antique store had artificial Christmas trees in the window, there were fake flyers up on the storefronts, and the storefronts themselves had different names. But the filming was done for the night, and I was walking through this tableau to meet a friend at a restaurant, and it was all a bit surreal.

But that's LA for you.

So I got a call from a good friend of mine while I was driving home from work. "Hey, if you come meet me out here in Pasadena, I'll buy you dinner and take you to a movie." "What are you doing in Pasadena?" "I'm driving my car in a Toyota ad being shot at city hall, and they don't need me again for about 4 hours, and I'm bored, bored, bored!" I hate to see a good friend bored (and I love a free meal) so I drove to Pasadena City Hall.

I already knew where the building was, but even if I hadn't, it would have been ridiculously easy to find. It was decked out in awards ceremony gear, and there were two sets of searchlights prowling the skies overhead for effect. Four coppery giant foam crossbreeds of the Golden Globe and Oscar statues flanked the main entrance, which was draped in red carpet. There were limos everywhere, and my friend's car: a black 1962 Rolls Royce.

(Yea, like that, just black.)

My friend has a fancy schmancy house in the Hollywood Hills often used for commercial and modeling shoots, and a past director remembered his car and asked him to do the commercial. Since this activity essentially pays his mortgage, keeps him plied in catered gourmet food and often brings attractive women to his house, he obliged.

When I arrived, they were setting up the "stunt." The ad was for the Toyota Tundra, and featured some race car driver dude showing up at the "premiere" in the Tundra, which is so forceful that it knocks the two limos ahead of it out of its way. The crew set the cars on casters, tied them to trucks off set, and pulled. And you know what? It was cool. Like watching a car accident where no one gets hurt, and you know how we all like to watch car accidents. And we got to watch it over and over again.

Basically, I was mesmerized. My friend said this was actually a pretty interesting shoot, so I told him we should skip the movie and check out this instead. Fortunately, the caterers brought us flank steak, shrimp, baby potatoes and Caesar salad so we wouldn't get hungry while we perched in the lovely leather interior of the Rolls watching the practice shots. I was all for commercial shoots at this point.

Then they were ready to give the whole thing a go. They decided to move us beside the limos , so now we were on the edge of the action. Since we were in the car, we didn't need to do any "acting" because all that could be seen of us were our shadows anyway. They did the commercial many times, blowing fog across the set and smoke from the Tundra after it's hefty "push." Afterwards, when we got to watch the takes, we noticed that we - and the Rolls, of course - were definitely in the shot. Alright! My first commercial! Unless our footage winds up on the editing room floor...

One fun part of the night was watching crew guys bite it because they had forgotten about the taut rope just in front of our car, attached to the limo and the truck in order to yank said limo into crash position. There were a couple cringeworthy spills, some spectacular near falls, and one good save.

And then a big crew guy stood on top of the set of spotlights, so he could get a good view of the whole set. He started to take pictures with his own camera as the spotlights swirled around him. One of his co-workers yelled, "Yea, that lights up your ass real good!" So then he started to vogue in the lights.

You haven't lived until you've seen a chubby, scruffy man in a thermal and turned down overalls vogue on a set of spotlights. Really.