Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Confessions of a Commercial Hack

I'M BACK! Well, sort of. The meager belongings of my tribe are firmly wedged in the new hovel, but all is not well in the village: I don't know where the coffeemaker is, my digital camera is missing and there's a fair chance I'll perish in a crushing cardboard box collapse during an upcoming garage safari. Worse yet, the new digs still lack cable and internet. The boob tube I can do without, but unfettered access to the Great Electronic Unwashed is a must. Hopefully though, all will be well in a copuple of days, once the Time Warner fairy pays my new address a visit. Otherwise I may very well scale the new chimney and jump to the grassless knoll that is my new back yard. But my weekend plans aren't important right now. What is important is that I update my humble blog. Since I don't have any fresh adventures on deck, this musty confession will have to suffice:

I haven't always been a news man. I use to make...commercials. Really bad commercials. You know, those locally produced spots featuring bellicose car salesmen, odd farm animal cameos and the stilted vaudeville of a thousand cheesy lines. Crazy Eddie's Having a Sale, indeed. But before you string me up for unleashing all that bad TV on the hapless viewers of Eastern North Carolina, consider my circumstances. I was nothing more than a punk with a bad haircut, one lacking direction but steadily collecting hangovers. Dizzy from a fleeting stab at a Naval career, a brief stint as community college lothario and a memorable winter transporting psych patients from hospital bed to x-ray unit, I was lost and didn't even know it. Some young men wander into the wilderness to find out who they really are. I stumbled into an antiquated CBS affiliate and found myself in the reflection of an ancient viewfinder. It wasn't pretty, but then again, coming of age rarely is.

Back to the ads. They were awful; a gross combination of grand delusion, customer pacification and the cheesiest of line delivery. The station I worked for was so eager to sell ad-time, they rarely charged clients for the actual production of said commercial. For their (lack of) money, area businesses received the cinematic services of one ass-kissing, overdressed sales weasel and me - a camera flunkie with a mullet and a mild buzz. Throw in a merchant with a fondness for his or her image and you have the makings of one very painful thirty seconds. Visually dismal yet ingratiatingly effective, some of those regrettable sequences still play on a loop in the dollar theatre of my subconscious. I remember shooting smarmy beach music deejays in day-glo tuxedos, boozy, psychotic rodeo clowns and - I swear - a full-grown Texas Longhorn Steer inside a steakhouse restaurant.

But you don't have to crack open my melon to see what I'm talkin' about (I'd really rather you didn't). One of the dorkier no-budget campaigns I had a hand in developing still continues in some variation this very day. But since I still got family in the area, I don't wanna name names (let's just say it rhymes with Evans Ford). Quick, envision a chorus line of pudgy car salesmen sweeping a showroom floor in straw-broom unison as the owner of the place does a little soft-shoe and another middle-age white guy does the world's lamest sensation of then red hot MC Hammer.(Now find a way to scour the image from my brain, would ya? A new homeowner needs his sleep.) Yes, I was well on my way to a long career as the area's auteur of awful advertising when something utterly unexpected happened. A local bartender at the restaurant my wife worked at took a friend of ours hostage. Suddenly, I found myself staring through a news camera at a familiar frat guy waving a gun. What followed was a prolonged, intense police stand-off that is etched into recesses of my skull. After that, I'd never shoot another car lot again.


Weaver said...

Can I be the fly on the wall when you call the Time Warner guy a fairy? :-)

Geoffcam said...

Hey man, I'm still making some of those same silly :30 spots after a brief tour of duty in News-Nam. My conscience can deal with the lack of creativity or money from the client - it's those damn sales weasels I have to hold my breath and count to 10 when I'm around! (Pray you don't get the TW guy at your house that I encountered!)

OhioChief said...

I had a brief stint working part time at my station's Production Company for about a year. I know exactly the spots you're talking about. I even once made a baseball spot with a bed of John Fogerty's "Centerfield" with a sales guy yelling "Batter Up" and "Play Ball". "Swing into great savings at xxxxxxxxxx" It was horrible. One that I'll never forget, but should be forgotten.

Anonymous said...


Blecch. Glad you're back. Carolyn