If you’ve never done a shoot for a TV spot you probably think its’s all “we’re ready for you on the set Mr. Gerard. Can we get you another cup of coffee?” Sorry to shatter your dream, but working with looney ad agency people, nervous clients, and an underappreciated, surly crew can be a real ego squashing experience. Especially if one of them thinks you’re TOO HAIRY!
Ok, so you’ve been going to auditions all year and getting a lot of rejection. But along comes this audition, and for some reason they decide they are going to hire YOU, so your ego is stoked going in. I was lucky. In the 90’s I worked with this wonderful director, Steve McWilliams, who really pushed me for a number of spots. He would recommend me for any shoot that required someone to act with his hands, or feet, or make precise moves in the frame. He also invented the world famous Eye Direct.
Now not all commercial shoots are ego shattering, although all are much harder work than you might imagine. Typically, the actors are called to the set around 7:00am, where they wait around until the hair and make-up and costume people are ready to work their magic. Then you are ready – to wait some more - until the set is lit and the shots are planned out. Then you are ready - to wait some more - until the clients and ad agency people show up. Then you are finally ready to start shooting. On this one shoot I was playing the hands of an office worker playing Paper Football with his co-worker. When we finally got on set and started rehearsing for the camera there was a small hubbub over by the monitor where the clients and agency people watched the action. I was suddenly and without explanation led off the set and into the make-up area, where I was informed by the make-up lady that someone thought the hair on my arm was too long and dark. She proceeded to apply makeup on my arms to try and tone down my manliness. Each time we returned to the set the consensus was the same – too much hair! More makeup! I offered a solution - trim the hair on my arms shorter! However, I was never allowed to speak with anyone except the make-up lady, so my idea never got transmitted to the set. After three more makeup tries, word got back that they wanted her to shave the hair off completely.
Once again I offered my solution of trimming the hair, but no dice. Since I had a close-up magic job that evening I was reluctant to go Brazilian on my arm. This went on for 45 minutes, while they probably considered replacing me with a less hirsute actor. Finally, one of the agency guys got a brilliant idea. “How about we just trim the hair on his arm shorter?” BRILLIANT!!! (If you watch the clip closely you can see they still had a ton of makeup on my arms. I’m the one with the suspenders, who is doing the kicking.)
By the time they got the hair dilemma solved they started losing the light on the empty floor of the downtown Dallas office building we were shooting in. So, they had to move the set to the other side of the building. I kept my head down and tried not to see the stares from the crew and agency people, who wished that I would have just been a little less hairy to begin with. By the way, this little ad for the Dallas Morning News ad ran during that year’s Super Bowl!!! I wonder if they ever asked Joe Montana to shave his arms?