Back to school: shooting a commercial for the University of Southern California.

July 11, 2011

“Bad connection” at Silver Lake

I wrote this on location, at Sunset & Hyperion in Silver Lake, California, which is sort of like being on the corner of Hipster and Skiddly. Silver Lake is the epicenter of cool, LA’s version of the Village in New York. We’re filming a spot on behalf of the University of Southern California. You know the commercials you see during half time of college football games? It’s one of those. Chris Anthony is directing out of Dark Light Pictures.

While I won’t get into the campaign concept, I can tell you it’s pretty unorthodox for the genre. In other words, no leaping football players or lab-coated professors holding up test tubes. We wanted to provide real reasons for young people to come to USC. Given the school’s location and pedigree there are plenty of them. This will not be your father’s University commercial…

The cast, far from preppy…

Midday and it’s hotter than the proverbial match head. But I’m under a makeshift tent and there’s a nice breeze. The crew and cast broke for lunch and are forming a line in front of the Dogzilla food truck (“Not your typical wiener”). We are using the food truck in some of our scenes, killing two birds (and a bunch of diets) at one time…

Lovely cast member goes for Dogzilla…

Production is a hierarchal community, sort of like an ant colony or beehive. At the center of it all is the director. Next to him is the director of photography (DP), a producer and key crew. Radiating out from that nucleus you’ll find assistant producers on the phone and production assistants getting shit done. Like social insects, none of them question their role or position.

The directer and his crew…

Clients are curious members of this traveling circus. No matter how agreeable and pleasant (or not) a client is, they are still outsiders looking in. Yes, they are underwriting the entire production. But that does not translate to anything useful on a live set. Therefore, clients are “handled” by someone who will give them food and drink, show them location photos and wardrobe and all the rest. In other words they are kept out of the director’s way. If a client has issues, he or she presents them to a producer who then presents them to the director. A client may go to the agency suit or a member of the creative team instead. Either way, there is a chain.

On day 1 we had no clients. It’s just Noel, the Dark Light team and yours truly. Yet, in a very real way, Noel and I are the clients…whether we like it or not. Over the years I’ve seen countless agency creatives try to assimilate into the director’s hip orbit. Hey, we’re artists, too! Look at our tats! It seldom works. To the crew we are clients. I learned to just go with it. Besides, sometimes it’s fun being handled!

Silver Lake bling but I still ain’t crew.

To end on a surreal note, the last shot of the day featured most of USC’s marching band performing on Venice Beach. Now that’s something you don’t see everyday…even at a place like Venice Beach, which has seen it all.

“Someone make a wrong turn?”

When the spot is finished, and with USC’s blessing, I’ll upload it to this blog. As usual, I thank you for your readership!


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