Monday, March 26, 2007
My finest hour in advertising
The other day I was watching some of the bonus features on “The Squid and The Whale” DVD (a fine movie), and all the actors kept commenting on how strongly they reacted to the script, how great it was, how they couldn’t put it down, etc. And they’re right: it’s a great script.
But as someone who’s been cranking out tons of ideas, scripts and copy for over a decade now, it got me thinking: where is my rapturous feedback? Where are the accolades raining down upon my work? Granted, there is certainly no shortage of comments about what I generate. In fact, everything I write has to pass a gauntlet of co-workers, bosses and clients, all of them eagerly drawing a bead on whatever it is they’re looking at in order to kill it with a single shot, ala’ DeNiro in “The Deer Hunter.”
Then, a memory kicked in. Someone famous did comment on my work! And it went a little something like this…(cue blurry flashback effect)
The year was 1998. I had written some TV spots that the agency I was working for was producing for the Milwaukee Brewers, a baseball team that was (is) perennially mired in mediocrity. And they were cheap, too. So cheap that we had to shoot 3 spots in one day, no small feat when your actors are athletes that didn’t exactly grow up reciting the works of the Great Bard.
We were also forced to use the comedic “talents” of Bob Uecker, the Brewers venerable radio announcer, frequent “Tonight Show” guest and star of the smash-hit TV show “Mr. Belvedere” and critically acclaimed “Major League” motion picture trilogy.
As we prepared to film our first spot, it was apparent Uecker hadn’t bothered to read the scripts he was sent weeks earlier. In fact, he ad-libbed every single line once the cameras started rolling, mugging wildly and laughing at his own jokes. The spots were supposed to be :30 seconds long, so any takes had to be about :25 max so that the Brewers could slap on a tag begging foggy-minded Milwaukeeans to vote ‘yes’ on their tax-payer subsidized new stadium initiative or whatever. Uecker’s takes were coming in around :45 / :50 seconds, and he grew visibly upset when we told him this. Eventually we got a few takes that worked timing-wise, if not aesthetically.
The second spot went no better. Uecker continued to ad-lib, and got super-pissed whenever we tried to get him to stick to the script, which was carefully written to time out to a certain length, in order to save us time/effort in expensive editing suites that The Brewers would balk at paying for.
We wrapped the second spot, and the crew started preparing for the third. Someone gave Uecker the next script, in which he was to star with Brewers legend Robin Yount (who, just to be clear, was cool, helpful and tried hard). I’m sitting in a chair about 30 feet away, watching Uecker’s beady eyes dance over my script as he munched on some cold cuts. He finished reading my script, then looked up and around the room, and loudly said for all to hear:
“Who wrote this crap?”
Awesome. The guy who made “Major League 3: Back to the Minors”, a movie so shabby that Ted “Series Killer” McGinley was one of the stars, was publicly deriding my work. Some lackey that worked for the Brewers scurried over to try and diffuse the situation, while I sat in my chair and laughed. Yount overheard the ruckus and said “What’s the matter Bob, you don’t like the script? I think it’s funny.” Upon hearing that Yount liked it, Uecker changed his mind and agreed to do it. But he still ad-libbed.
“Who wrote this crap?” Who indeed.