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Hitting the spot; guerilla commercials

LETTER FROM L.A.: Hitting the spot; guerilla commercials
copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier


            A spot! A spot! What actor, East Coast or West, does not dream of the one score, the one booking that, for a few hours' work, will pay the bills?

            More than once out here I've met some actor who says they pay the bills 'doing commercials'. And a few of these - three? four? - DO so pay the bills, pretty regularly. More often though, you discover they've done that ONE dream gig that's now supporting them, sometimes for a year or two. Then, bit by bit, they become a bit more interested in that day job you might have mentioned a while back. Because, for most, the next score is a long time coming.

            Then there's the truly wonderful stroke of luck. As in a women I met last week and, unknowingly, had seen. Which happens out here. Not just that you see the stars (a whole other subject, and at that one not unknown to New Yorkers). But that you'll run into someone you remember from a particular commercial, or a typical episode of some popular show. As when the quirky blonde who serves me at one Starbucks turned out to be someone I'd seen on "Ally MacBeal". Or a woman in a workshop someone I'd seen on two different "Law and Order"s. Fun, partially for the gleam of recognition, partially for the reminder that such gratifying gigs aren't necessarily that far out of reach.

            In this case, I'd seen the cigarette company 'public service' spot numerous times, barely noticed the two teens who try to buy cigarettes in it. One of whom was my new acquaintance.

            In her case, she'd shot the spot happily, glad to have one major cashcow running. And then? They took the footage and cut it into TWO spots. Both of which ran for over two years.

            Is this why we study Shakespeare and Stanislavsky? Maybe not. And I wouldn't exactly say it was something to aspire to. But 'devoutly to be wished'?



            Better yet, how about ending up in a spot - and in SAG! - without even trying? This is what will happen to a few lucky store clerks and bystanders in the coming months, thanks to an anti-smoking campaign out here. One technique the campaign uses is to send actors with hidden cameras into public areas to, as they used to say in the Sixties, 'raise people's consciousness'. In this case, they sent several teams around to mailbox stores, where one actor would ask to send a box, saying they wanted to send cyanide, arsenic and other nasty stuff (all actual by-products of cigarette smoke.) The range of reactions from the unsuspecting victims was gratifyingly extreme. One good old boy truck driver, I'm told, lectured the young people on all the regulations HE had to observe when carrying hazardous materials.

            I did wonder how they got releases from all these people, until I heard that any who appeared in the final spots would be Taft-Hartleyed - and would get residuals.

            Talk about stepping in….

            One clerk who will NOT be doing so, however, will be the young slacker whose response to the inventory of dangerous contents was to say: "Look, man, you shouldn't even tell us what you're sending. We send guns and sh** all the time." All this on camera.