Stunt possum.

It rained all morning when we started shooting. Now it’s just after lunch and the sun is coming out. The morning scenes aren’t going to match the afternoon ones. We’re going to have to put up huge scrims to minimize the harsh, noon shadows. This will take the production company an hour to set up. Just so you know, it’s the unwritten rule of commercial production, any change you make requires an hour. I have concluded the rule is written down somewhere. I’m guessing in the by-laws of the Directors Guild of America.

When you’re shooting outdoors on location, daylight is your enemy. We have only one day to shoot the commercial. The house we’re shooting at in LA has been rented for one day. The multiple permits required to shoot in the residential neighborhood have been approved for one day. The director, the production company, the film crew, the actors, the wardrobe and makeup people, the special effects team, the sound department, the caterers, and the dozens of other people it takes to make one 30-second commercial all have been booked for one day. If we don’t get the commercial shot today before the sun goes down, there will be no coming back tomorrow.

We have two possums in the commercial. One is fake. He’s our stunt possum. He is built to look exactly like our real possum. The real possum is with his possum handlers, presumably getting ready for his big close ups.

First we shoot the stunt possum lying on the ground. The fake possum has three jobs. Play possum. Look like the real possum so we can get the lighting and his position in camera just right. And shoot a few scenes with the kid actors in the spot. (Obviously, at no time during the shoot were the actors anywhere near the real possum. Nor was I. It was in my contract.)

Next we take out the fake possum and put the real possum in his place. On cue, the real possum is supposed to jump up and hiss. Our special effects team is watching the video monitor carefully to see if they can seamlessly put the two possums and the action together.

So far, the real possum isn’t playing his part. Perhaps nobody read him the script. He’s jumping up out of frame. He won’t play possum. He won’t hiss. The sunlight is bright now. We need more scrims overhead. The possum takes a break in his trailer.

Throughout the day, the line producer says helpful things like, “We’re burning daylight, people.” I volunteer to put on a possum suit. And we still have to shoot the human actors’ on-camera dialogue. If we don’t get it before the sun goes down, well, you know what.

An hour later the sun starts to go down. Like a vampire, I am suddenly awake and hyper-aware of my surroundings. The director keeps shooting. We need just a little more coverage. I’m assured there’s enough light to get two more takes. Am I actually developing a taste for blood? Finally, after ten more takes the director yells, “Cut!” for the final time that day. We have a spot.

All of us are pumped up on adrenaline and caffeine. We give each other hand shakes and high fives. The production crew starts rolling heavy lights and camera rigs towards trucks the size of moving vans.

Somewhat anticlimactically, the clients and the agency drive back to the hotel. We have a 5:30 call-time to start shooting the next morning. As always, we will have only one day to get it right.

Published by bassetts49

50 years in advertising, 20 years as the creative lead on Geico. A life in creative thinking.

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