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Thoughtful Research

How We Learn about Inadequacies

Nerves were racing double time on my way to my first big commercial shoot. By big I meant more money in two days than I've ever made before. What if I let them down? What if they're disappointed? I've come to learn that my agent thinks it's a miracle if I get any commercial at all. Why? I have a lousy profile. And my hands are too veiny. What if I disappointed them here when they see what they really got?


I pulled up to park on the street where I could see an RV and all kinds of camera setup action going on. One girl directing traffic came over to me. "Are you our talent?"


Gosh, I loved being called that. I responded, "I'm playing Alice." I think my gray hair gave me away. The only other gray-haired I met that day was the fellow who owned the RV and rented it for cast and crew to have a bathroom and a place to veggie out.


I waited in the car because I was early, and then decided I had to find Maya, who I was told to call when I got there. She helped me unload my costumes and then I drove to a more appropriate parking spot.


I noted on the call sheet that there was going to be a safety meeting, but I never got to attend so I guess that was just for the crew. We were, after all, filming during a pre-booster-shot pandemic.


We were shooting at a house with the owner's permission, although that did not include bathroom privileges. I was there from 8 am until 7 pm and usually prefer to hold it when I'm on an airplane. But discomfort aside, and the RV handy, the cast was welcoming and all wore safety masks.  I bonded with the little girl playing my granddaughter. Together we got on our old-fashioned, back-pedal brake bikes to practice for the first big scene. A storm was coming up the Mississippi River so we did all the outdoor scenes first. I brought my own helmet, as she did, and we practiced breaking without using our hands.


Then we were told to get into position as the camera crew and director tried to figure out the best way to film the biking scene. This was the most complicated, and I was glad we got that out of the way first. (I was in a low budget movie once where they saved the big dialog scene for last and I was fired because I couldn't get the lines exactly as in the script.) 


The trick in this scene was that I had to follow the mobile camera so close as to nearly touching; they wanted me to walk the bike and then seamlessly start to pedal. I just didn't know there was a way to do that seamlessly. The director finally agreed after several attempts, so that I had to start biking behind them as they moved, still close but a little more off to the side so they could see her behind me, and start pedaling right away without hitting the camera crew.


Then came their first criticism, but one I always expected to get. "Now you're not on stage here. You don't have to amplify those emotions. Just play it soft and sincere, dial it down." To jump ahead, later he told me to dial it up again.


Granddaughter was so very charming and perfect in the role. I hope we'll be seeing more of her. (I was asked a few times if she was my real granddaughter.)


Once the bike scene was a wrap, I was in for the surprise of my life. The crew told me to get into a funny looking contraption. I stared at it. "You want me to fly now?"


"No, you get to be the camera. The camera is strapped to you and it follows your moves."


Well, that sounded clever to me. Since I was the only brace, I used a lot of hip, knee and abdominal muscles to hold it up. Odd how they never asked me if I ever suffered from back or knee pain. That's when it occurred to me. I really AM the focus of this commercial. Me. And this way, too, they didn't have to worry about the camera catching my profile. Clever. I shot a film recently where they kept saying, let's get it so she's looking more at the camera. The girl I was working with on that (just for fun) film called it a ski-slope nose. But then, she wasn't the one the camera crew applauded for when we were told to ad-lib.


Next came my bush-cutting scene where granddaughter and son come to greet me and all I had to do was react with pleasure when I heard their voices. They took away most of my lines, though. That was disappointing. Probably thought I sounded nasal through my ski-slope nose.


They had one scene where I was supposed to be spray-painting the bike, but they felt my face was too close to the bike to pull that off, so they had to change it to just painting with a brush. The premise was that I was painting bikes as a hobby, and used to love riding bikes but was getting out of shape. In the scene where I was pushing granddaughter Lucy off on the bike, I'm supposed to react to my smart watch signaling high-blood pressure. But I thought they needed more there and gave them a chest clutching, hot-breath pant as though I was going to pass out. Someone said, oh my goodness, help her, she's having a heart attack. That's not what they wanted. So I had to dial that back, too, and give them just a frown at the watch.


We got to do the bike-painting scenes, Lucy and I, and they told us to have a little fun with it. So she got to paint my shirt, not just once, but several times, so I gave her 'that look.' That was the only other compliment I received, and they didn't use that in the commercial.


Lucy was done by lunchtime. In the afternoon I was strapped in again, and filmed opening and shutting the garage door, supposedly with different expressions each time (before and after therapy), the in-house phone call to hear insurance reassurance, and the painting scenes that I did alone. I had to come back the next day to film just in the morning at another location. Those were the scenes where I was getting checked by the doctor, and working out with exercises. But it seemed like every time we changed to another scene, strapping me in again to that camera, I had to stand there for what felt like hours, holding the camera up with knees that were getting quite sore. They had to have discussions of what they wanted, shoot several times, then get on video chat with the advertisers to make sure it was what they wanted before we could move on to another scene.


At the end, when we all called it's a wrap, I got ready to leave. I turned to the director and said, most politely, I hope you weren't disappointed.


He did not respond. I suppose all actors look for reassurance. They must get tired of that. Yes, they did manage to shoot the film without getting my profile. And I joined the Dean's Health Medicare plan. So win-win! The commercial aired a lot, and an ad with my face (not profile) was plastered on the side of a city bus. Now there's a first! And it was a nice check, more than I expected.


The following year I got another check in the mail, because they decided to use the commercial again at least in print places, like Facebook.


The next two commercials I got chosen for were both off full-front photos, not video auditions. I haven't won off a video audition since. So yeah, this commercial was like a miracle because it was what I like to do best - ride bikes.

If you're not a success, it's likely you're fault, even if it's a body part for which you have no control. But the camera does have control. Tell that to the producers who filmed my entire leading role in profile. No, they never got chosen for any film fests. I wonder why.

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