Sell! Sell! Sell!
On average, you see one every three minutes. You see thousands of them every year. Their slogans make their way into your slang, their jingles get stuck in your brain when you can't sleep. They're commercials. Ever think it would be fun to make them? It is.
"I love being able to tell my parents to watch for a commercial I produced," says David, who's done spots for American Express, McDonald’s, Mountain Dew, Disneyland, and countless others.
He paid his dues as a production assistant, being the first one on set and the last one to leave, dropping the film off at the lab before going home, and learning the process from the inside out until he worked his way up to producer, a job he's held for the past three years.
Location, Location, Location
David has traveled around the world shooting commercials—to the hills of Tuscany for Classico pasta sauce; to the sand dunes of Namibia for Schick; to a volcano in Hawaii for Honda. Often he has to remind his crew that "it's location, not vacation," because there's frequently a party atmosphere when shooting away from home. You're staying in hotels, the food is free, it's like being on a band trip--with booze and without the acne.
But it isn't all fun and games. David says, "Someone on my crew got into a bar fight in South Africa and was thrown in jail. So I had to bail him out--and then fire him."
Getting to See Behind the Curtain
Demystification of the process is one of the coolest things about the job.
For example, when you see a steaming bucket of chicken on TV, chances are it isn’t hot—it’s poisonous. The food is first treated with chemical A. When it’s time to shoot, chemical B is added, and the chemical reaction causes it to look like it’s steaming–but the aptly named "AB Smoke" looks better and lasts longer than real steam.
McDonald's shoots most of its commercials at a "shooting store" built strictly for this purpose. The set is identical to a real Mickey D's, but with a light grid where the ceiling should be.
Tree branches mounted on a power drill are reflected in a car's windshield to simulate movement, although the car is sitting on a soundstage. Luxury cars are routinely cut in half to get closeups of the interiors.
Oh, and those annoying Old Navy spots? They're supposed to be that bad.
The Downside - Long Hours, High Stress
Shoot days often run to 16 hours or more, and making sure the shoot comes in under budget, on time, with no disasters, can take its toll. "I spend a lot of time putting out fires. If someone gets hurt, I'm in the emergency room with them. If the film gets damaged at the lab, I'm the one they call at five in the morning. My wife thinks I'm going to get an ulcer, but I actually thrive on it."
So the next time you're watching TV and think to yourself, "I could do that"...dream on!