Thursday, August 17, 2006

Red, White, and Blue

A rule of thumb in film and TV is that a good day is when you get 4 minutes of tape in the can from 12 hours of shooting. You can screw up all day and it's wonderful. But on stage a successful production requires 90 minutes of the most intense ninja zen concentration you can muster. And sometimes you do the whole thing twice in a day. Now that some time has passed since my play I decided to try my hand with the exact opposite experience: I auditioned for two commercials this week. One for Pepsi, one for a political ad.

There's a not so famous Seinfeld episode where Kramer auditions for a Sprite knockoff beverage. He's surrounded by all these good looking people of every physical permutation. Young, short, Asian woman. Hip, tall, 30-ish black man. Gnarly, pale, dreadlocked 20s skater dude. The director yells "Action!" and they hop and dance around in front of the camera while smiling artificially and enjoying the beverage to orgasmic proportions. In 30 seconds it's over ("CUT.") and they put their normal faces back on and leave like it was the most normal thing in the world. It is exactly like this. Except I am imitating being chased by an 8 foot Pepsi ball down Lombard street.

My next audition is for a democratic candidate for Congress. Yes, all the people in those ads are actors. Foreman in the yellow hardhat shaking hands? Actor. Tattooed inmates cleaning trash off the highway shoulder for a better America? Actors every one of them.

I am phoned by casting to setup an audition time and was given my line: "I want a government that helps small business." I am told to dress according to the role. What clothes represent small business? I wager this small businessman is barely treading water. He's working 12-hour days and any extra cash is going to Blue Shield payments and 401(k)s for his employees. I opt for a boring vanilla colored flannel shirt and khaki Dockers with scuffed brown worn leather boots. I arrive at the studio and I am surrounded by tree-hugging women in their 50s, kids kicking soccer balls, and five men in their 40s dressed in Oxfords and fancy loafers. I sign in and see that dozens of people have gone before me all vying for the 4 roles available. I sit quietly and do the radio announcers test to myself. They call my name and I enter the studio. A mic dangles in the center of the brick walled room. Shiny light umbrellas dot the ceiling corners and a camera with lots of expensive dodads is trained on me. An attractive woman dressed in black shoes, black pants, and a black t-shirt takes charge.

Casting Director: All set?
Me: Yes, you bet.
CD: Okay. Stand at that piece of tape on the floor. OK. Let me hear it.
Me: I want a government that helps small business.
CD: Good. OK, now try it with...a little smile in your voice.
Me: I want a government that helps small business!
CD: Good. Try it now like this is a wish of yours and you're just figuring it out.
Me: (looking away) I want a government...(cocks head into camera) that helps small business!
CD: OK. Last time. Any way you want.
Me: (doubly sincere) I want a government that helps small business.
CD: Thank you.

I left feeling unsure and insecure. "I am too young for the role." "I didn't speak clearly enough." "I think I have blush on my forehead."

Four days later my phone rings. They would like to see me again for round two. I return and see a familiar tree hugger. She is wearing the exact same outfit I saw her in four days ago right down to her socks. I smooth out a crease in my boring vanilla flannel shirt that I neglected to iron. One should always wear the same clothes when called back. There is now a trio of casting folks and an all-business guy in blue jeans and expensive leather shoes is running the show.

"OK. Let's hear the line three different ways."
"Now do it like you're a butcher."
"Face the wall behind you, turn, and give it to us again."
"Last time. Any way you want."

I pause for a moment because I know exactly how I want to do the last one. It's the same way I rehearsed it in the car last night.

"Would you mind if I built a little story around the line?"
"Whatever makes it work."
"I own a small software company. Five people. All of them are the best at what they do. But I can barely afford to keep them. I have to charge our clients top dollar just to stay afloat and half of them are looking at other options because we're just too expensive. I have no idea where this company will be in 6 to 12 months. I want a government that helps small business."

We shoot next Wednesday.