I just got home from Vegas. I did almost no blogging this weekend except when I was on the plane. It was actually kind of frightening to see how much I could accomplish when cut off from the interwebs. Even though interwebs were readily available on the plane, there was no way I was paying $13 for in-flight wi-fi access. That’s just crazy talk.
This blog is not about Vegas. I’m going to need a few days to decompress and recover before I decide which of those stories I’m prepared to share. In the meantime, here’s another tale from the background…
A month or so ago, I got a call to be an extra for a Nissan commercial and I was all, ‘Sweet! My first car commercial! I bet this’ll be a big budget production and that lunch will be amazing!’ So I said I’d do it, even though it meant driving up to New Haven, CT at the ass crack of dawn. I was told that I’d be playing a spectator at a tennis match. Not sure what tennis has to do with cars, but what do I know from advertising?
Later, when I got my confirmation email, I was disappointed to learn that it was not in fact Nissan the car company, but Nissen the bread company. Bummer. Bread is never as exciting as a car. I still wasn’t sure where the tennis part fit in, but it was a well-paying gig, so I agreed to go anyway.
When I got to Connecticut the next morning I discovered that there was a typo in the email and that I was actually going to be in a Nissin commercial, which is the Japanese company that makes Cup Noodles. The commercial was in Japanese and featured some famous tennis player whose name I can neither remember nor pronounce. Whatever it was, I think it means Tennis McNoodles in English, but I can’t be sure. At least the tennis bit finally made sense.
In any case, this was one of the few projects I’ve worked on that made me sign a confidentially agreement. The commercial was set to air during the Olympics (and only in Japan) and I had to promise not to talk/write/blog/tweet/etc… about it until the games were over. Hence the lateness of this post. Honestly, I doubt I would’ve even bothered to write about this one at all if they hadn’t made such a big deal about not doing it. (What can I say? I’m subversive like that.)
All in all, the day was pretty miserable. It was blisteringly hot and because we were at an outdoor tennis court there was no shade to be found anywhere. Except under my giant sun bonnet, which I wore in every single take, despite explicit instructions to the contrary. We were told to bring at least two outfits that could easily be changed from shot to shot (i.e. add/change a shirt or hat – that sort of thing.) They were using a film technique called tiling, which basically means you pay a hundred people to do the work of three thousand by shooting one section of the stadium, then having everybody change clothes, mix up and find new seats in another section. We did that all day long.
Also, the food was horrible. This is a common phenomenon on foreign productions. And I’ve worked with French, Italian, Brazilian and now Japanese crews. They almost always pay a lot more that American productions, but they totally skimp on lunch. I thought they might at least give us some noodles, but nope – it was soggy sandwiches all around.
The first half of the day was all about crowd scenes and reaction shots, but after lunch we finally got to see Tennis McNoodles in action. Since they were only shooting in one direction, from the opponent’s perspective, we never saw any actual tennis. It was mostly production assistants lobbing tennis balls over the net in an attempt to set McNoodles up for an ace every time. McNoods hated it. He wanted a real opponent and I must say, I admire his commitment to authenticity. So a bunch of PAs started running around, trying to rustle up a proper opponent.
At first, they tried to promote a member of the background. They asked everyone if they played tennis, reiterating at least a dozen times that they were looking for a volunteer who could legitimately play tennis, not an actor who thought they could make it look like they knew how to play. Can you guess how this ends? Some asshole, wannabe actor who had never played a day in his life got up, spent an hour in the wardrobe room getting dressed in tennis whites (I guess the crew thought they if they had an actual opponent, they could vary the shots a bit) while we sat there baking in the sun, not doing anything. Of course the guy couldn’t play. He wasted everyone’s time just to draw attention to himself. We all hated that guy.
[*Okay, so this last bit isn’t entirely true. The guy wasn’t a tennis player by any means, but he held his own. No one hated that guy. We were all totally rooting for him, despite being hot and miserable. I just wanted to convey the undercurrent of crankiness that permeated the situation.]
[**I didn’t have to tell you any of that, either. I easily could have allowed you to go on believing that guy was an asshole on an ego trip, when in fact, I am the asshole. That’s how committed I am to journalism. Remember that the next time I decide to give one of my stories a little more flavor by making up a bunch of nonsense. I may well be sacrificing my own journalistic integrity for your amusement. I hope you’re happy.]
When background guy didn’t work out they brought out an older tennis pro who engaged in a couple of volleys with the Japanese kid, but then said, ‘It’s too hot out here, screw this, I’m going home.’ [*I’m paraphrasing.] Then he left. I couldn’t blame him. I wanted to go home too.
After that, McNood’s manager ran across the street to a youth tennis camp and was all like, ‘Who’s the best player here?’ and grabbed the kid that everyone pointed to.
[*Note: I have no idea how it actually happened, but that’s how it went down in my head.]
Apparently, a young man named Justin was the best player so they brought him over and they started to play. It wasn’t Wimbledon by any means, but anything to break up the monotony was a welcome distraction. Plus, Justin got to feel like a superstar and I bet he learned a whole lot and that gives me warm fuzzies.
[See? I’m not always an asshole.]
The other interesting thing about this shoot was the fact that everyone in the background was white. Like, white, white. Like they purposefully rounded up as many blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aryan types as they could find, white. This is in distinct contrast to almost every New York based production company where diversity is king. (Except occasionally on shows like Royal Pains which is set in the Hamptons. They have the most ridiculous casting calls. They say things like, ‘Upscale, affluent, country club types who would be seen at polo match.’ So…white people. Just say it for Pete’s sake! I prefer shows like Girls who, on the rare occasions they’re not looking for Brooklyn hipsters, will call for people like, ‘Middle Eastern cab drivers’ or ‘Hasidic Jews’ or ‘Ethnic nannies.’ They keep it real. I’m a fan.)
Anyway, after a crap lunch and too many hours in direct sunlight, I began to devolp wild conspiracy theories about the homogenous nature of our group. If this commercial was only ever going to air in Japan, then why would they fly a tennis star and an entire crew to New Haven? Surely it would be cheaper – at least from a locations perspective – to film over there, right?
Then again, it’s a lot cheaper to fly a twenty-five person crew and one tennis pro to Connecticut than it would be to fly over a hundred white people to Japan. [Yes, I am aware that there are many caucasians living in Japan, but hundreds? I don’t know. I’d hazard a guess that there are more like fifty. Seventy-five tops. Plus, they would all have to be available on the same day and that’s not likely, is it?]
That’s when it dawned on me. The commercial was obviously a blatant attempt by the Japanese Noodle Barons to assert their dominance over America. Show a bunch of caucasians going nuts over an Asian kid and totally coveting his superior noodles with their microwavable packaging and convenient cooking techniques.
It may seem overly dramatic, but it really is the most logical conclusion when you think about it. If that wasn’t a giant ‘Fuck you!’ to Ramen noodles – nay, to all of America and everything we stand for, then I don’t know what is. I do know that I didn’t like it one bit and I never would have been a party to such treason
if I had known in advance if I didn’t need the money so much.
That said, I would like to take this opportunity to offer my humble apologies to the U.S. Olympic tennis team, their families and supporters for my thoughtless actions and any pain they may have caused. It was not intentional. It is my fervent hope that one of our boys mopped the floor with Tennis McNoodles! And if I could remember his real name, I would absolutely look it up on the interwebs and gloat about it on my Twitter feed. Go Team USA! God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
[*It has recently been brought to my attention that not only are Ramen noodles and Cup Noodles made by the same company, but there is also a good chance that they were made in America. A cursory Google search before publishing this post revealed that the Nissin Corporation actually has two American plants, one is California and one in Pennsylvania. There goes that conspiracy theory. I hereby retract the contents of the above blog post. This is what happens when I blog without internet access.]
Peace out, home skillets!