Cotton Candy @ The Amusement Park –
I was twenty-six and single when the Gods of Advertising handed me a new client, a high-end suntan lotion. It was my confirmation that I had indeed made the right job decision changing ad agencies.
After months of presenting concepts, TV boards and recording focus groups we finally get the client’s approval to go into production.
So what did we sell? A high-end suntan lotion that was targeting young professional women who like to be seen sunbathing at expensive and exotic locations. Our new brand of suntan lotion was being positioned as a competitor to the category leader, Bain de Soleil. Our spot had three very sexy women, all in tiny bikinis with one model riding a Black Stallion bareback along an exotic island beach.
The timing was around the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years holidays when the creative was approved and a lot was to be accomplished as we entered the exciting production phase.
First order of business was to finalize the casting with a bareback riding test in New York City’s Central Park and then off to scout two locations that had met our criteria.
It was Christmas day when I flew Ixtapa Mexico to check out our first location and then on New Years Eve I was flying onto the next second location of British Virgin Gorda part of the British Virgin Islands. The Caribbean water was Blue Green; the soft sand was white with phallic shaped formations of smooth rounded Glacier Rocks sticking out of the sand ranging from 3 feet to 12 feet tall along the exotic Caribbean Sea.
Without question our choice was British Virgin Gorda. Afterwards I flew off to NYC to work out the details with our Production Company’s Executive Producer and Director. My traveling companion was my agency producer Jerry, raised on Lookout Mountain, Tennessee with the accent to prove it and an NBA body style of 6’9″ that pretty much said he would never go unnoticed. He was a blast to be around and had extensive overseas production experience.
Fast forwarding to late February. We are now on location with the shoot day just a few days away and I was driving from the tiny island airport returning to the hotel with three beautiful models, I felt like Aldo Cella, you have to know the spot to understand. One blonde from California, a brunette from France and another from Rio, all very tall and very sexy and had become island eye candy as we made our way back to the production location. And I was enjoying every second of our journey.
After returning with the models at my side, I made the introductions and setup a wardrobe fitting which was really just one tiny bikini after another. Now models are not shy, they changed out of one suit into another right in front of me as if its just part of their modeling routine and it was my job to pay attention. Tough duty.
The very next day our client was arriving and since our crack account team was flying in a day later it was my responsibility to pick him up; clients love to hang with creative types anyway. So before I was to head out, I am told there’s a problem with the horses coming in from Miami, they were not properly quarantined so they could not make the trip. It was a messy communication problem between Miami and our production company that had forced us to make a decision. We either would have to wait two more weeks to reapply for a new quarantine or find another resource for our horse talent. Ok, now the fun begins. We had sold our client of a sexy beautiful woman riding bareback on a beautiful sexy Black Stallion. Now what? Our backups had become short, ugly and fat island ponies. Now I can see myself being tossed out of the top floor window with all the shooting boards, headshots and per deum receipts after me never to work in this field again because of this unforgiving blunder.
My job now, go pick up the client and prepare him for the bad news. Before I take off we decide and choose a horse, which was the best of the bunch a short pony that had part of it’s mane bitten out from a fight with one of the other ugly horses sporting dark grey, brownish grey random spots and a fat Biafra style belly. It had become a nightmare when our lead hair and makeup artist Hal says, “I can fill in the holes where the mane is missing with fake hair.” I say, “you can do what? You kidding me?” “No”, is his reply “and I will dye him black using nice’n easy to cover the front and side of the horse that the camera will see.” I was stunned, but Hal reassured us that it would work. Now we had a plan in place as I left for the airport to pick up our client. During the ride back with the client sitting next to me, I avoided talking about the horse, but once we arrived at our production location we laugh and talk about the breathtaking the scenery, referring to both talent and island when he then asks, “I want to see that Black Stallion you promised me,” it is then we take a deep breath and expose him to our situation. He explodes with a scream, he can’t believe he’s traveled this far to be told we that we have a Danny Divito version of the Black Stallion. We all just listen as he blasts us exhausting every expletive you could think of. After the dressing-down we begin to present our alternatives. He looks at us as if we are freaking nuts, then turns and around and walks away mumbling, “I need a drink”. We quietly follow him to the beach bar hut overlooking the exotic Caribbean waters as we gently proceed to convince him that we have a solution that will work. He looks directly at me and said squarely that the agency will be fired and his job is on the line as well if we fail. We insincerely promise him that it will work and then instantly start thinking about our own resumes as we each ordered another umbrella drink.
Shoot day number one has arrived and it’s very early in the morning as we walk towards the area where our hair and makeup expert, Hal had been working his magic on the pony. We’re stunned; the client is ecstatic over how good this poor excuse of a horse now looks. This pony had become a horse. Hal had actually made this multi-colored Danny DeVito pony look great. Amazing what Hal, a true hair and makeup artist, can do.
Now the account team had arrived from the airport and naturally, all hell begins to break loose when they find out about our Black Stallion scenario. At this time in our lives, cell phones didn’t exist which meant long distance communication was limited. Our client begins settle the account team down explaining “we don’t have time to look at the negative; we just need to make this work.” The client assures them we are doing our best and the account team then turns on the automatic reaction of, if the client’s is happy we’re happy.
The horse is really looking amazing; we are now giggling praising Hal’s artistry. The horse is in every scene with the master scene being shot first. In that scene our model cantors the horse riding bareback towards the other two models sunbathing on the beach. The shot is fabulous and the Account Director comes over to congratulate and assure me there will be rewards for a job well done. Oh yah, back to living the dream.
The very next scene we dolly past the model in her very tiny white bikini, which we had to be replaced with the backup bikini because the nice’n easy had stained her suit while riding bareback. It was then I realized I might have passed up a great career opportunity when two gay guys took her aside and sat on a short stool undoing her suit so they could apply more body makeup. My eyes must have been Marty Feldman like, an old actor with bulging eyes, see James L Brooks “Young Frankenstein”. I asked one of the grips, “have you seen this done before” he replied “all the time, it’s common on complete body makeup shoots”. I shook my head and thought I didn’t know that school existed and thought how did I let that career get away from me. But hey, I was still living the dream.
Back to reality, in the next scene where the model leads the horse walking by the other models on the beach. Then it happened… the horse falls and rolls over into the sand…the talent quickly scampers away as the sand and water turns black…it becomes silent and seems like an eternity when finally Jerry C., my big and tall size Producer, screamed with his Lookout Mountain twang… “Praise Jesus…is that F—ing horse dead or what?” Immediately the Account Director, who was praising me just an hour ago is now screaming at me with her pith helmet turn to the side atop of her bright red hair and pale freckled face that is lathered up with sun block pointing her long finger at me saying…”you’re responsible for this and now you’re the one who’s going to be fired over this…bla…bla…bla.” I block her voice out as she continues to rant on, when I finally fall out of the gaze and her voice is clear again, I take note that I am on an exotic island, hanging out with three beautiful models. So I smile and slowly say,”F—You” and walk away as she continued her rant.
Hal our makeup artist genius then makes his way over and informed us that the horse is not dead but that the nice’n easy made the horse so itchy that he flopped down into the sand to scratch his back. We take a deep breath as the production crew cleaned up the sand as the Caribbean water returned to its exotic blue green color.
After three long days of shooting we had wrapped up the production and I now had to return the three models back to the airport receiving the traditional model hug and kiss thank you. Yep, life was sweet once again.
We retuned to the agency with our suntans and production horror stories of the shoot. I had just finished updating my resume, when we were told the spot was well received by our agency and client. Because of the unique situation of this hoot the client had become one of our biggest allies. The spot was a national bye, but the client’s sales team had somehow failed to purchase the proper retail shelf space. This meant they lost the season to Bain de Soleil. The product was shelved and the client fired a number of their marketing people. The product had a short life span; I had exotic memories and a classic production story that would last me a lifetime.
How I do love this ad game.