"My work as an actor on location/set
is to have the Producer's and Director's visions
up on the screen...!"

- - Badger

"in" the John Cleese commercial

Tuesday, October 28, 2003 Booked

Badger's theatrical headshot
Badger's theatrical headshot

Monday October 27th was my last day at my day-job temp assignment. Technically this sucked on a number of levels. For one thing, it put me out of work (obviously), which meant seeking a new day-job. Plus I had concerns a new job may not be as flexible. There, apart from their being friendlier than most temp assignments, I did data entry and they were very pleasantly flexible when I had sudden commercial auditions or film shoots.

I applied for unemployment immediately, an aspect of Between Work I hate doing. But money from my compensation for labour is taken from me without my wishing it, so getting it back is equitable and lawful without penalty.
At any rate, the nightmarish MTA strike had hit with full force mid-October and had no signs of ending anytime soon. I had been forced to go to my day-job 8.6 miles one way in the pre-dawn hours and 8.6 miles one way back home - 95% that direction, uphill. So I also had to contend with a new day-job that would require more horrific bicycle commuting.

Then I got a call from Sande Alessi Casting with which I'm registered, asking my availability The Next Day for a shoot, albeit in Arcadia. It would be background work but about 1.5 higher rate than background for film work.
I was told I was hand-picked by the spot's director David Kellogg, a name that rang a very loud bell.
I was also informed the commercial would be starring comedy genius John Cleese!

John Cleese
John Cleese

I assured them I'd Get There Somehow, and thankfully my girlfriend suggested my staying over and her driving me there before going to work herself. I got the location of the Arcadia Arboretum from online, and I later got the confimation call with the directions and my 6:15am calltime.
No problem, considering I would be there sometime after 5:00am....

A quick search on my resume page confirmed my suspicions that I'd worked for the talented David Kellogg before, three years earlier I did featured background for a hilarious two-day shoot on an Orlando Jones 7Up commercial spot, in which I was a race-car pit-crew member.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003 Commercial Shoot

Rising at 3:45am and out the door by 4, there was no traffic out to Arcadia. We got there a few minutes before actual crew signs were posted, so I was dropped off at the filling parking lot of the Santa Anita Racetrack across the street. The security guard there told me at what light was the "train depot" parking lot, so I walked there.

Literally three minutes after I'd entered the empty parking lot, trucks and cars began to arrive. I had my usual scrambled eggs and bacon, pleasantly hot considering the gentle coolness of the dark early morning air.

Around 6am I was shuttled over to the main parking lot where I got my own trailer-room, as did "other cohorts," the principal one being played by familiar Iqbal Theba, recognizable from a dozen movies and over two dozen episodic TV appearances (including a long running doctor character on ER).

The other "featured background" was pleasant character actor Keith Blaney, who was kind enough to drive me home at the end of the day, as he lived in NoHO.
Keith understandably promoted his critically-aclaimed play currently (at the time of this composition), The Lepers of Baile Baiste, which got very high praise from the LA Times and in T.H. McCulloh's Backstage West review:

"Two other performances remain indelibly in memory: Jason McCune's Ladeen, who fights his painful memories with a savage humor, and Keith Blaney's extraordinarily detailed and believable Clown, with a vibrantly sad subtext -- a poignant and vivid image of a soul more lost than the others but who survives somehow against all odds."
Celtic Arts Center's Sean Fallon Walsh Theater

4843 Laurel Canyon Boulevard, Studio City - through November 22, 2003

Understandably, Keith was also "still flying" from his recent commercial principal work with hilarious film director Kevin Smith for the new Panasonic DVD burner, in which Keith, playing a caveman, tackles Kevin Smith (who is the spot's spokesperson). In the thirty second spot, Keith tackles Kevin once, as Kevin sits down next to Keith's fire. In the sixty second version of the spot, Keith's tackling Kevin becomes a running gag throughout the commercial, no matter where Kevin is.

We had been asked to bring black pants, white shirt, black shoes, and varied "character" type shirts. I had them, but the wardrobe folk thought my Regular Wear was my character clothes (boop!), even my badger cap, which came close to being used.

As it turned out, Keith was done up with Wellington boots, khaki shorts, an ascot and a pith helmet and the blue-plaid blazer "we" were to be wearing. Apparently this blue-plaid blazer was to be a common thread of the three spots being made (this was the second of the three NXT spots). Keith likened it to 1950's automobile upholstery.

Meanwhile, apparently director David had called down selecting me to wear "the" hazmat suit. A hooded one-piece made of blue tarp-like material, I wore big black boots over them and black rubber gloves one would wear when working closely with corrosives. There was a brief time they tried to have me wear a silver fire-fighter outfit, which not only made me look like a robot refugee from a Flash Gordon episode, but would have completely obscured my face. It was one-way reflective. I could see out; no one could see it. I was constantly being asked if I could see. Thankfully it was too big for me, and I was switched to the blue outfit (I think David suggested the switch). At least I "only" wear clear plastic eye goggles over my own glasses.

I was brought in and shown where to "be spraying" a counter literally made of lawn grass. I was given a large white plastic back-pack water-sprayer, which technically could be pumped up with pressure, but it wouldn't pump so I mime spraying the counter. With rehearsals and the few takes done, I stand somewhat profile (my left side to camera), and at "Action!" I would begin to spray, "push" a few buttons, then spray the other side, so my back is at the camera.
Meanwhile, the talented John Cleese was doing his business in the foreground (so I doubt I'd even be in focus). He points out varied objects and such to prevent (Jones's?) new NXT Golf Ball from travelling "faster and farther" than other golf balls, such as velcro grass, and an "Audrey 2" type plant which will later be added via CGI.

Eventually between takes I was not brought back in to the set; I did not exit during an actual take so presumeably my character will inexplicably disapparate.

Keith was as thrilled as I to be working with John Cleese, but Keith was also looking forward to the fact the spots were co-starring golf course designer legend Robert Trent Jones Jr.
I must confess as, not being a golfer, I had never heard of the man. When I was booked, his name was mentioned, but I thought he was a Brit-com actor. It turns out the man designs golf courses, apparently throughout the world, even writing a book on the subject: Golf by Design: How to Lower Your Score by Reading the Features of a Course.

Robert Trent Jones Jr.
Robert Trent Jones Jr.
Golf by Design
Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s book
Golf by Design

I had my own surprise. It was impossible for me not to recognize him. I'd seen the beard too many times at AMC theatre pre-shows for an LA Times promo spot not to know it was he. So I asked him: "Pardon me, but you are the 'We're Making A Dog From Nothing' guy, right?"
In charge of special visual effects, Bill Westenhofer of Rhythm & Hues smiled and introduced himself. As the day went on, Bill regaled to Keith and me about the making of that spot, and how some of it was a little... "staged." True statements were made, but images were not precisely what was being said. They did use a bio-mechanic for the (Cats and Dogs) feature, but as he was unavailable for the shoot; the "bio-mechanic" seen in the spot in reality is the bio-mechanic's wife!
Bill had wanted (the LA Times promo) to let them use cat footage and such, but apparently those making the spot wanted the beagle used.

Bill Westenhofer

Special Effects Wizard Bill Westenhofer

During a break I was able to chat with director David and he was kind enough to let me get a photo of me with him. I told him that I'd worked as a race-car pit-crew member for his 7Up commercial spot years ago. We both remembered with fond amusement how side-splittingly funny Orlando Jones was as he ad-libbed in character.

Announcements about a noon lunch came and went; lunch actually was called more like ten of, but the paperwork reflects noon to 12:30pm. Knowing from experience craft services as I do, they inexplicably provide soda at lunch, though it's generally in abundance on set. So this time I had the foresight to grab a couple of cans for myself and Keith. Sure enough: no soda to be had, so we were set. Also, as always, they insist on making the most goofily exotic stuff Regular Folks like myself don't eat. I had some pork. I sat at one of the tables in the shade, shortly to be "joined" by John Cleese and Robert Trent Jones. I listened to them (which they didn't seem to mind), but didn't interupt. I did speak to Jones's pleasant wife, as her turquoise jewelry was quite nice, and I inquired if she'd ever been to Sedona, Arizona (where such jewelry is in abundance). She had and concured how magnificent it is there.

Pre-lunch on set, once I was done, Keith and I finally were given chairs which were set in a wonderful shade. John Cleese and Robert Trent Jones had chairs right next to us. I decided to break the ice and as they returned between camera set-ups, I began, "It's unlikely that you'd remember me...."
"Actually, I do remember you," he said, to my surprise. "I just can't recall exactly where."
At the time I wasn't sure if he meant it or if he was joking or being Very Polite. I'd later learn independently that possibly he did remember me. I told him how, years ago when I was on the New Jersey Press Corp., I'd met him at/after a Meaning of Life screening.

Days later, on the way to a rehearsal for the student UCLA grad film in which I co-starred, its director Justin Lerner reported how years ago Cleese had taken him out to breakfast, and what a memory the man had! So apparently when Cleese indicated recalling "me," he may have meant it.

Cleese was very pleasant and didn't mind at all chatting with Keith or me. We discussed how the "Fawlty Towers" building was saved as "historical," though he did point out that in fact the real building used for the filmed exteriors was torn down: the one on which was the basis for the series is what was saved.
He related to Jones and to us his background how he got into acting, considering he had started out taking law. He seemed a little surprised I was aware of his radio show, I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again and Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Odie of the eventually Goodies.

A shame that during the day I completely forgot to ask about his work on one of my favourite films (which I have on DVD), The Magic Christian. Many people knowing the comedy know that Cleese has a walk-on role, playing straight man to Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr (as they deface a painting at Sothebys), but some might not be aware that Cleese (and eventual fellow Python Graham Chapman) wrote "additional material" and I was curious as to what they wrote, apart from possibly the scenes in which they appeared.

Later that day between shot set-ups, I made the risk to ask if he would allow a photo taken with him. "Mr. Cleese, if it wouldn't be too inappropriate..." I began.
"It would," he replied, completely dead pan. "It would be wholly inappropriate." And he just sat there silently looking forward, Pythonistically straight faced, as though awaiting my response.
Pretty certain he was joking (as of course he had no idea as to what precisely was to be my request), I waited politely for the other shoe to drop.
Realizing my patience he asked for what I was about to ask, and he pleasantly and heartily agreed to being photographed with me. I should have had Keith take the shot: I could have had Robert Trent Jones in the photo with me, but ironically, it was Jones who took the photo of John Cleese and me!

Towards the end of the day, Keith and I got to hear John Cleese doing his loud yelp of pain due to his character's hand being chomped by the "Audry 2" type plant (as he is holding one of the golf balls and the plant is genetically engineered to eat them).

Keith had not been used once the entire day. He had sat in costume all day and just had pleasant chats and free food. We also actually ended up with about a half hour overtime. When we were wrapped we were able to say goodbyes to John Cleese, Robert Trent Jones and Bill Westenhofer (myself also getting in a goodbye and thanks to David Kellogg).
Keith drove me home and we exchanged contact information. When I develop the roll of film I will get the relevant shots scanned and placed on this page. I want to get the roll done as there are also a few shots taken behind the scenes, as it were, for the UCLA film Solo. on which I worked the following Sunday.

This commercial looks like it will be quite funny: I hope they don't "limit" its airing to golf tournement coverage.

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