I promise I will never make fun of pampered Hollywood prima donnas again.
How many times have we read articles or seen video clips of self-absorbed actors, models and the like shedding crocodile tears about how difficult it can be to spend so much time in front of a camera or lying at the beach all day and getting photographed.
I had to do a short like clip for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, just about 2 ½ minutes and it literally turned into an all-day project.
My brainchild started one morning when I decided to whip up a script that was a little tongue in cheek to kick off the WNA’s annual award show. I imagined me in a parka, removing it to show myself wearing a tuxedo, and then using WNA plaques and loving cups as serving trays or ice buckets, and pulling a fully made brandy Old Fashioned out of my desk draw as I introduced the program. It was supposed to be a bit of light-hearted fun to kicked off the more serious business of recognizing journalism excellence.
I wrote the script with three columns: one for the dialogue paralled by one for my actions and another for the camera positioning, and I enlisted my wife Nancy to record this on her cell phone. It was supposed to be so easy. How hard could 150 seconds be?
Hard enough for an old man with an apparently flagging memory, that’s for sure. I spent most of the day walking around the house trying to repeat my lines so I could commit them to memory. While I went around the house gathering all the props I would need for the movie, I kept repeating some more. In the car, while I drove to the office, where we were doing the shooting, I kept saying the lines again and again, hoping they would sink in.
Each time I kept flubbing the lines in different spots. If I was an actor in Hollywood, I would either be yelling, “Line!” or looking for the cue cards. Either that or the flustered screenplay writer would be coming up after me to complain I was not sticking to the script as written and I was ad libbing (aka, making it up when my memory failed me).
Fortunately for me, this was not Hollywood, and the actor, the screenwriter and the director were all the same people. The only one who was not me was the camera crew, my wife.
Luckily, Nancy was patient, but we went through take after take of me forgetting lines, bugling lines and reordering lines. Maybe if I was 25 again, it would be so easy, but this was hard.
And when I was not stumbling my way through the dialogue, I was having other issues. I used an old parka, the one I use only for snowblowing, but there is one scene where I unzip my parka to dramatically reveal I am wearing a tux, but the zipper kept getting jammed. She has a half dozen takes of me swearing because I could not even get my coat opened to say the lines.
In another scene, I was supposed to reveal a plaque, serving as a platter loaded with Wisconsin cheese, but as I pulled it out, the 30 slices of cheese spilled all over the floor.
In another scene, my wife busted out laughing in the middle of it.
Finally after several more takes, everything went pretty well. I stuck with the lines without too many awkward pauses. I got my zipper to work right. No food spilled.
At last, we nailed it!
By this time, I was exhausted and fed up with all of it. I was done. We had one rough take where we made it through everything and this last one that went pretty good. Two full takes was plenty and I felt good about the last one, so we packed up and headed home.
I wish I could say we enjoyed the night drinking Old-Fashioneds and eating cheese, but the cheese was fuzzy from lying on the carpet and I forgot to bring the bitters to make the drink properly, so it tasted like sugar water, and was unpleasant. We went home tired, hungry and thirsty, and worst of all, sober.
The next day, we played back the takes and found out that on the one good take I thought we had Nancy had had her finger on the microphone of the cell phone she used to shoot it, so much of the dialogue was obscured by loud sounds of her finger brushing around the mic. (How could I complain? She had one mistake and I had a dozen or more flubs.)
So we were left with the only take we had, which was pretty clunky, but it got the point across. The show went off without a hitch and when it aired people got a kick out of the skit, which began and ended the more formal program.
Afterward, I told Nancy that I learned two things: that I will never underestimate how hard it is to make a film and that I am clearly not cut out for it.
“I only have one thing to add,” she said to me. “Would you please stop wearing your sunglasses at the dinner table?”
Hey, the paparazzi: You can never be too careful.