‘When “zooming” meant jetting off to a shoot in Paris.’
I cheated a little with the photo at the top of this post. Oh, it’s Actual Paris, all right. But this shot of Dude Man strolling oh-so-Gallicly along the Seine was taken on a long-ago vacation, not on a shoot. He did accompany me once on a shoot; it was for Hershey, and it was in London. I looked for photographic evidence, but the envelope labeled “London with Alice for shoot” in our old-fashioned photo stash was, alas, empty.
But back to zooming around the world on somebody else’s dime to have a simply fabulous time while making a television commercial.
I’ve written previously about how incredibly cool it was to work in advertising back when I was working in advertising. See pretty much any entry under the “Adland Lore” tab, or jump right to “The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Clothes On,” to name just one. Of course, the Biz did have its downside. See “The Naked Boss and the Pussycat Lounge” for a darker view.
But going on shoots? Well, that was sweet. We’d stay in ritzy hotels, tool around in convertibles and eat amazing super-expensive meals. (Boss Harvey while dining at Michaels in Santa Monica: “This isn’t a snow pea; this is fifty bucks.“)
The “Creatives,” as we who dreamed up the commercials were called, were notorious for figuring out ways to score a good shoot.
As Ad Biz Crony Peter remarked recently, “Creative people knew no shame. I had a copywriter friend at Doyle Dane Bernbach who got herself sent to Paris twice — TWICE!— to shoot commercials for products with highly unlikely French connections. Once was for an allergy medicine: ‘Paris is no fun when you’re sneezing.’ The next time was for some brand of copper polish: ‘Shines the copper roofs of Paris.’”
Yes, it used to that you’d cleverly plop the Eiffel Tower into a storyboard — et voila! — bet your sweet baguette you’d be off to the Champs-Élysées.
Well. Then the agencies — well, more like the clients — wised up to the ole palm-tree-in-the-storyboard gambit, and it became trickier to justify a glam location.
But then guess what? It actually became cheaper to shoot commercials in foreign locales than in the good old U. S. of A.
In the U.K. you didn’t have to hire a guy whose job it was to move the spoon closer to the bowl and another guy to move it back — so I went there on a shoot for Hershey’s Cocoa.
In Milan, you could get actors who wouldn’t bargain for residuals (the money American actors get every time a commercial plays) — so I went on a shoot there for Dentu-Creme. (Of course, we couldn’t have the actors talk — otherwise the jig would be up; you would definitely know they weren’t from Ohio.)
These shoots happened in studios, so there were no clues that you weren’t on domestic soil.
But I also got to go on a bunch of non-studio shoots where the whole point was to disguise the location to make it appear as though the commercials were shot here at home. Heaven forbid that the Eiffel Tower got into your shot, much less into your storyboard.
So I got to go to Africa for Huggies Diapers — there were lawns, there were trees, but they couldn’t look like African lawns or trees.
Also for Huggies, a trip to Australia. Ditto on the lawns and trees.
And the time I went to Paris? I experienced a wonderful ten days staying at the Raphael, eating at la Coupoule, shopping at les Puces while shooting commercials for an American skincare brand. And nope, no one was supposed to cotton on to the fact that we were in Paris.
Of course, the business has changed completely since those heady days. Why, even before the pandemic stopped travel in its tracks, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a creative packing his or her bags for a shoot. Technology had reared its efficient head and made such jaunts unnecessary. Oh, once in a blue moon you’d hear of a juicy trip, but even then the writers couldn’t go (“who needs a writer on a shoot?”) — just the producer and maybe the art director. And now, my dear producer friend Annie reports, you’re expected to share a room. Which makes going on a shoot sound about as glamorous as jury duty.
As for me, I’ll always have Paris.
Amagansett, New York. March 2021