Wednesday, October 29, 2003
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
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
who was kind enough to drive me home at the end of the day, as he lived in NoHO.
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 in.
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
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 having written a book on the subject:
Golf by Design: How to Lower Your Score by Reading the Features of a Course.
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'
In charge of special visual effects for the commercial,
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.
During a break I was able to chat with director David Kellog 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
commercial spot years ago.
We both remembered with fond amusement how side-splittingly funny
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 reflected 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 with our own.
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 had remembered 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
(Days later, on the way to a rehearsal for the student UCLA grad film
in which I starred, its director Justin Lerner reported how years earlier Cleese had taken him out to breakfast, and what a memory the man had!)
So apparently when Cleese indicated recalling "me," he clearly must 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 and 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 eventual British comedy series The 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) have an opening film credit that they had written "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 took 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 Blaney drove me home and we exchanged contact information.
We stayed in touch but as often happens, emails changed
and he neglected to update me with the new contact information.