Memory-memes from a frolic in the world of advertising
SCENE: Whistler mountain-top, dead of winter, several feet deep in snow.
SOUND: HELICOPTER WHIRRING, LANDING, SENDING UP SMALL TSUNAMIS OF SNOW.
Helicopter door springs open. Out careens a huge St Bernard dog. He goes leaping into the snow, barking, panting, frolicking, rolling, licking, lapping it up.
The St Bernard has been helicoptered up from California, apparently the only place with St Bernards who can act. Despite his ancestry, it's his very first time seeing snow, and he's going bananas.
Naturally, this is a commercial shoot.
We are making a NeoCitran commercial, with this California dog and a full complement of Ontario-based agency and product-managing and directing bodies, some essential, some less so, on this snowbound west coast peak.
Here I am, creator of the commercial, flown from Toronto to Vancouver, also having been helicoptered mountain-wards.
It's the early 1980s. This is the advertising-hiatus portion of my career, in the aftermath of my then current marital wreck, which happens to have been to the father of my toddler, who (the father, that is), three short weeks after the blessed event, freaked and ran off to become a psychoanalyst... But that's another story.
The trauma seems to have put the kybosh on my abilities to craft newspaper stories, so I have segued into advertising, which, I like to tell people, is, after all, merely flogging goods directly, instead of via ads framed by empathetic editorial entertainments.
Unlike journalism, which was then a generally solitary occupation, advertising required armies.
Ours includes Frannie, the sweet nervous agency producer; Greg, edgy Australian agency account git; Tom, ski-loving NeoCitran product manager dude; cheery-beery actor Arno, the joy-freaked St Bernard with his trainer. And, presiding over it all, with his own army--cameraman and sound man and producer and props persons and beautiful assistants-- issuing commands in his most mellifluously magisterial Hungarian-tinged tones, is the late lamented legendary, overtopping, director Bob Schulz...magnificent and monarchic in a gorgeous vicuna coat.
Playing off the NeoCitran signature line, " A little warmth for your miserable cold," I have concocted a spot in which a St Bernard rescue dog with a carton of NeoCitran around his neck, instead of the traditional cask of brandy, which would have done measurably more good--comes bounding across a snowy slope to bring comfort to a sniffle-struck skier, who then, happily chugging his hot mug of NeoC, is tucked into a cute antique sleigh bed and transported home.
Hence the photo, above, of me paying homage to the intrepid bone-chilled actor.
My art director, Ray Jafelice, who was also a superb cartoonist, and moved on to a stellar career in animation, rendered a storyboard which so inspired the client, that he could only envisage it being filmed atop Whistler. Naturally, with a $50K-plus budget to play with, we did not protest.
Then, it happened that the only reliably showbiz-trained St Bernards were -- where else? -- in California. So, here we all are.
On this snow-struck peak with a crew large enough to populate a small town, our imported snow-mad St. Bernard, and an actor clutching a box of NeoCitran, shivering in his adorable sleigh bed.
The account guy, twitchy wee Greg, has come armed with a major mistrust of "creatives", blended with a large helping of homo-fearbia.
He sees himself as some kind of essential ongoing and mouthy creative critic -- Director Bob has to disabuse him of that, majestically and frequently. Reminding Greg that his real function is to babysit the client, Tom, who only came along to ski.
Finally Bob thunders, "I vill not vork vith these interruptions! No more!"
"Let's hit the slopes," says Tom, on skis and champing at the bit.
Reluctantly, snarly, Greg ploddingly snowshoes away with him.
They've been gone half an hour when suddenly, from that direction, comes a thunderous rumble, and a thundering fall of snow.
Greg appears, in a clumsy snowbound run, shivering and gasping and yelling. "Help! Help! I can't find the client! Help!"
In the distance, behind terror-struck Greg, the rest of us can see Tom blithely skiing back toward us.
Director Schultz, drawing himself up in all his magnificence, wrapping the vicuna close, proclaims in his most resonant, devastating, richly Hungarian baritone:
"Greg. To lose a client is very very bad. But Greg, to keel a client -- you vill never, ever, vork in this town again."
Greg goes even more ashen, and begins to babble pathetically.
We burst into rowdy song, to the tune of My Darling Clementine. "Killed a client, killed a client, killed a client last night; last night I killed a client, killed a client last night...!" I say "we," but it may have been I who kicked it off.
That evening, to give the Greg-knife one more twist, Bob takes us all to his fave Vancouver gay bar, a wonderful jumping joint with a great dance floor.
When already-traumatized Greg realizes where he is, he inhales sharply and backs up against the wall. Where he remains glued the whole evening. As if....
Alas, the only production still I've retained is the one of me planting that ceremonial kiss on sleigh-bedded star Arno.
That, and Ray Jafelice's immemorial cartoon, which I will cherish forever.