Diary of a tv spot
Here I am, heading home from a pretty big still shoot for a national client—something I do often and something I still can’t believe I get paid to do—when I get an e-mail from Jen Kuhn, “Wanna do a TV spot?” it reads. “Sure,” I reply, “how do I do that? I’ve never done one.” That simple e-mail, coupled with my love for Jigsaw through a past project, was all it took.
So the journey begins. I had heard about TV shoots. And some big ones, with directors from @Radical Media, the company that represents me. Through that connection I had a lot of impressions of what I thought shooting TV would be like. This post is about my ideas on what I thought a TV shoot would be like and the reality of creating something wonderful out of almost nothing (a tiny budget). A trait I respect (not the budget part) from my friends at Jigsaw.
Day 1 – I think, “Shooting TV is going to be glamorous.”
My plane lands at Milwaukee International Airport on a cold November morning where I am expecting to be picked up by Kinkka, Steven Wold’s stunning, Icelandic personal assistant. Then we’d take the Jigsaw helicopter back to the agency for a pre-pro. Well, I guess expectations were high. It is actually Kip, a local PA who picks me up. We drive back to Jigsaw in his beat up Subaru. I am wondering if it has floor boards or not under the tattered floor mats. I start to get the picture, we must be putting all of our money into production, not pampering the director.
Day 2 – I think, “TV shoot days are long so I’ll be in my personal trailer quite a bit.”
For the first time in my career I am late for a crew call. I place the blame squarely on Jigsaw for booking us into a sketchy hotel and not giving me a personal assistant. But, instead of heading to my trailer for a latte, the next 14 hours pass by in a blur, because we don’t stop moving. In order to maximize the somewhat limited budget, the producer has scheduled almost everything today. So we arrive at a location, I take my camera out of the bag, and the producer tells me we have to move to the next location in 15 minutes. It being that this is my first commercial, I take it all in stride and pretend I know what I am doing. I don’t. But somehow, we get the shots. Including an awesome time-lapse of some high school students spelling the word “hope” out of luminaries set among the bleachers at their stadium. It is really, really cold outside, I am left wondering why anyone would want to live here now that Brett Favre is gone. Oh yeah, I never see anything resembling a trailer all day.
Day 3 – I think, “In TV they can “fix anything in post.”
Somewhat more manageable than day two, we only have to stuff a ten hour day into five hours. But we run into a little road-block. One of the shots is of a bicycle messenger with a tattoo of a wheel chair on his calf. Trevor, at the agency, has designed an awesome wheel chair logo which they have printed with an ink jet printer to make a temporary tattoo. At least that is the idea. But it’s not working, it’s backward. When I ask where the tattoo expert is, Steven points at Jen. When I ask where the art department is, Jen points at Steven. When I ask who the hell is responsible for this mess, they point at each other. When I ask, “Can we fix it in post,” they both say, “not on this budget.”
Day 4 – I think, “ TV Directors are respected and even feared.”
Hey, it’s my first spot, I am excited. And I went out and bought new toys just for this shoot. Like my new “Cineslider,” that allows me to shoot small dolly moves with pans. It’s kick-ass. But you know how you get that new sweater, or pair of shoes—and you want to wear them all the time? By Day Four I knew if I said, “bring me the slider,” one more time, I was going to have to be able to digest it, because one of these guys is surely going to shove it down my throat. So much for being respected and feared.
Day 5 – I think, “TV production is filled with experts for everything”
We’ve got some shots to pick up, so we drive to a park to scout a location. Not only do I not get a driver, but Jen’s driving now, because I was fearing for my life with Wold behind the wheel. We park and go find our spot. Coming back to the car we are surprised to find the driver’s door wide open. In a crowed parking lot. Jen says, “Hey, but it’s locked!” Now I start to wonder if I am safe with either one of them, driving or standing still. Later I get my confirmation when we come back to a parking structure and Steven can’t find the car keys. Ahhh… but the keys aren’t lost, he just left them in the car. This time it’s unlocked. With all my equipment. I don’t know if it is proof of their incompetency or proof that Milwaukee is an honest town. Well, one I know for sure.
Day 6 – I think, “Wow, that’s not the way I thought it was going to be.”
On the trip back home, I ponder about what I thought doing TV was going to be like and what it was actually like. My expectations were big and elaborate and I expected there was only one way to do it. But this was different. The production was small. The extravagance was replaced with passion. The pomp and circumstance was replaced with camaraderie. When I thought about it, I hadn’t just learned the way to do a TV spot. I once again experienced “The Jigsaw Way” where there isn’t one way to do something, where it isn’t the same way as everyone else’s way. For instance, who the heck would hire me to shoot a TV spot? Well, Jigsaw did. “The Jigsaw Way” is a pathway that twists and turns, and even doubles back on itself sometimes, but always takes you someplace wonderful and magical. And I can’t wait to go that way again.
Thank you Jen, Steven, Madonna, and everyone else for a great trip. Enjoy watching the spot as much as we enjoyed making it.
Michael Prince is a prominent photographer who has had solo exhibitions in Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. His work is in the Library of Congress, several museums and many private collections. In 2000 he began shooting commercially, quickly gaining a broad clientele. Although this is Michael’s first TV commercial, he has been experimenting with video for the past year. Michael currently lives near Boston with his wife and two children. For some strange reason he loves Jigsaw. We are not sure why.