When are you gonna come down?
When are you going to land?
I should have stayed on the farm
I should have listened to my old man.
As the vehicle came to rest in the snowbank, much to our surprise, we found ourselves completely upside down. I looked over at my producer, Cheryl.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yeah. How about you?”
“I’m upside down.” I replied.
The snow was so deep, it was like rolling over in marshmallow. Neither one of us had a scratch. Even the stuff we bought at Ikea was fine.
For a few years in the early aughts, the dollar was really strong and you could basically double your production budget if you shot in Canada. Toronto is only about 230 miles from Detroit, so we had been doing a lot of work there all year. We didn’t even have to fly. We stayed at the Four Seasons. One morning I ate breakfast next to Delta Burke. It’s a fantastic city. They even had an Ikea— which at the time was cool.
We were shooting a spot for an oil filter and the strategy was: Extreme enough to handle the rigors of everyday driving.
So we came up with a spot called “Extreme Everyday Driving”. The concept was monster-truck set, sfx and over-the-top VO but with regular cars and regular people doing regular driving.
VO: Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!
It’s Extreme Everyday Driving.
See BUMPER-TO-BUMPER traffic
Lay on the horn, it’s gridlock baby!
You get the idea. We needed a stadium set up for a monster truck rally. We needed to fake a crowd. We needed a sizeable cast for the different everyday driving events and we even needed stunt drivers.
One of the events was idling.
I don’t think that one required a stunt driver, but we did have some pyrotechnics so I’m sure there was an additional cost for that.
A few months before this we had shot in Vancouver. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever been. We shot three spots there for a brand of anti-freeze. The strategy was: It’s pre-mixed so it’s easy to use.
We came up with a spot and the concept was “now anyone can be a car guy”. We had a Guess jeans model star in that one. At the end she was supposed to scratch her ass and hock a loogey but the client ended up editing that out. It fell pretty flat without the loogey. But Vancouver was lovely.
I love Canada. I love Canadians. And I love a 2 to 1 exchange rate on the dollar. But by the end of the year, we were pretty tired of Canada. We wanted to go home.
We watched the weather all day long. At first, we thought there was no chance to get back. But the next morning, we got a window. Cheryl called me at the hotel and said she was gonna make a run for the border if I wanted a ride. We loaded up her Nissan Xterra. Patted ourselves on the back for having 4-wheel drive. And headed south.
We were just outside of London, Ontario when we started seeing cars swerve off the road.
“Holy shit! That guy just went into the snowbank, should we stop?”
I don’t hear anything. I look over at Cheryl, who is driving, and she’s white knuckling it through the storm and has no intentions of pulling over. She’s in the zone. She’s too focused to even hear me. Her mind is telling her she’s in danger and her only chance of survival is to keep going.
I feel a faint acceleration. I consider suggesting she slow down, but then decide it would be foolish. Now is not the time to risk any distraction to the driver.
There’s a stretch of highway between Detroit and Toronto that’s as wide open and endless as any prairie I’ve ever seen. It’s miles between the road and the nearest tree line and as we approached, we felt the full force of the storm’s unfettered gales bearing down upon us.
The car moves left as it takes on the brunt of the wind. I feel Cheryl correct to the right with the steering. I see the hood of the car start to shimmy and I know we're done for. But for some reason, I also know we're going to be fine. We're in Canada for goodness sakes. Nothing bad happens in Canada.
The snowbank we were in must have been 10 feet deep. Or, since this was Canada, it couldn’t have been less than 3 meters, eh? We sat upside down for a few minutes trying to formulate a plan but before we could take any action there was a Canadian state trooper knocking on our window.
“ARE YOU GUYS OKAY?!” shouts the nicest person I’ve ever met in my entire life.
I give him the thumbs up. But then I realize I’m upside down still, so I switch it to thumbs down, which I’m not sure is correct either so I just shout, “WE”RE FINE, BUT WE”RE UPSIDE DOWN!”
We end up crawling out the back hatch. I grab my laptop bag and the lamp I bought at Ikea. We all get up to the road and into the trooper’s patrol car. He gives us a ride to the police station, and we get a cab to drive us to America.
The spot didn’t come out as good as I thought it would. They never do. I hate production. I really do. Nothing ever comes out as good as it was on my word doc.
I really thought the idea was simple and funny but ultimately the gags came off a little flat. It was a decent spot, but it wasn’t a great spot. It was, however, a spot that theoretically I had risked my life for. I contemplated that quite a bit in the cab ride back to the states.
The client was happy with it though and I think they appreciated the fact that we almost fucking died making it. They sent us something nice once we got home. They were good people.
One of the things I like most about working freelance is not having to go on as much production anymore. I get to hand that off most of the time. Which is nice because, for me, the idea stays a word doc in my mind.
The book is always better than the movie. The road home is much safer. And I can do a better job of keeping myself upright.
So goodbye yellow brick road.
Where the dogs of society howl.
You can't plant me in your penthouse.
I'm going back to my plough.
Thanks for reading. I’ll see you again real soon.