Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Focus On My Craft

Each new year brings with it resolutions to do better, be better. I often resolve different things regarding writing goals -- of course, keeping up with all the goals while maintaining a full time job and a fulfilling family life is often difficult. The first thing to often get dropped when push comes to shove, unfortunately, would be my writing time. I often sacrifice sleep to work on different writing projects -- often wishing that I could just forgo a few nights of sleep altogether and plow through some of the longer outstanding projects that have been haunting me for a while now.

One of the things I have resolved to do was to keep between 3 and 5 submissions "out there" or "in play" in the various slush piles of editor's desks, and so far for the beginning of 2008 (and the last few months of 2007) I've been successful with that.

Speaking of trying to focus on my craft, I found a clip from an AOL Canada commercial that I appeared in in late 1999.

I've been an AOL Canada member since the mid 90's, finding their service perfect for my needs. I'm using a DSL connection at home, but the great thing about AOL is that no matter where I travel, in a pinch I can still use my AOL connection via various local dial-up numbers. This is extremely useful when I visit places like my Mom's where there is no internet connection other than a regular phone line.

In any case, I landed this testimonial commercial after submitting my "story" to an AOL Canada contest to "tell us how you use AOL" -- when they contacted me and told me I was one of the winners, I was excited, not sure what prize I would get. When they asked me to appear at an in person interview in Toronto, I had no idea I was walking into a screen test audition until I got there and had to sign a bunch of wavers. But once I walked into the room, they planted me onto a stool in a pool of bright light in front of a camera in an otherwise darkened room and the director and president of AOL Canada interviewed me. When AOL called me a week later telling me they'd like to feature me in a 15 second AOL Canada commercial, I was delighted.

The commercial was shot in early November of 1999 at a farmhouse in Mississauga. The series of commercials (I think there were 8 of them) were all shot on that one weekend in various spots on that property. Mine was shot in an unheated large shed in the back yard, redesigned to look like my writing space.

Francine and I arrived at about 1 PM so I could get into costume and make-up. As they were putting make-up on me I was asked to sign several more forms including my agreedment to pay ACTRA (actor's union) dues. I said, "Wait a minute - this was supposed to be a prize win. I didn't know I had to pay to be in this commercial." The assistant smiled at my naivety and said: "You're going to be getting paid for this." My jaw dropped open at that point. I thought just getting to be in a commercial was payment -- I didn't realize there would be cash involved.

When they brought me to see the director, he said I didn't look enough like a writer and asked me to take out my contact lenses and put on my glasses as well as do something about my shirt. We went back to the trailer, I popped out my eyes (I had the Boston Lens hard contact lenses at that point and had to virtually "pop" them off my eyeballs using pressure on the side of my face) and put on my glasses. They then added a brown vest and returned me to him. He took one look at me and said: "There. Now you look like a writer." (Gee, after all those years of dedication and hard work to hone my writing skills, I didn't realize all it really took was putting on my glasses and an ugly brown vest)

Since the commercial was a testimonial, they couldn't tell me what to say. Sure, they could stage the set (and they did set up a really cool, although unheated writing workshop using a box of materials from my own writing space that I had brought along, including several books on writing that I favoured) and dress me up -- but my words had to be my own.

I was supposed to be filmed at about 4 PM or so, but they were quite behind in the schedule, so I don't think they started recording my interview until about 7 or 8 PM. All that waiting around reminded me of the type of waiting actors often do during rehearsals for stage shows -- and worst of all, during the technical rehearsals and cue to cue run-throughs where it's all about the lights and sounds and set changes and not at all about the actors.

About 8 of us and a whack of cameras and lights were crammed into the small cold shed that evening. The director and most of the crew were draped in fall/winter jackets and between "takes" I was allowed to put on my own jacket -- brrr, what a chilly night, even under those hot lights. I remember the poor make-up girl shivering as she would occasionally re-apply touch-ups to my face between "takes" -- the Director interviewed me for about 45 minutes in all and at the end of it was a 15 second commercial.

A few weeks later my first royalty cheque for the commercial came in the mail. It was to cover the first 4 months or so of the commercial airing on different Canadian networks. Yowsa! It was immediately the most money I'd been paid for anything writing related. The commercial started airing in late 1999 and I remember getting a phone call at work (I was working at Chapters Online in Toronto at the time) from a colleague who I'd been introduced to just the day before -- he called me in the morning telling me he saw me on late night television the night before and was a bit startled, telling his wife: "Hey, that guy. I met him at work yesterday."

The next several months were filled with similar calls and messages from friends all over the place, many of them friends I hadn't heard from in years. (Prior to online networking like my blog, mySpace and Facebook, this was the first time I'd heard from so many people in such a short time)

One good buddy of mine called to say he was in his apartment by himself, puttering around in the kitchen with the television on when all of a sudden he heard my voice droning on in the background. Startled (perhaps thinking I'd snuck in to scare him), he looked over and saw the last few seconds of my commercial. That was a hoot.

Of course, to this day my buddy Mathew Growden never let me forget my goofy line of "focusing on my craft" and often quoted it at the most obscure times over the years.

In all, the commercial was a lot of fun, and as they continued to play it, the royalty cheques continues to roll in. Thank heavens because they helped pay for the really steep car repair bills that happened to slam Francine and I in 2000.

Of course, since doing that commercial, my dream has been to land either a hemorrhoid or diarrhea commercial - because I learned that the actors in commercials for embarassing products get what's known as "humility pay" -- a "top up" of the usual pay because their likeness gets associated with an embarassing ailment.

However, given my age, I'll soon likely be a candidate for a Viagra or perhaps Depends commercial.


lime said...

lmao @ the bit about you not looking like a writer and how they dressed you for the part. why is it i am now envisioning the reverse of superman's process to turn you into 'superwriter.' remove anything that could be construed as studly and dweeb yourself down with big glasses and a brown vest... faster than a one liner, more powerful than an extended metaphor, able to leap stacks of rejections and contracts in a single bound....it's a lit prof, it's an editor, NO! it's superwriter!

and humility pay? how can i get one of those gigs, man? fabulous!

Rainypete said...

Why can I completely picture you in a Viagra ad?

"Hi there. As a horror writer I enjoy being scared stiff, but these days it takes a little something extra, if you know what I mean."

Ameratis said...

That was awesome! :) Sheesh Mark what can you not do? LOL

You are a super dad
You are a super blogger
and now you are super writer!


I got the book! I haven't started it yet because I am finishing a book called The Time Traveler's Wife right now but it is next on my list! :)