Filming a commercial isn't so glamorous
By: Jane Fountain
It was eerie being in the packed Halton Theatre. The room was filled to almost capacity. The only vacant seats were the ones in the first three rows closest to the stage. A thin blanket of mist hung over the auditorium. The stillness was creepy; no movement or rustling sounds, no coughing, no murmured conversations. All heads were turned towards the stage, unmoving in anticipation.
Walking down the aisle towards the stage gave one an uneasy feeling. It was almost like being in a Twilight Zone episode. YOU are the only person alive, even though the room is full. By the time you get to the last row of seats, the hair on your arms is standing up, and you’re almost ready to run back out. You glance back at the ever-so-still crowd and realize…. They’re dummies! Blow-up dolls, to be exact.
Welcome to the world of commercial making. If the theatre can’t be filled with live bodies, the production company does the next best thing: fills it with 500 blow-up dolls.
Halton Theatre was turned into an auditorium filled with a screaming and clapping crowd of rock and roll fans. Actually, the crowd consisted of about 30 of us strategically placed in the front rows – the crowd effect was achieved by the dolls, and some clever camera work. MamaRama Production company from Atlanta, filmed a commercial for Bojangles, starring Jake Delhomme, quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, and Charlie Daniels, fiddle player and front man for the Charlie Daniels Band.
As exciting as it sounds, making a commercial is really just a lot of “hurry up and wait.” We were told we would be needed as extras (translated – work for free) from 5 until about 8pm, but to get there early. An email went out to several hundred people, and only enough of us showed up to fill the first two rows of the auditorium. Around 6pm, we finally went into the theatre to begin our acting careers.
The Dave Childers Band, who plays weekly at the Double Door, was on stage, dressed in black. Think Johnny Cash black; black suits, white shirts with skinny ties, and black shoes. In fact, the whole commercial, of which only a segment was filmed that night, was a parody of “Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biographical flick. Jake Delhomme was Johnny.
We, the extras, were told to raise our arms up in the air, and clap in time to the music. The band kept playing several bars of “I Walk the Line” over and over while we clapped. At one point, the front row was instructed to lean over and beat on the stage in time to the music. The camera filmed us doing this roughly about 15 times. We still hadn’t seen Jake or Charlie.
We were then instructed to go up to the balcony, fill the front two rows (no dolls up there) and clap again, first in time to the music, followed by wild applause. We then moved back two rows, and did the same thing again. The production company would digitally expand the audience to fill the balcony. My hands were starting to hurt, and still no Jake or Charlie.
Finally, Jake came out on stage, dressed in black, with a tee-shirt printed like a tuxedo shirt and cummerbund. He carried an acoustic guitar over his shoulder. After 10-15 minutes of discussion, instructions, make-up, etc, they were finally ready to film. In case anyone is wondering, they really DO say, “Quiet on the set, roll camera, ACTION!”
This entire scene consisted of Jake strolling up to the camera, pantomiming the song, and then grabbing the mike and saying in a deep sexy voice, “Show me the chicken.” For over an hour, we clapped over and over while Jake kept repeating “Show me the chicken.” And they say being a movie star is glamorous?
Charlie Daniels finally came on stage around 9:00 with his fiddle, minus his band. His part was to walk up to Jake, and say, “That was real good, Son, but sit down over there and let me show you how it’s done.” He then played the last riff from “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” After the last note, he twirled his bow like a gun-slinger, and pretended to replace it in an invisible holster on his right hip. After about four times of doing this, he repeated the line and the riff, but this time finished it by pointing his bow somewhere off-stage. This was repeated maybe five times, with much discussion and playback between each take.
Jake finally got to “see the chicken,” along with the rest of us, about 9:15pm, when they called a dinner break. Extras went last, after stars and crew. BoJangles served us an all we could eat buffet.
Being a TV star is hard work. For the three-plus hours we were there, the director informed us that we, the extras, would be on stage roughly .08 of a second. Don’t blink – you’ll miss us…