Giving ‘Em the Business


Giving ‘Em the Business

Every business and profession has its own inside jokes—the kind that other people in the same industry can read, laugh, and appreciate. And everyone has had one of those days. We contacted a number of people in the world of DR to ask for funny stories about the ridiculous things that have happened to them at work. And, not surprisingly, we got tons—so many that we will share more with you in a future issue. In the meantime, enjoy the following.

“I was in a client meeting on a consulting project back in the ’90s. We were in one of the most idyllic settings in the middle of the wilderness—beautiful country. Nothing around us but running rivers, trees everywhere, and lots of moose and black flies. Anyone who knows me knows this is my kind of meeting. Other than the black flies, of course.

We were reviewing a number of key factors to kick off a long-form campaign for the product—everything from marketing partner discussions to creative and media. It quickly became apparent that part of my responsibilities would be as much diplomatic as they were strategic.

So we’re in this large meeting room with couches. We’re sitting around, all relaxed—feet up and getting into the agenda. All of a sudden, a debate ensues between two of the product developers. And before you know it, they are [on] top of one another in a physical fight. I went from being strategic consultant to able diplomat to college-bar bouncer in a matter of seconds. Another guy and I split them up, and eventually we returned to the meeting with our adrenaline racing.

By the way, the product was a hit. In the end, success is what matters—and everything else becomes a story to share.”

—Frank Cannella
Cannella Response Television, LLC

“I was contracted to shoot a short-form campaign for the Heat Surge Amish Fireplace. The fireplaces are made in Middlefield, Ohio, in the heart of the fourth-largest Amish community in the world.

Very few people have ever been allowed to shoot the Amish on video. According to Amish custom, the use of and appearance in any photography is not allowed because it promotes vanity. We were told to only shoot the Amish workers making fireplaces from the sides, and only shoot them while they were working.

Middlefield, Ohio, is around two hours north of Canton. We left Canton on a below-freezing morning, before the crack of dawn. Our production crew was driving in from Cleveland and was to meet us at the Heat Surge factory to shoot the infomercial. When we arrived in Middlefield, you could really see how time had pretty much stood still.

Much of the town had two sets of roads—one for cars and one for horses and buggies. Many of the houses we passed had no power lines. Many houses had chicken coops and cows in their yards.

Finally, we arrived at the Heat Surge factory. We were met by two Amish brothers. They were very courteous guys, dressed in overalls, plaid shirts, and work boots. They let us know immediately that even though they didn’t own TVs, they understood that one of the ways they would be able to maintain their way of life was to allow us to advertise the products they made and let our client sell them on TV. They went on to say that they knew they couldn’t maintain this way of life by ‘selling homemade fudge at fairs.’

One of the foremen told me an Amish joke: ‘How does an Amish man go to the bathroom? As fast as he can!’ (Of course, I didn’t get the joke, being an urbanite from New York. They explained to me that since Amish clothes don’t have zippers, they instead have to deal with lots of buttons, and that sometimes it can take a while to get their overalls off.) That’s pretty much how the day went—I politely laughed a lot.

There were about 40 Amish boys and men who worked on the assembly line and built the Amish fireplaces. Every 15 seconds, one of these products was dropped into a box. Amazing speed, accuracy, and pride went in to each fireplace, and it was a lot of fun to film them doing it. You could tell that the Amish were having an experience they would never forget. They even brought in dozens of bales of hay by buggy to stack up behind them so it would look better and more ‘homemade.’ Great touch.

Finally, the last shot of the day was near—a shot of a horse-drawn buggy with two freshly-built Amish fireplaces strapped on the back being driven at sunset through a covered bridge. Could it get any more American than that?

The temperature was hovering around 0 degrees with a wind chill in the negative numbers. And there I was with no gloves, no boots, and no hat. I walked [the] half-mile [to the covered bridge] with the brothers, who acted like it was a spring day. When I arrived to the spot where we were going to shoot the scene, I couldn’t feel my hands or feet. The crews’ faces were beyond fire-red. The lead actor was an Ohioan, but even he had never acted in conditions like this.

In the scene, a Mennonite was to drive the horse and buggy with the Amish fireplaces through the covered bridge. He was ready, willing, able, and eager to do so. He also didn’t seem to have any problem with the weather. The sun was beginning to descend. I knew my takes would be limited. I just hoped the camera wouldn’t freeze up. Everything was set. Action!

‘So, order your Heat Surge F-F-F-Firep-p-p-place today because ss-s-s-supplies are limited.’ Cut! There were 12 more line reads and five more takes. My lead actor was so cold that he stuttered every time he tried to get the lines out. We put him in our production vehicle, warmed him up, rolled the camera, and had him run out of the car to deliver the line.

Lo and behold, he did it pretty much without stammering. When I gave the silent cue to our Amish horse-and-buggy driver to drive the carriage through the covered bridge as the sun was setting and the temperature dropping, he turned to me while the camera was running, and said, ‘Is this the part of the commercial that I’m supposed to drive the horse through the bridge?’

I stood there in the subzero weather dumbfounded and yelled, ‘YES! GOOOOOOO!’ Needless to say, we used an MOS wide shot of that horse and buggy trotting through that covered bridge. Only now—looking back at that experience on a beautiful 72-degree day—does this seem funny. You gotta love production.”

—Jeff Meltzer
President and Owner
Meltzer Media Productions

“It’s easy to get spoiled on the set of a shoot, especially when craft services pops by every 20 minutes with delicious snacks. Picture trays adorned with yogurt parfaits, grilled cheese on ciabatta, and even chocolate-coated Dove Bars. Now imagine what happens when you do a location move, and there’s no craft service guy in sight.

So when I ended up with our clients in a coffee shop in downtown Claremont, [Calif.,] waiting for the next scene to be shot, we couldn’t help but eye the scrumptious cupcakes perched on decorative doilies in the pastry case. It just happened to be the art director’s birthday, and we all decided that a homemade cupcake would be the perfect present. We meticulously chose just the right flavor and even had the treat boxed up.

By then there were more delays on the set and still no sign of the craft services guy. We looked at the clock. We looked at each other. We looked at the cupcake. We decided, ‘It’s the thought that counts,’ and tore into that delicious birthday treat intended for Ray. We vowed never to breathe a word of our actions. Until now. Sorry, Ray!”

—Neil Klayman
Senior Copywriter
Hawthorne Direct

“When I was first introduced to the infomercial industry more than 20 years ago, I found myself searching for an anecdotal story illustrating to others exactly what my job was in writing and producing infomercials. The following joke sums it up:

At 95, Marvin Schwartz quietly passed away having lived a virtuous and fulfilling life. So much so that upon arriving at the Pearly Gates, Marvin was informed by St. Peter and the Devil that he actually had a choice of where to spend eternity. Both St. Peter and the Devil then offered views of what the afterlife had in store for him.

Snapping his fingers, St. Peter and Marvin were quickly transported to a lovely, quiet beach. Couples strolled hand in hand, others played shuffleboard, and the rest drank tea in quiet conversation. ‘So this is Heaven!’ exclaimed Marvin, and St. Peter told him of wonderful, tranquil days that lay ahead.

Another snap of St. Peter’s fingers, and Marvin joined the Devil for a look at the afterlife in the netherworld. With a masterful flourish of his hand, the Devil transported Marvin to another beach. Beautiful women in skimpy bikinis played volleyball, [people drank] Margaritas and mai tais, and colorful conversations were had around the craps tables. ‘So this is Hell!’ Marvin thought.

Another flourish of the Devil’s hand and Marvin found himself once again in front of the Pearly Gates. Looking mournfully at St. Peter, Marvin said, ‘With all due respect, given the choice, I believe I’ll spend eternity in Hell.’

In seconds, Marvin found himself in a sulfurous-smelling world, fires everywhere. People were being boiled in oil and flailed with whips. Turning to the Devil, Marvin asked plaintively, ‘What happened to the beach, the girls, the laughs, the fun?’

The Devil looked at him with a wry smile and said, ‘You were watching the infomercial!’”

—Steve Ober
Vice President of Production
Ideal Living, LLC

Michele “Wojo” Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and humorist based in Baltimore, Md. Contact her at [email protected]. Have a funny story from the world of DR you’d like to share? Email [email protected].