My father is a movie buff. Every night when I was growing up, he made a big bowl of popcorn and sat down in front of our wood-paneled TV to watch movies. I sat on the rug next to him with a smaller bowl of popcorn soaking it all in.
At dinner there would be impromptu quizzes “Name three actors from ALL ABOUT EVE.” “Who was Lauren Bacall married to?”, “Which actor has been nominated for the most Oscars?”. There was nothing worse than losing a dad quiz so I studied extra hard.
In 1992 my father took Richard Brown’s film course which granted us access to previews of movies before they were released. We went every weekend. A big bag of popcorn for him. A smaller one for me.
I loved life on screen. Movies captivated me. They filled me with raw, raging emotion. When the lights went up, I could barely speak. How could the magnitude of my feelings be squeezed into tiny words? Impossible.
Watching the credits roll I knew “I am going to be a part of this. I am going to make movies.” A Burger King commercial about chicken nuggets never once crossed my mind.
Commercials were the enemy. A disruption. What got in the way of the magic. As a 4 year old I gleefully chanted “Kill the commercials!” whenever my parents fast-forwarded on the VCR.
Now, having worked in commercial production for the entirety of my career, an undercurrent of pride and shame runs through me. I love what I do. I love the crews. I love making the impossible possible. I love drones, technocranes, and being on set with a penguin. Yet, the end result is often disappointing. The promo doesn’t air. The commercial turns out embarassingly lame. It brings with it none of the glory of working on a Netflix series, or being nominated for an Oscar.
I am a commercial producer. Creating images that nobody wants, in an attempt to create a want where it isn’t. Interrupting someone’s soaring sea of emotion with a reminder from capitalism that there are drugs available for psorasis.
No matter how much success one garners in commercials, to Hollywood we are outsiders. Credits on a video game or web series can garner you admittance into the PGA, but the guild will not consider production work done on “commercials or pornography”. We are the street-walkers of production.
Our proximity has fooled us into thinking that what works for Hollywood works for us, but it doesn’t. Ever since the first commercial aired in 1941, we have been using their process. The average feature is filmed in 3 months, an episode of TV in 1 week. The average commercial shoot is 1 day. Production is not one size fits all.
Using Hollywood’s model to create our content means that our jobs are costly and rigid. They are bloated and wasteful. We are inflexible, unable to respond to increasingly smaller budgets and shorter timelines.
It’s time to stop hiding in the shadows and claim our place in the pantheon of production. By acknowledging our differences, we are free innovate. We are commercials, the original disruptors. Nobody interrupts your regularly scheduled broadcast better than we do.
We are not beholden to a system that was created 100 years ago by a studio mogul in a cowboy hat. We can create a whole new model. One that is economically flexible and socially equitable. A system that is inclusive, sustainable and kind. One that elevates the content by changing the game. So that one day a little girl eating popcorn with her dad sees a commercial and says “I want to do that.”