Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Taco Hell, Part Three -- Phoenix in August
(The third in a four part series detailing my 2001 descent into Taco Hell)
With our concepts thoroughly scrubbed and approved, including a frame-by-frame storyboard that mapped out each of the thirty seconds -- a new height in anal retentiveness -- and our five demographically-correct actors properly cast, it was time to take to the road.
Of course, the premise of the campaign was a road trip so that made sense.
But it was also a point of necessity. You see, in the summer of 2001, the Screen Actor's Guild was on strike. Moreover, they were actively seeking Los Angeles-based shoots to disrupt and shut down.
So we, the agency, cast and crew, boarded a plane for Phoenix.
I don't know if there's a good time to be in Phoenix.
It's brown, ugly and hellishly hot.
I do know if someone were to make a list of the top ten months to be in Phoenix, August would not be among them.
How hot was it?
While passing by a restaurant with outdoor seating, we saw the workers applying 50 SPF sunscreen to the patio furniture.
Not only was the asphalt road hot enough to fry an egg on (I know because we did) it was hot enough to grill and blacken the chicken that egg came from.
Satan has a satellite office in Phoenix, right off West Yuma Road, across the street from the Subway sandwich shop.
The plan was to tech scout and shoot 5 commercials over a 17 day period that included many 12-14 hour shoots. That was a significant chunk of my summer. I thought, well at least I'll be at a nice hotel.
Again, this shows you how stupid and naive I could be in the age of the emerging holding company ad agency.
Our fully loaded van left the airport, we passed a bank, flashing the brutal 114 degree temperature, and 20 minutes later arrived at the front of the Phoenix Park Motor Inn.
If you're thinking it looks less like a hotel and more like an old nursing home, you'd be right on the nose. Because it was an old nursing home.
I don't know about you but I'm a little picky about where I lay my head down at night. I had no intention of spending my last days at Chiat/Day where, figuratively and literally, folks were spending their last days gasping for their last breaths of oxygen.
My inner Diva took over and I told the producer I wasn't going to be holed up for 17 sweaty nights in God's waiting room, a room that smelt of adult diapers and industrial-strength vitamins.
Particularly knowing that these cost cutting measures were put in place to maximize profits for our holding company overlords in their 5th Ave., 10 million dollar, four-level town homes.
And I certainly wasn't going to do it in the service of an ungrateful, ball-pinching client, the kind of tighty-whitey wearing people who'd bring a Bible to a bachelor party.
So we, my art director John Shirley and I, moved.
To a hotel just down the street, where our Director, Jonathon David, was staying.
The hotel/resort was designed by some famous architect, I believe his name was Frank Lloyd Wright.
Sensing our imminent demise at the agency and saddled with an unstable account, John and I spent the next fortnight on a vigilant crusade to max out our per diem's. Employing our wits and our 500 miles away-from-home charm, we did everything we could to outfox the production accountants.
We really owe a huge debt of gratitude to Taco Bell and the mother company, YUM. They put us through a bit of hell but the shareholders rewarded us with a little bit of heaven.
We started every day with the room service breakfast, not with the $12 pitcher of fresh squeezed orange juice that easily serves 4, but the larger $22 pitcher, because the remaining orange juice in its beautiful Waterford decanter looked so nice against the rising desert sun.
We smoked cuban cigars, hand selected from the hotel's secret humidor.
And we drank mojitos made with rum imported not from Jamaica or the sugar canes of Hispaniola, but from the far reaches of Eastern Madagascar, not because it was better but simply because it was more expensive.
There's a statute of limitations on creative financial skullduggery, isn't there?
Tomorrow: Don't miss the conclusion of the Taco Hell adventure, including the on-set appearance of Internet Porn Sensation, Sandee Westgate.