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It was two days before our shoot. I was in the office with the client going over the story boards and filling him in on all the details for his latest television campaign. At that time, with my agency being in its infancy stage, we were taking in any client we could, which is why I was seated across from the "Redneck Crazy Man" as I liked to refer to him. He owned a string of low end rental car shops and his only redeeming quality was that he was a quick pay.
For this particular shoot, my script involved an NBA star and a good looking young boy I had cast through a local talent agency. The boy had been in a few commercials and he knew how to take direction which is crucial when it comes to working with children.
As I was going over the script, the client stopped me mid-sentence, put a picture of a boy in front of me and said, "What ya think about this kid?" Not sure what he had up his sleeve this time, I looked at the picture of the 10 year old boy. "He's cute, why?" I asked. "Cause he's gonna be in the commercials." He said deadpan. "But I've already cast a boy through the talent agency who's perfect! He's coming in tomorrow to do the radio spot and he's contracted to do the TV shoot the following day." I replied. "Don't care". He said. "This here boy is my grandson and if he isn't in the commercials there ain't going to be any commercials." I looked at the picture again and looked back at my redneck crazy man client and shrugged. How bad could he be? I was about to find out.
The next day at our recording studio the "cute" grandson I'll call Jake in this article to protect all concerned, came in with his mother to do the radio commercials I had originally scheduled with the professional child actor. I gave Jake the script and because he had never been near a microphone, I began to coach him as to how close he should get to it, how to be careful about pronunciation, etc. "Let's try a few lines" I said, and that's when the fun began.
Jake I quickly learned, had speech problems. The client's name had a couple of "R"s in it and Jake pronounced "R"s like "L"s making the name of his granddad's car rental company sound like a Lithuanian side dish. In addition, he would put a "th" on all words containing an "S". No matter how many takes he did, the copy came out sounding like a foreign language. Jake grew restless and complained to his mom that he was bored and wanted to go home. And after a couple of hours of futility I ended up salvaging what I could and hoped the listeners were bilingual.
The following day Jake showed up (late) with his mom for the television shoot. Our crew had already been there several hours setting up for our first scene while the NBA star was in makeup. Jake looking bored, grabbed a basketball and started bouncing it on the court right next to one of the sound engineer's high end reel to reel tape machines. "Be careful bouncing that ball so close to that machine." I told him. "That is a very expensive piece of equipment." "Who cares?" He replied deadpan. "If it breaks, my grandfather will pay for it." That's when I knew we were in for a long day.
As I tried to get him to focus on the lines he was to deliver (in that special foreign language of his) his eyes went right to the craft services. "Donuts!" he cried as he dropped the ball right on the tape machine and began stuffing his face. I had rewritten most of the lines trying carefully to edit out any "R" words but the name of the company couldn't be avoided. When he was not causing mischief or complaining to his mom that he was bored, Jake was hungry or he was tired, sprawling around on the basketball court while I tried diplomatically to get him back in front of the camera. At one point I found him trying to flirt with some of the female crew telling them that when his grandfather "kicked" this would all be his. As I steered him into makeup, the makeup artist said, "My, what cute little boy!" "I'll get back to you at the end of the day to see if you have reassessed that opinion" I whispered to her.
The grandson was not only confrontational and rude to the crew but also to the NBA star as well who looked like he wanted to crush the little runt a few times. The rest of the shoot went as smoothly and after about 10 hours of work, I prayed we had enough film to choose from to finish the :30 second spot.
The makeup artist came up to me later in the day and when I asked her if she still considered the boy cute, I seem to remember her response including the word "strangulation".
What was the lesson in all this? Well despite what you have heard, the client isn't always right. In fact, sometimes the client is dead wrong. It all depends on your relationship and chemistry as to how you handle a difficult situation such as this. Don't be afraid to assert yourself in showing the client what's best for his advertising and marketing plan for it will benefit both of you in the long run. Just as he is an expert in his business, so too are you in yours. And if you are ever in a situation such as the one I've just described, the "grin and bare it" approach may be your only option!
Hal Eisenberg is an award winning copywriter, voice over talent and producer, as well as owner of The Eisenberg Agency, a full service advertising agency specializing in creative ads that get results.
Visit his web site at http://www.eisenbergagency.com
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