Thursday, October 1, 2009

A star is born!

Recently, the call went out to Intel employees in Santa Clara for volunteers to appear in an Intel commercial to be shown world-wide. If you know me, I am a total introvert when it comes to real-time, face-to-face communications. But, being famous on video - that is a completely different thing altogether. Plus, there was a free t-shirt involved, so that just sealed the deal. My friend Shawn would do anything for a t-shirt, so he was in, too.
So, the process went like this:
  1. send in your badge photo
  2. if you're selected from #1, come in for a screen test in front of a video camera
  3. if you're selected from #2, come to the set location on the day of the shoot
Now Shawn and I are both white males, so we figured our chances of being selected were slim, presuming that Intel would want to show off its diversity. Also, Santa Clara is a big site, with thousands of employees, so even just random chance was not good. However, we dutifully e-mailed our badge photos.
Surprisingly, both Shawn and I were selected to audition at the screen test. Clearly, they didn't care about appearances!
For the screen test, we were instructed to go in five at a time, introduce ourselves, and sing the Intel "Bong, bong Bong bong BONG!" song, all on camera. I strategically positioned myself neither first nor last in my group, though that turned out to be a bad idea anyway. The lady next to me went first, choosing not to do the simple "name, where are you from, and how long you've been at Intel", but instead deciding to go on a long shpiel about where she was born, where she grew up, what college she wet to, what was her major, what sports teams she liked, when and where she lost her virginity.... ok, not that one, but still. While she's going through all this, I'm next to her thinking, "What the heck.. how am I supposed to follow this??" All I had planned was name, rank, and serial number. Anyway, when it was my turn I meekly told only what I was asked, hoping to get extra points for following directions, though it was extremely anti-climatic after Too-Much-Information Lady before me. Shawn decided to take the strategy that uncommon things were more likely to get you selected, so he mentioned growing up on a dairy farm in Illinois. Show off.
This is what the screen test at the Intel Studio looked like:
Following the introductions, we were to listen and lip-sync to a recording of the Intel bong song, the musical "signature" at the end of every Intel commercial. Although I would know the tune instanty after just hearing the first note, I guess I had never really concentrated on the song, because my timing was way off during the practices. Still the first time we did it for real, I got it pretty close. Then the lady filming said we did a good job and chatted a little.. talking right over the second round of bong lip-syncing! I was concentrating on her conversation and completely missed the cue. At least I nailed the last one, but I thought I was done for. Shawn and I had had some debate over whether we should be animated and happy-happy while singing, or if we should be serious. Absent any direction, I chose to take the middle road and shake my head around a little for each note.
Amazingly enough, despite my boring introduction and terrible timing, somehow I managed to get selected for the actual commercial shoot!
Inexplicably, Shawn did, too.
For the day of the shoot, Saturday August 8, 2009, our only instructions were to wear "business casual". Now at Intel, that means jeans and a t-shirt for my group, but I suspected that wasn't what they meant. I ended up wearing olive green slacks with an uncomfortable tan long-sleeved Oxford shirt. Shawn picked khakis and a Polo shirt.
The filming was to be done in the gym of a local high school. Shawn and I carpooled and arrived at our assigned time. As we signed in, Shawn was immediately whisked off to woredrobe and makeup, which I thought was hilarious, since he obviously picked the wrong clothes and they had to give him something else. Also, he was butt ugly. I, myself, was pronounced "good", and didn't need a change of clothes. "Oh yea, stylin' baby!" Little did I know, the whole reason for this was that Shawn was going to be in a front row and had to look perfect, while I would end up in the back where no one could see me anyway.
At long last, we were ushered into the Wilcox High School gym where huge white panels were set up along with thermonuclear floodlights and a camera on a large boom. The gym was supposed to be air conditioned, but clearly was not. The crew was immediately sent out to buy fans at the local Walmart or something. The lights were turned off between takes, but when they were on, the gym temperature quickly rose 10 or 20 degrees. It was torture.
Interestingly, the director was Stacey Wall, who has done lots of commercials for Nike, Heinekin, MLB, NBA, T-Mobile, etc, etc. The first assistant director was Miles Johnstone, who worked on the movie "Stomp Out Loud." So the bunch of us amateurs actually got to work with true professionals! I can only imagine what they were thinking throughout the day. "Why, oh, why, did I get involved in this?!"
As I mentioned, I ended up in the back. When I realized this, I jockeyed for position in the center, hoping this would give me the best chance of being seen. However, they re-arranged all us vertically gifted folk, and I ended up in the "tall corner". Not only that, but I was told to spread my legs so I would appear shorter. And this was even after removing my shoes, since black-soled shoes were not allowed in the gym!
So picture it: shoeless, legs spread, in a 110F gym, wearing dress clothes, trying to appear happy, perky, and excited while singing the Intel song over and over and over for six hours. In addition to all the above, you try smiling while making a "bong" sound. Go ahead, I'll wait. Not really possible, is it?
Shawn and the folks up front had a makeup person dabbing the sweat from their foreheads. The guy next to me had huge beads of sweat on his face. Eventually he had to wipe his face with his sleeves, leaving great dark spots. No one cared. Clearly, we were not visible on screen at all. I think at some point, everyone in the back realized this, spirits dropped, and we stopped worrying about following cues and such. This didn't change much, though, because while the director continually gave the "talent" up front specific instructions, those of us in the peanut gallery could barely hear anything anyway. I gave up spreading my legs and just stood normally. For one take, they threw out a few Santa hats for people to wear. Of course, there was no point in giving any to those in the back, since they wouldn't be seen, so there was much grumbling from the back rows. Finally, they threw one to the back just to keep us happy (or make us shut up), and there was much rejoycing!
For those of us in the back, the highlight of the day was lunch, which was actually pretty good. The rest of the time totally sucked, and it didn't stop at the end of the day, because I got to dream about singing "Bong.. bong Bong bong BONG!" all night long as well.
Our commercial debutted on September 20, 2009 during the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards show. Despite my extreme depression at never being seen on camera, I actually got incredibly excited as the time approached. I even called my family to watch for me in the commercial. The experience was even better than I'd hoped, because in fact you COULD actually see me! In fact, in high definition, you could actually see my face and tell who I was. I was amazed! I told all my friends and family and posted to Facebook.. I just went crazy. This is what I got all excited about:
(Watch it at YouTube, because it's too wide for this blog page!)
You didn't see me? Come on! Alright, here you go:
(Click to enlarge)
So it was only 2 seconds on screen, and you won't see me unless you know where to look. It was still awesome!! Here's pretty much how that evening went for me:
Oddly enough, of the four people I know who were in the commercial, I was the only one who could be seen in all formats. Suhanya got cut off the left side. Mitra got cut off the right side. And even Shawn got cut off the old 4:3 format. He can only be seen (in crystal clear hugeness, mind you) in the widescreen format.
All kidding aside, while the filming wasn't the most fun for those of us out of the action, I have to say, seeing myself on television was the most exciting thing ever!  I can't wait for the next one!


  1. parts of this are extremely funny - cracked me up :) If it makes you feel any better - i was able to spot you the 1st time even in that grainy low resolution image you sent initially!

  2. What? Where? I didn't see him. I was too busy laughing at the content above, so was thusly distracted.