Cut! Print that one. Set up for the fuckin’ cat food demo.” The foghorn-like voice that filled the sound stage belonged to Jackson Korman, the creative director from Jordan, Day and Green. He was exceedingly short, but very wide and walked like a wounded duck. His face seemed to be locked in a perpetual sneer. But at the moment the sneer looked confused. “Where the hell is the goddam storyboard? Is this what the board calls for?”
The script girl dutifully responded, “It is,” she said simply.
The Tasti-Feast storyboard called for a woman to enter the kitchen set carrying a bowl with the words Tasti-Feast on the side. She was to set the bowl on the counter and, as she ﬁlled it with Tasti-Feast, say “We decided to conduct a Tasti-Feast taste test. In this bowl, Tasti-Feast. A wonderful blend of ﬁsh and meat.”
That was the opening part of the commercial that Korman had just shot so it was, in film speak, in the can. In the next scene the cameras – and there were five parked around the set – were to reveal four other bowls of cat food placed in a neat row on the ﬂoor. The actress playing the cat owner was to say, “In these bowls are four competitive brands. Let’s see which cat food discerning cats like yours prefer.”
Then she was to put the Tasti-Feast bowl next to the competitive brands while, from all sides of the studio, dozens of cats were to rush from every direction and make a beeline for the Tasti-Feast. Once the cats had selected the sponsor’s brand over the competitors, the actress was to say, “There you have it, proof that discerning cats prefer Tasti-Feast.”
The animal handler stood off to the side surrounded by twenty cages of cats that sounded like they were not at all happy about their upcoming participation in the commercial.
“Are those fuckin’ cats ready?” Korman shouted. “I don’t want any fuck ups.”
“Ready. All ﬁfty,” the animal handler answered.
“They’re hungry, right?”
“Really hungry. Haven’t fed them a thing in two days.”
“Good. I want those little fuckers ravenous.”
The animal handler decided to share a concern with Korman. “There’s only one thing: with those cats being as hungry as they are, there’s a good chance they’re going to eat everything you set out for them. Including the competitors’ food.”
“No chance. I’ve put so much disgusting shit in cat food brands “W”, ‘X’, ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ the smell will have them tossing up fur balls before they get within two feet of those bowls.”
“But that isn’t exactly a fair comparison, is it?” the handler asked.
“Fair? Who’s talkin’ fair? I’ll tell you what’s fair. What’s fair is that the fuckin’ cats eat the Tasti-Feast and we end up with a great commercial. All you have to do is turn ‘em loose when I give you the cue.”
The studio doors opened and a large contingent of sycophants and minor functionaries arrived from Jordan, Day and Green along with Tom Martin, a VP from Tasti-Feast. The agency people immediately descended like locusts on the breakfast spread that the catering service had set up in the rear of the studio. They looked as if none of them had eaten in weeks.
“G’morning, John,” Tom Martin said as he stuck out his hand to John Baskham the account executive from the Ad Film production company.
“Hungry group, aren’t they?” Baskham nodded toward the agency people as they foraged through the rolls and fruit.
“Hopefully the cats will be as hungry’ Tom said. “Is this going to work?” he asked, nodding toward the kitchen set.
“Korman says it will.”
“I didn’t ask him, I asked you.”
“I’ll let you know once the cats are let loose.”
“Once that happens, I won’t need to ask.”
Korman barked directions to the cameramen telling them where he wanted the cameras placed to assure maximum multi-coverage of the cat release.
“I don’t think they had this many cameras when they shot the chariot race in Ben Hur,” Martin said.
“Korman’s hoping to get this on the first take. The more cameras the better the odds of getting something on film that looks like the drawings on the storyboard. I’ve got money that says the cats aren’t going to like doing this twice.” Baskin added. “
Korman stood in the middle of the set and shouted. “Listen up, everybody. Let’s fuckin’ well make sure we get this on the first take. I want to get those fuckers the hell out of here. They’re pissing all over their cages and this place smells like hell.” He turned to the animal handler. “Turn ‘em loose on my cue. Not before.” To the prop man he said, “Give the bowl of Tasti-Feast to what’s-her-face.” He pointed toward the actress who was standing in the kitchen set.
“Maybe I should wear a nametag!” the actress shot back clearly offended that the director had forgotten her name. “It’s Angela.”
“Angela,” he repeated with a shrug. “Ok. Pay attention. On action, you say your lines then take the cat food and set it down at the end of that line of competitive bowls. Then start calling for the cats. Give me a Here kitty, kitty.”
The animal handler and his assistants moved the cat cages around the perimeter of the set out of camera range. The makeup lady made a quick, last-minute touch-up of Angela’s hair, and Korman called for the lights.
The actress took her place on the set and Korman turned to the cat handler and his assistants. “You guys ready?”
“Ok, you know your lines, right, sweetheart?”
“The name is still Angela and I’m not you’re sweetheart!”
“We’ll talk about that later,” Korman’s salacious grin made it clear that his retort was for the beneﬁt of his ego and the amusement of the crew. “Stand by. Roll film. Mark it.
“Tasti-Feast, Scene 2, Take 1.”
“And … Action!” Korman shouted.
The actress looked up at one of the cameras and said, “Let’s see which cat food discerning cats like yours prefer.” She knelt down on one knee, placed the Tasti-Feast bowl in line with the competitive brands and called, “Here kitty, kitty!”
Korman pointed to the handler. “Cue the cats.”
The cage doors opened and the cats dashed out like convicts during a prison break. A virtual tidal wave of felines surged across the ﬂoor from all directions toward the kitchen set and the bowls of food. As Korman had planned, they avoided the tainted competitors and made a beeline for the Tasti-Feast.
It was mayhem. A catﬁght to end all catﬁghts broke out almost at once. “Too many cats, too little food,” Martin whispered to Baskham. Each famished cat was trying to get to the solitary bowl of Tasti-Feast. The cats treated the kneeling actress as nothing more than a barrier between them and the cat food, a barrier to be pushed, climbed on, slipped under and scratched aside. While attempting to stand up, she toppled back on her fanny and began to scream. “Get these fucking cats off me! Get them off! Help me! Get me out of here!”
“Cut!” Korman yelled.
“Now that would make a hell of a commercial,” Baskham said, doing his best not to laugh. “Nobody, I mean nobody, would forget it.”
“Dr. Doolittle he ain’t?” Martin added.
The actress kept screaming for help as the cats continued to ﬁght for a chance at the Tasti-Feast.
“I think somebody’d better help her,” Martin said.
Baskham responded, made his way through the ravenous cats, picked up the actress and carried her to safety.
As he put her down well away from the set, she spat, “I hate cats! I hate ‘em! Look what they did to me!” She showed Baskham her scratched arms. Then she screamed at Korman, “You bastard! I’m calling my agent!” and stalked off toward the dressing room.
“Get those fuckers back in the cages!” Korman yelled as he ran over to the animal handler who was attempting to corral a bevy of cats. “What the hell are you doing? Those cats were out of control. This is not what I paid you for! Now, get them reset for another take!” Korman caught himself. “Give me a minute. I got to think. We may need to make some adjustments ‘cause this ain’t working like I planned.” Korman turned his back on the handler and called for a conference with his agency minions.
Martin looked at Baskham, “Unless we ﬁgure out some way to save this thing, I’m gonna catch a lot of crap from our brand people.”
“I can’t wait to see how Korman deals with this.”
After a moment with his staff, Korman shouted, “Set up for take two. We’re going to try it again. Maybe they won’t be as hungry this time.”
“Well, there’s your answer.” Martin said. “It appears he hasn’t learned much about cats. I think we’re going to need a Plan B, or maybe we just pack it in and cancel the shoot.”
“Let’s not do that. I’ve got an idea.”
“You got a Plan B?”
“It’s something I was thinking about last night. I drew it up just for the heck of it.” He pulled a piece of paper from his coat pocket. “It’s a lot different from what the storyboard calls for, but I think it makes the same point about the product.” He laid the piece of paper in front of Martin.
“It looks like a maze.”
“That’s what it is,” Baskham explained. “Sides are about a foot high. And in the center,” he said pointing to a square area in the middle of the maze, “we have the bowl of Tasti-Feast. Then we put a single cat in the entrance to the maze and turn him loose. We let him run through the maze, looking exactly like he knows where he’s going, until he ﬁnds his way to the food. When he does, the actress says, “Smart cats always ﬁnd their way to Tasti-Feast.”
Tom Martin said nothing for a moment as he evaluated Baskham’s maze concept, then simply, “I love it. It’s perfect. But one question: Will a cat run the maze?”
“I think so. If he’s hungry enough. Let’s ask the animal handler.”
Baskham called the animal handler over and showed him his drawing.
“Yeah, I can get a cat to do that. I’ll need a few minutes to get him trained. Do you plan to do it in one shot or a series of cuts?”
“Lots of cuts. We’ll shoot it like we’re covering a sporting event.”
“Then it’s no problem. Worst case, I’ll pull a bag of catnip through the maze on a string that will lead the cat to the food.”
“Good,” Baskham said. “Let’s run this by Korman.”
The response was immediate.
“No, no,” Korman said, tossing up his hands to indicate he’d been personally offended that anyone would dare offer an alternative to his creativity. “That’s all wrong. Sends the wrong message. I don’t like it.” Then he looked at Baskham and spat out derisively, “Who the hell are you to tell me how to make my commercial?”
My commercial,” Martin said sharply correcting Korman. “I know this is somewhat of a departure from the storyboard, but I’d really like you to give this some thought. It’s simple, it’s clean, it’s visually interesting and the message is essentially the same as the storyboard. And we don’t need a herd of starving cats.”
“Tom, let me be clear about this,” Korman said in a condescending, gratuitous tone. “It’s a shitty idea. I’m the agency’s creative director on this account and I don’t like it. That’s all there is to it. I’m not going to shoot a cat running in some fucking maze.”
“Well, you may be the creative director, but I’m the client and I like it,” Martin said sternly. “And if you’re not going to direct this commercial, then we’ll ﬁnd someone who will.”
“You’re not serious?” his challenge was tinged with the suspicion that Martin just might be serious.
“Oh, but I am. Further, I think it’s best that you pry your staff away from the food on the catering table and take the rest of the day off. I’ll let John Baskham and his people handle this.”
“Wait a minute!” Korman said, looking for a retreat. “We need to talk.”
“I’m done talking. You might tell Mr. Jordan or Mr. Day or Mr. Green to give me a call when one of them gets a chance.”
Korman’s face turned red and looked as if he was about to unload on Tom Martin. Fortunately, he thought better of dumping his vitriol on the client and stalked off the stage, muttering obscenities under his breath.
“Can you ﬁnd someone to take over, John?” Martin asked.
“I can do it since there’s really nothing to direct. We’ve got ﬁve cameras so we can cover the action ﬁve ways to Sunday. The editor will love it.”
At just after ﬁve, they called it a wrap. Tom Martin walked up to Baskham, smiling. “For my part, it’s been a good day all around. And that includes pissing off that asshole Korman. Let me know when I can come see the first cut.”
“Will do,” John said.
Not two minutes later, Marty Oppenheimer, the owner of Ad Film productions burst into the studio, spotted Baskham and let loose. The small veins in his cheeks stood out like the blue lines on a road map. “What in the fuck is going on here? I got a call from Jackson Korman. He is pissed as hell.” Marty began to jab his ﬁnger into Baskham’s chest. “Korman says that we … actually you, Baskham ... fucked him over with his client. That you went ahead and shot some fucking piece of shit that had nothing to do with the storyboard. I want to know what the fuck happened.”
Baskham just folded his arms and listened calmly, touching his face now and then to remove the ﬂying spittle that seemed to punctuate Marty’s tirade like exclamation marks.
“Do you want to hear what happened or do you just want to yell at me?”
Oppenheimer shot back, “I want to know what happened.”
Baskham proceeded to tell him about the cat melee and how the client was about to cancel the shoot when he came up with an idea that Martin loved. “Korman threw a hissy ﬁt and said he wouldn’t shoot the new version. So, Martin told him to take a hike. The scenic guys built us a maze and we shot my version. Martin loved it. Bottom line, Korman’s concept was ridiculous. It was never going to work. You should have seen the ﬁasco. And Martin told me he would have caught a lot of shit if he’d come back to his brand people with something that looked like the Revenge of the Rabid Vampire Cats. Marty, the truth is, we saved the client’s ass. I’m sorry if Korman had his delicate creative ego offended. He’s a ﬁrst-class asshole and you know it.”
“Get this straight, Baskham. We’re in business to provide a production service, not to fuck over some half-assed creative director and embarrass the shit out of him so that he looks like the dumb fuck that you and I know he is. If the shoot fucks up because the concept stinks and the client decides to call it off, that’s not our problem. They still have to pay us for the day.”
“Marty, hear what I’m telling you. Tom Martin owes us now. You can bet your sweet bippy that we’re going to shoot every one of his Tasti-Feast commercials. His business is locked up for us now.”
“Now you hear what I’m telling you,” Oppenheimer shouted in Baskham’s face. “How many cat food commercials do you think Martin is going to shoot every year? I’ll tell you how many. One! And that one grosses us only about forty grand. On the other hand, Jackson Korman and his ad agency represent about one million dollars of business for us each year. Now you tell me, who’s more important to this company? I can’t believe you screwed Korman.”
“I didn’t! It was Martin who made the decision to go with my maze concept.”
“Maybe, but it was your idea and you’re the one he’s pissed at.”
“Me? Why isn’t Korman also pissed at Martin?”
“Because Martin is his client and we are the production company and Korman can shit on us, but he can’t shit on his client. Now, listen to me carefully: I want you to get a hold of Korman and apologize like you really, really fuckin’ mean it. I don’t care if that means you have to kiss his bare ass in Macy’s window. Whatever it takes. You make goddamn sure we don’t lose any of his agency’s business.”
Tom Martin, who had witnessed Oppenheimer’s tirade - albeit from a distance - caught up with Baskham as he was about to leave the studio. “I’m, sorry you had to go through that. If it means you’re out of a job, we can always use a good account man.”
Baskham shook his head. “Thanks Tom, but I’ve known Marty for ten years. By Monday, somebody else will be at the top of his shit list. But just to be on the safe side, I’ll call in sick tomorrow.”
“Out of sight, out of mind?”
“Won’t hurt to be among the missing for a day… maybe two.”
“What are you going to do? About Korman, I mean? Your boss was pretty emphatic.”
“There’s only one thing I can do.”
“I’m going over to Macy’s and check out their windows.”