It always amazed me when I actually participated in the making of anything artistic like a play, a concert, or even a television commercial. You never really knew what went into the production; how many takes, how long, or how stressful it was unless or until you actually lived it. The first record that I ever played for took literally hundreds of takes, and when it was all put together and mastered, it sounded fantastic, but getting to that point was, well, it was very stressful.
This past weekend I had an opportunity to uncover one of those incredible experiences that only the participants were aware of with an old friend, and, believe me when I tell you that the laughter could be heard from Hidden Valley to the UPMC building in Pittsburgh. The names and participants in this story will be changed to protect the innocent, and the statute of limitations has been up for nearly thirty years, but I’m not taking any chances.
Back in the mid-1980’s, I was the President of a convention and visitor’s bureau, the Laurel Highlands, and each year we lobbied to have a major advertisement made that would feature that area of the State for one of our primary tourism seasons: winter skiing, spring festivals, summer fun, or fall foliage. After several years of this petitioning, we won, and the ad that was produced was absolutely beautiful.
That ad was a deer standing in a meadow when miraculously, one leaf on a nearby tree turns a bright autumn color. The deer notices and acknowledges this by lifting his head and looking toward the tree. Just then the entire tree turns colors, and a flock of doves fly out of the tree as the narrator invites the potential tourists to visit fall foliage in Pennsylvania. It was a striking, memorable ad that I remember vividly to this day.
Now the back story. In order to get a deer that would look on cue, they had to hire an animal trainer, and the only actor deer in the United States was from Hollywood. Booking a deer on a flight from Hollywood to the East Coast was no small accomplishment because it was a deer. So, they had to disguise it and rename it a “deer dog” in order to get past the regulatiors.
The deer landed at Dulles airport around midnight, and a company was engaged to ship this deer to Western PA for his acting gig. Well, as fate would have it, the deer transporting truck broke down in Hagerstown, and the only truck that was available for deer shipping was from a circus. Remember, this was supposed to be a subtle thing. Can you imagine if the media had become aware that a Los Angeles based deer was being shipped to Pennsylvania for a commercial? Well, the only truck that was available was a clown truck, a circus truck, and the deer arrived at its destination in a clown truck with a clown nose, and balloons plastered all over the sides and front of the vehicle.
The next phase of the commercial was slated to have hundreds of birds fly out of the tree. So, the producers suspended bags of doves all through the tree and placed giant fans under the tree. When the fans were turned on, the bags were supposed to blow upward encouraging the birds to fly away, but something went horribly wrong, and not unlike the turkey drop scene from WKRP in Cincinnati, a few of the birds fell down instead of up, directly into the fans. Needless to say the SPCA would not have been happy as bird parts and feathers flew everywhere.
The end product, though was amazing, and the good news was the commercial for Pennsylvania filled the State with “leaf peepers” from Washington D.C., Ohio, Michigan, and even Canada. No one knew the back story. Including me.