• Musser

Brushing Up on My Memories

Back in the fall of 1979, I was in partnership with a Brit, Brian Williams. He and I had the idea to form our own film production company. We did a few projects for The Image Factory in NYC. One was to repackage a series of British Mysteries by creating a new opener. Everything was shot on film back then. Video wasn't an option. We were to meet with some of the members of Aerosmith but they made a deal with someone else at the last minute. Then, we were given the close-up work for a toothpaste commercial—a 'revolutionary' product called Aqua-Fresh was being rolled out. Having two different colors of toothpaste squeeze out of a tube together was pretty cool for the time (it became three colors a bit later). It would be the first time I'd worked with a 35mm film camera but my partner had done a bit of work in that format. We rented an old studio at CBS studios and set out to accept the challenge. We had no idea how we'd approach something like this but we weren't going to admit that. We knew there'd be a lot of takes. Because our job was simply to shoot a tight close-up of the paste coming out of the tube and onto a toothbrush, we also realized we couldn't use any one brush more than once (even a bristle out of place wouldn't be acceptable). With some serious research, we found a supplier who sold us 300 identical white brushes. We thought that'd be more than enough. It wasn't. We designed and built a rig to hold a toothbrush without it shaking (keep thinking: super close-up... all movement is magnified). We hired two assistants. One to squeeze the white paste onto the tube. One to squeeze the mint-colored paste onto the tube. We had all our bases covered (but, no, we really hadn't). I had a lighting assistant... and a guy to load and unload the camera magazines. We were gearing up in the studio and expecting someone from Beecham (the client) to soon appear. They were on-time... all TWELVE of them. We had to have 'client couches' pulled in from other studios. The clients outnumbered the crew 12 to 6. But, we weren't finished. Minutes later, representatives from their advertising agency showed up en masse. Their contingent only numbered eight. We sorted them out and finally got down to shooting. Getting the gradient aqua-colored background to look just right took four hours alone. We thought it was fine but, between the client and the agency, they couldn't agree. Amongst themselves, they philosophized and theorized why the gradient had to end in grey rather than black and where, on the vertical height of the bristles, that gradient had to begin changing. Should it be a horizontal gradient or should it be more like a spotlight? If it's a spotlight, should it be centered behind the toothbrush bristles or off to the left or right a bit? Should the spotlight be round or oval-shaped? We tried them all before we shot one bit of toothpaste coming out of a tube and onto the bristles. When we finally got around the shooting the paste going on the bristles, we discovered fairly soon that the 'tail' created by pulling the tube away wasn't making a pleasant enough looking 'nurdle' (yes, this is what someone named it and it stuck for the remainder). We booked the studio for another day, hired five more assistants. Rented coolers to hold dry ice. And, found more furniture so the executives could feel like executives. We shot another full day and the footage was evaluated a few days later. Someone at the agency convinced the client that the color of the background still wasn't right. So, we rented the space again, hired more assistants and shot another day. We were now at the point where one person clamped the brush into the rig, one person monitored the temperature of the toothpaste; one person squeezed it from the tube; one person snipped that segment with scissors; one person placed it onto the bristles; and another up-turned the tail of the nurdle with a toothpick. Three days of shooting an area about one and half inches high by two inches wide... the bristles with the applied pastes. I learned that last day how much I disliked working around people who just talk and evaluate and who don't actually do very much and certainly possess little expertise or any recognizable talent. The end result, by the way, was a commercial that looked like everything else on television at the time. They incorporated animation to 'blend' the two colors of paste on the toothbrush head and that animation looked cheap and amateurish. And, so it went and so it goes. But, not for me any longer. Forty-five years of such nonsense is enough for anyone. BTW, we ended up using over 700 brushes.

You can be visually-abused by the actual spot here.

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