Air Devils and Mad Men
When I was a boy and living in Israel, my mum happened upon an ad in the Jerusalem Post looking for children who spoke English and were interested in appearing in an American TV commercial. I was both and so I went to an audition in Tel Aviv. A group of people behind a table asked me to run around a small yard and look like I was having the time of my life. Getting attention like this was sort of fun but also a little nerve wracking.
A few days later, I was invited back to Tel Aviv for the shoot. I walked on the sound-stage in awe. Someone had built a perfect replica of a perfect boy’s room surrounded by bright lights and a camera. In the middle of the room, there sat a circular cardboard runway with a plastic mountain in one corner and a control tower in the center.
I was one of three boys in the cast. One had brought his mother, a plump and bossy woman carrying a makeup case which she used to polish her son’s perfection. The other boy was quiet and shrugged when spoken to. The plump mother told the director that she insisted her boy should get the lead role; he was very handsome, she said, a great actor and extremely sensitive. The director told her son that, indeed, he would get to fly the toy plane while I was to look on with enthusiasm. The shrugging boy was used as hand model and plugged the toy into the wall socket in a close-up shot.
Air Devils proved to be one of those elaborate toys that are interesting for about five minutes and then up in pieces or gathering dust. A wire on the control tower spun the plane around in a circle; it landed and took off and not much else. There was no room for imagination in playing with it but it took up a lot of floor space, even in the gigantic idealized American boy’s room on the sound-stage.
I don’t remember much else about the shoot except it lasted for thirteen hours and that the director said the plastic mountain looked like someone had pissed on it (which, for a twelve year old boy, was the height of subversive humor). I was paid the equivalent of $10 for my day’s work, which went toward buying some candy and a soccer ball which my neighbor kicked onto the roof of an adjoining building a few days later.
Six months after the shoot, we moved to New York. One day after school, I was watching TV and the Air Devils commercial came on. I was shocked by the weirdness of seeing myself on television. I don’t think I ever saw the spot on the air again but the memory of it stuck somewhere in my brain, replaying in weirder and weirder re-edits over the years. I have sat through so many auditions and shoots over the past quarter century and the memory of myself, a twelve year old weird, multi-national kid standing in front of that table of strangers, flickers past me now and then.
I have casually looked for a copy of the spot every so often, screening reels of old commercials, thinking it would be amusing to add it to my own reel of commercials. However, it never turned up.
Then this afternoon, bored in an editing session, I typed the words ‘Air Devils” in the YouTube search field… and there it was. You can see me in a wide shot and then a close-up of my home-cut hair and fake enthusiasm.
It’s funny, as a person who makes and judges ads all day, to be a part of this commercial. The complete absence of an idea, the histrionic voice-over and completely unpersuasive cop[y. I can imagine the poor creative team, working on Hasbro, knowing they have a shoestring budget, knocking together a script and then flying to Israel, of all places, to avoid union costs and produce something, anything to throw on the air for a few weeks before Christmas.
It’s so much a conceit of my business that what we do matters very much, that every commercial must be polished and crafted and made as good as possible, that we must fall on our swords for every creative decision … and yet, after they have served their purpose, our well-cut gems retain as much appeal as last month’s milk. I assume that the zillions of other people’s dollars I have spent on high-end production will end up, if I am lucky, being just someone else’s blogged memory in twenty years from now.