Life Pics from the 1990s

The 1990s were a great era for me. I had two small businesses going; I met Sandy and spent a lot of time in NYC which I really loved, and life was definitely a “work hard, play hard” adventure! I’m much too lazy to put the pics in any particular order–I’ll just let them speak their 1,000 words (or not–LOL!) and you can enjoy them (or not!)


Our friend Alain (yes, I spelled it correctly–Alain’s mom was French) and his daughter Josie. Alain was a fashion photographer client who became a friend and died tragically of a heart attack in his sleep when he was only about 47. So very sad and reminds me to be grateful I’ve lasted this long…

Honesty, Success and Karma in Business

As you already know if you’ve read any of my “work” stories, film and photo production often beats a “real job.”  And if you’ve read some of my life stories, you can probably tell that I’m pretty open and honest, often to a fault!  Whether it’s business or personal (and the two overlapped for me to a huge degree), the most important quality one can have is honesty, both with oneself and with others.  As I said in my story about “How I Learned Honesty from My Mom” (via spanking!), honesty is an essential component of trust, and without trust you really don’t have a valuable relationship with anyone.  Oh sure, it could be potentially “valuable” in the short term to lie about money in a business relationship or something else in a personal relationship, but it’s my firm belief that dishonesty can only generate short-term rewards and will not provide any long-term success or meaning in one’s life. 

Having been self-employed my entire adult life, I know the value of honesty better than most by working with all types of people from all over the world.  In my film and photo advertising career I did over 900 projects with about 500 different clients and their producers/account reps, etc.  Having to negotiate the terms of all those projects from scratch, I’ve seen the entire range of humanity in terms of those who were 100% honest and trustworthy to those I wouldn’t trust for a split second if my back were turned.  And if I accepted 900 projects, that means I turned down over 2,000 of them because they weren’t willing to pay my crew and I a fair amount of money or wanted me to participate in some other dishonesty to cut corners in some way or another. 

I made kind of a serious joke to my friend Rob when he bought my company that 70% of the calls you get won’t be “real jobs” that you can accept.  He looked surprised at that high percentage, but the fact is that about half of the 70% simply don’t know what they’re doing and are asking for the impossible (I referred to them as “crack smokers” because they would have to be really high to think what they were proposing were even remotely possible either logistically or for their very short money—Hahahaha!!), and the other half of the 70% know damned well they’re bullshitting you about money (and likely a lot of other details as well!) and are just looking for a sucker who will agree to their bad deal initially and find out later what a bad deal it really was.  (And I had many names for them as well…)

Fortunately, I learned this lesson early on, and here are a couple of examples.  Back in my early days (probably around 1994 or so), my partner Marc and I had a 36′ Dodge Allegro production motorhome that we would rent out and drive to shoots for use as a production office in the front half, and a hair, makeup and wardrobe space in the back.  That thing was a beast to drive, but we customized it fairly well so that it was quite functional for film and photo shoots.  We had about $20K and a lot of sweat equity invested in it, and we rented it out for the princely sum of $325/day, and that included one of us driving it.  A standard day in our industry varied depending on your job, but the motorhome standard was 10 hours, and after that the driver got paid overtime.  The driver’s rate was also a princely sum–$125/10-hour day, and I don’t think it was too much to ask for time-and-a-half based on that blue collar rate!

This particular job was a Nissan commercial featuring Arie Lyundeyk the Indy car race driver.  In 1993 any car commercial was a big, expensive proposition with a large crew, and having a real race car driver made it even bigger.  My good friend Denise was the local production manager, but this was a big shoot so she had to answer to a couple of other producers above her on the food chain.  She was getting pressure from them to save money anywhere she could because the client and ad agency were trying to pay for this somewhat over-the-top shindig any way they could.  Hell, Arie’s agent probably charged them six figures for two days’ work just to say three lines and drive the Nissan around for a minute! 

At one point just before the shoot, Denise told me to expect very long shoot days and ask if I would work on a 12-hour day instead of a 10-hour day based on the lie she was told that “the shoot was on a really tight budget.”  (I was a relative newbie at the time and hadn’t yet learned that there was really no such thing as a “low-budget” car shoot in 1993!)  I scowled a bit I’m sure, but since Denise was my friend I agreed as a favor to her.  I showed up on the shoot day at zero-dark-thirty as usual to get things set up in my motorhome, and a few hours later the Japanese clients came cruising onto the location in two or three large passenger vans.  Now normally a big shoot like this might have anywhere from 3-6 people on the client side, but Nissan literally sent about 20 people all the way from Japan for this one!  For me this was a huge red flag that we were being lied to by the main producers in terms of the project having a so-called “tight budget.” 

I casually asked Denise where all these undoubtedly “essential-to-the-shoot” Nissan clients were staying while they were here on their “tight budget” project, and when Denise replied, “Oh, they’re at the Biltmore” (one of the most posh and expensive resorts in Phoenix!) I think steam came out of my ears as I told her we were back on a 10-hour day.  We went back and forth a little more on it, but I stuck to my guns and told Denise that if any of those lying SOBs had a problem with Eric the motorhome peon being fairly paid while a bunch of Japanese dudes got an all-expense paid vacation to Arizona in high season, they could talk to me directly.  I never heard another word and I was paid based on a 10-hour day.

That valuable lesson and a few others early in my career paid off in spades as I got more experience and became a producer myself and started my own production company with my ex-wife Sandy.  We figured out pretty quickly that I had a pretty good nose for bullshit, so I was the default project estimator and negotiator pretty much from the start of our company in 1994.  (And I had a nice deep voice on the phone that said: “Don’t fuck with this guy”—Hahahaha!!)  Sandy was much too nice and sweet, which made me want to marry her, but I did not want her on the phone with a lot of New York City liars (even if she was from New York!) 

We’ve all heard the expression “shit flows downhill,” and I was actually told this more than once by an arrogant client, producer, or other brainwashed idiot over the years.  But I had a great response that went pretty much like this: “Shit may flow downhill, but if it hits me I’ll pick it up and fling it right back up in your face.”  Yes, I actually said exactly that more than once, and it tended to shut the arrogant liars up pretty quickly.  I definitely never viewed my business or industry as a “ladder” with the client on top and various levels underneath, each of whom was required to follow the orders of those above them in some imaginary “food chain.”  Of course it was my goal (and my job!) to do the best work I could for the client to make them happy (and want to work with me again!), but I viewed the production process as a wheel with me the producer as the hub of the wheel rather than a ladder with me somewhere in the middle trying desperately not to be knocked off and sent flying! 

It was my job to organize the client, crew, talent, location owners, vendors, etc. (the spokes of the wheel) and keep kicking them all in the ass so they would be in sync and the wheel would keep moving forward!  Our industry had very tight deadlines, so a “ladder” model didn’t work nearly as well as a “wheel” in rolling out a project in record time.  And I was always honest with everyone so they understood why I needed decisions made now and shit done immediately afterward.  And that honesty made for much easier and successful shoots, so I got lots of repeat business and referrals based on the idea that I could be trusted to tell the truth to everyone and get the job done smoothly and without undue stress on anyone. 

We did a lot of fashion catalogs in the 1990s, and they were notorious for sending out their own very inexperienced “producers” (fashion catalog production was considered an entry level job in NYC back then), yet they conveniently didn’t put any money in their budget (or so they told me) for us to be paid for most of our local production work that was actually necessary to make the shoot go smoothly.  Their hope was that they could rent our motorhome, have us set up their shooting locations, hook them up with our best local people, and then turn them loose on our town for a week or two even though they had never been here before without charging them another dime for the entire shoot!  Their “logic” was that once everything was set up during the 2-3 prep days they paid us for, they had us “on call” for a week or two to work for free on any last-minute changes the client or photographer might dream up!  And believe me, there were almost always lots of questions, changes, last-minute requests, ad infinitum to keep us busy throughout the entire shoot.

After a couple of shoots like this I learned my lesson and was honest right upfront and said that this business arrangement was unacceptable.  We needed at least a few thousand more dollars to cover the inevitable shit that was going to hit the fan when the crack-smokin’ creatives hit town, and it was simply an inevitable part of the “creative process” that shit was constantly changing with the majority of clients.  I got some “how dare you who is below us on the business ladder presume to dictate terms to us,” but I quickly pointed out that I ran my own business and would gladly turn the job down if I weren’t being paid enough for the work.  In 90% of the cases, they would begrudgingly pay up because they knew I was telling the truth and that earned me a certain amount of respect for not being a dumb schmuck from the desert as the New York fashionistas sometimes viewed us! 

I could cite a few hundred other examples of client and fellow producer BS, but I essentially learned the high value of honesty in business by observing the chaos and bullshit that was often the result of the dishonest people running the show.  I was on some of their shoots as a location scout/manager, and even though I made sure my department was run honestly (despite the best efforts of the lying sacks to lie to me and get me to lie to others for them!), and that resulted in less stress on my location owners and I, and most importantly led to me being invited back, which had HUGE value at the end of the day.  My reputation for honesty meant that I had literally dozens of homeowners (and probably hundreds of other location owners) who would turn me and my crew loose in their million-dollar homes for the entire day based solely on the fact that they trusted me and could take me at my word.  I would tell the property owner up front if a given client were likely to be a pain in the ass and would give the them a chance to say no to a project even if that isn’t the answer I wanted.  But what was interesting was that 95% of the time they said yes to one of my more pain-in-the-ass clients BECAUSE I was honest and they kind of felt bad for me and wanted to help me out for being honest with them.  Karma definitely exists in the business world, and honesty breeds good karma which in turn breeds trust and success.

The same thing was definitely true on the crew and vendor side of the equation as well.  Even though the crew and vendors who technically below me on the hypothetical “food chain” because I was paying them (which wasn’t my philosophy as I mentioned above), I was always brutally honest with them about the project and the pain-in-the-ass level of a particular crack-smokin’ creative upfront.  It was important to me that everyone knew what they were getting into from the start because realistic expectations all around meant that the shoot would run as smoothly as possible with the least possible “attitude” from everyone on the proverbial “production wheel.” 

Another important karmic effect of being brutally honest with my crew and vendors was that the best people would always want to work with me.  Not only was this essential for long-term business success, but it made my business life much less stressful.  Honesty all around and the resulting trust meant that I could explain what was needed once and turn everyone loose knowing that they would give it 100% effort and be honest with me if there were any issues or problems that needed to be worked out.  And going right back to the beginning of the story about the lying clients and producers who claim to have “no money” or a “low budget,” I always made sure I demanded and budgeted enough money from the start to make sure my crew could do a good job and be fairly compensated for their hard work. 

In my production world, I took good care to make sure there was as little “shit” as humanly possible, and I would never let it “flow downhill” onto my crew and I. I always considered it part of my job to fling that shit right back upstairs before it hit my crew. And I’m eternally grateful for the good karma and financial success that was the end result.  As crappy as my health issues are right now, I can’t even imagine what they would be like without so many good friends looking out for me, many from work, and I feel really bad for anyone trying to navigate a nasty illness like this without having any money to take care of things.  I’m beyond grateful for the fact that I have an abundance of friends and money to take care of myself the best I can and find as much peace as possible.  Life really is connected in a lot of ways we don’t expect, and Karma can be either a bitch or a sweetheart, depending on how you treat her! 

“Onstage” with Paul McCartney 2005

Sir Paul’s stage in 2005

As you already know if you’ve read any of my “work” stories, film and photo production often beats a “real job.”  Occasionally we get to meet famous people, and this was one of those times.  I’ll say up front that my Paul McCartney experience was not nearly as personal as shooting the shit with Waylon Jennings for a couple of hours in my motorhome or as intense as singing with my idol Frank Zappa at a live show for an entire verse in front of 2,000 people!  That said, I did get to work as a video assistant at a Paul McCartney show on his 2005 US tour and it was pretty damned cool being part of a living legend’s show for a few hours!  I must admit I had to look on Wikipedia to figure out the year because he was with Heather Mills at the time (more on that to come), and it was the only US tour he did while they were together for about 4-5 years. 

My gig at the McCartney show began when I got a call around noon the day of the show from my good friend Denise, another local advertising producer.  She had gotten a call from a producer working directly with the McCartney tour video crew looking to pick up a local production assistant (a “PA” in our lingo) to help their two-man video crew shoot the show.  Apparently, Paul brought the video crew to shoot every show on the tour so they could edit the best stuff into a video version of the 2005 tour.  A “PA” gig is entry level grunt/”go-fer” job in our business, and I had long since graduated way beyond that level, so Denise was calling to see if I had a PA friend who might want to take the gig.  Of course, the show was that night, and they really wanted the PA there by about 4pm to meet the crew, get set up, etc.  It was a bit of an emergency scramble in the production department’s mind.

The first thought that went through my head was: “Wait a minute—You mean I could get into tonight’s Paul McCartney show not only for free (good seats were about $200 even in those days), but actually be PAID $200 to show up and work with the video crew, hangout backstage, and who knows what else?!!!  The only potential hang-up was that I was definitely NOT a technical guy, so the first question I asked Denise (with bated breath) was whether they really needed a CAMERA assistant with some technical know-how and not simply a production assistant who didn’t have to know jack shit other than how to carry this box here, and to stand over there, be a grunt who follows orders, etc.  If technical camera and lighting knowledge were required, I would have to decline the job in good conscience much to my potential dismay.  She assured me that absolutely no technical knowledge was required; the two camera dudes were running their own gear, and I immediately told her to call the McCartney tour producer back and tell her the gig was covered. 

Denise asked me how I knew I had a PA to do the gig so quickly, and I just said exactly what I was thinking (imagine that—Hahaha!): “Are you freaking kidding me?!!!  You call and offer to PAY ME $200 to go to a Paul McCartney show tonight and even wonder what I would say?!!!   She replied: “But you’re not a PA, and I didn’t even think you would be interested in working for a measly $200.”  I reminded her that I had played in bands long before I got involved in advertising (and for a lot less than $200/night!), and that Paul McCartney was one of the FREAKING BEATLES for Chrissakes!!!  I told that I was hanging up now and would be waiting very impatiently for her to call them back and confirm that the gig was definitely mine.  It was more than possible that the McCartney producer had put several PA feelers out there, particularly since it was on such short notice.  One of the first lessons you learn in self-employment is that the first person to answer the phone and say yes gets the job.  I paced around my house for about five minutes or so, the call came from them, and the gig was mine!!!  Some British chick told me when and where to show up, and I made sure I was early on that one!

I arrived around 4pm, and the show started at 7:30 or so.  I briefly met the two video guys I would be working with, and they explained that my job would be to help them “wrangle cable” as they walked around on stage shooting so they wouldn’t trip on it or disconnect it, and to mark the set list (as they handed me a copy) with which videotape numbers corresponded with which songs.  That took about 10 minutes; they gave me a brief tour of the backstage areas (including the dressing room where I first saw Paul and the band), and told me to meet them around 7 just before the show started.  They showed me the backstage area where the crew dinner was being served and told me to eat anytime between 5 and 6.  They went off and did their own thing leaving me free to do mine for the next couple of hours. 

I wandered around a bit and started getting hungry around 5:30 or so and hit the catering area for some food.  It wasn’t too crowded—There were a  few other crew members waiting in a short line, so I joined them.  A minute or two later, a  friendly, attractive woman with a British accent showed up in line behind me and started up a conversation about the caterer and the food.  She told me they traveled with their own caterer and that the food was five-star vegetarian.  I told her I wasn’t a vegetarian, but it all looked really good to me.  She assured me that it was because she picked the caterer and explained what everything was as we walked past the chafing dishes and were served.  I really do like any kind of food and took a helping of everything on the menu.

She then asked if she could join me for dinner, and who was Eric the lowly PA to turn down the company and conversation of an attractive English woman for dinner in VeegieVille backstage at the Paul McCartney show!  As we were walking to the table, I noticed that she walked with a limp (and she had already introduced herself as Heather), and then it suddenly hit me–My dinner companion was Paul McCartney’s wife Heather!  (Oh–THAT Heather–Hahaha!) I should also explain that a film crew dining room is typically banquet table seating of 8-10 people per table like a wedding.  We sat down at an empty table and I kept expecting others to join us (as would be typical), but nobody ever did.  My guess is that everyone else knew who Heather really was and didn’t want to intrude (though that clearly wouldn’t have been the case at all!)  We talked about everything from vegan food, the current tour to our past experiences on fashion photo shoots and a bunch of other stuff for about 30 minutes, and that was dinner.  I was already old and wise enough not to bring up her beyond famous husband in the conversation, although she dropped a few hints to let me know who she was at certain points during dinner.  I don’t mean that in a bad way—I think she knew that I really didn’t know who she was for quite a while and wanted to keep me from saying something stupid.  (Can you imagine if I had asked her who her favorite Beatle was—Hahahaha!!!  Or told her mine was John Lennon?)

After dinner I wandered around the hallways backstage at the arena for a while, and who should walk around the corner all alone but Paul McCartney himself!  I obviously knew after 15 years in the biz that I wasn’t supposed to acknowledge him, but I practically brushed shoulders with him as we approached each other, and I instinctively smiled and nodded my head “hello.”  Sir Paul politely nodded back, and that was the last I saw of him until the concert began. 

I met the video guys, and they gave me a few more details of what we were going to do.  Fortunately for me, we spent about 75% of the time on the stage itself wandering all around and getting Paul and the band from a variety of angles and views as they played.  The video guys were extremely bored with things since they had already been doing this the entire tour, but I was “wrangling that cable” and taking copious notes whenever they told me to! 

I do recall the show being a really good mixture of Beatles, Wings, and Paul’s solo stuff, and I’ve attached the set list below which indicates this was indeed the case.  In spite of the fact that the show was more that 3 hours with 2 encores, it went by really quickly for me.  My mind constantly switched back and forth between amazing enjoyment and awe at standing on stage listening to Paul McCartney from only a few feet away, to having to focus on my work enough to not fuck it up and make a major faux pas in front of Sir Paul and 20,000 other people!!!  Fortunately, it was really an easy PA job, and the video guys were pretty casual about everything.  Even if we (or the band!) didn’t get something exactly right, they had it from a previous show or could get it at the next based on the notes I was taking. 

It was a really great show in that Paul did some solo stuff on piano and guitar as well as the huge variety of music with the entire band as well.  Oddly enough, no one moment or song stands out for me, but it was just so cool moving around the stage for a few hours getting shots of Paul McCartney playing live.  We did spend about an hour in the house getting audience reaction footage, and I wasn’t very excited about that.  We did that during the encores and it was rather anti-climactic for me to say the least! But overall, I’d have to say that was the most fun I’ve ever had making $200. 

“And I get paid for doing this…”—Frank Zappa

“Modeling,” “Acting” and Jessica Chastain

As you already know if you’ve read any of my “work” stories, film and photo production often beats a “real job.”  Occasionally we get to meet famous people; in one case I actually got to model, and in another I was asked to be an “actor” in a scene with the very real actress Jessica Chastain. 

Although I was certainly fit in 2017 when I “modeled,” you are probably saying to yourself: “Eric is pretty old and sure as hell doesn’t look like a model!”  And you would be absolutely right!  The modeling story is best told in photos, so I’ll do it that way.  I was producing a shoot for a fashion client, and super fun dude Shannon was the photographer.  They didn’t have a male model for this particular shot so they asked me if I would give it a try.  Never one to refuse a challenge, I naturally agreed.  (At least they didn’t ask me back when I was a fat slob although it really wouldn’t have mattered as you will see!

Shannon shooting me in a scarf. Was I modeling that?
We don’t exactly look like a couple of models that were cast to be in the same shot, right?
Here’s your first clue…
OK–So now you know why the client didn’t care who the “model” was–Hahahaha!!!
The final shot. Man, do I have some fine-looking feet!!

Ok—So I played a bit of a joke on you with the “modeling” thing, but I really did get to act in a scene with Jessica Chastain in 2006.  Jessica was unknown at the time, and they were shooting part of her breakout film “Jolene” here in Arizona.  The weird thing was that 99% of my production work had always been advertising, but a quirk of fate got me hired on as part of the transportation department of a feature film for three weeks.  That was by far one of the longest single projects in my entire career. Seriously. We were shooting up in Prescott for a few days, and one of the production staff told me they needed to shoot some B-roll footage of Jessica riding in a small bus. In the script, she was going to the juvenile loony bin and they needed a driver to both drive and act at the same time. 

Driving was no problem of course, and thankfully my “scene” with Jessica was quite brief.  During our drive to the juvenile asylum, a rebellious “Jolene” lights up a cigarette and deliberately catches my eye in one of those large rear view school bus type mirrors daring me to do something about it.  My “acting” consisted of giving her a dirty look, shaking my head “no,” and continuing to drive while she continued to smoke.  I gave her a second look as if to say “we’ll deal with this when we get to the loony bin” and that was the end of it.  I was paid the princely sum of $50 extra to sign my “talent” release, and as far as I know the scene ended up on the cutting room floor.  But I’ve never actually seen the film, so I’m not 100% sure of that.  If any of you remember a porky dude giving Jessica Chastain a dirty look in the rear view mirror of a loony bin bus, please let me know and I’ll watch my feature film debut and swan song at the same time—Hahahaha!!

Waylon Jennings “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be PAs”

As you already know if you’ve read any of my “work” stories, film and photo production often beats a “real job.”  Occasionally we get to meet famous people, and Waylon Jennings turned out to be one of the coolest guys around.  It was in the mid-90s when Marc & I owned the production motorhome, and I had it on a Chevy truck commercial out at Apacheland, a faux “western town” movie set out in Apache Junction.  My motorhome was for the talent, which was Waylon Jennings, and I think the production department brought its own motorhome from Los Angeles, so the production office was in there or inside one of the buildings on set.

It was a rare rainy day in Phoenix, and I got Waylon and his wife Jesse Colter all settled into the motorhome, showed them where the fridge, snacks, and rest room were, and started heading out the door.  I left a walkie-talkie on the table near them and told them to just ask for Eric if they needed anything while they were waiting for the rain to stop and we could shoot them outside with the Chevy truck as planned.  As I was heading towards the door, Waylon said something to me along the lines of, “Hold on, son—Where are you going?  It’s raining outside and this is your motorhome, right?”  I replied that yes it was, and he proceeded to invite me to sit and chat with he and his wife for a bit.  Of course, this was against the standard protocol on set (and both of us knew it)—The lowly flunkies like me don’t just sit around hobnobbing with the stars, but what could I say?  I sat down across from he and Jesse, and he started talking to me like he was my uncle or something!  He was very gracious and down-to-earth, and was mostly asking questions about me—Stuff like how I got into the business, and what I liked and didn’t like as though we were just two regular crew members hanging out on set! 

I was a little uncomfortable at first, but Waylon was just such a chill dude that in a few minutes I forgot I was talking to one of the greatest country stars of all time and just got into the conversation.  Unfortunately, the bitchy LA producer didn’t miss a thing, and within a few minutes of our conversation starting, she called me on the walkie-talkie and told me I was needed outside for something.  Waylon told me to tell her that he still needed me in the motorhome for a few more minutes, so that was my response and we continued chatting.  About five minutes later, Ms. LA Producer poked her head in the door and actually saw us sitting down at the table together talking and she was definitely not pleased!  In her defense, I would have assumed the same thing she did (that I was some star-struck greenie who thought it was cool to hang out with the stars on set), and I would have been annoyed too.  She again repeated her request that I was needed outside, and I’ll never forget Waylon’s response.  He said: “What’s he gonna’ do out there while it’s raining?  I might need him in here; we’re just talking, and we’ll all come out when the rain stops and it’s time to shoot.”  I caught another dirty glance from Ms. LA, but I just kind of shrugged my shoulders in response.  Not that I wasn’t having a blast chilling with Waylon Jennings, but she still acted like it was my idea and that I should have been rude to the man who was making my day! 

The rain lasted quite a while, and we ended up talking about everything from the weather, to mundane aspects of production, and we fortunately did get to talk about his life and music too!  I told him I played guitar, so we talked about guitars, bands, and a whole bunch of cool stuff.  It turns out his wife Jesse Colter (a very successful country singer in her own right) was from Mesa, Arizona right down the road from Apache Junction where we were shooting, and that’s likely the reason the shoot ended up here in the first place.   I was lucky enough to have the pleasure of Waylon and Jessie’s company for over two hours—An unusually long rainstorm for dry, sunny Arizona.  Like I said, sometimes production beats a “real job” and I have to admit it was almost as much fun for me watching him piss off Ms. LA Producer as it was to hang with him for a couple hours.  Almost…

Michael Phelps’ Lighting Double–Or “It’s a Race to the Bottom”

Yeah, OK–I’m bragging. Deal with it–Hahahaha!!
The real Michael Phelps swims much faster than I do though!!

OK—No surprise endings here.  Yes, I indeed got the opportunity to be Michael Phelps’ lighting double for a couple of hours on a still shoot in 2017.  As many of you know, rock stars and athletes don’t waste hours of their time standing around on set while photographers and crews set up and tweak the lighting for god knows how long.  That’s usually left to a lowly crew member to just kind of stand in as needed throughout the pre-lighting process of a shoot.

In this particular shoot though, the “still photographer” was really more of a videographer/DP and didn’t know much about lighting still photo sets in a studio.  To his credit, he told his “producer” (and I use the term loosely—she was really his agent and knew little of actual production) to hire a stand-in who would wear the same swimming suit, etc. and allow him to light the shot as closely as possible before Michael actually went on camera. 

The plan was to shoot Michael in the studio in the morning (which didn’t involve me), and then go to Papago Park around mid-afternoon which I had set up as the location scout/manager for them.  Much to my surprise, I received a call from Ms. “Producer’s” assistant at 8:30 in the morning, many hours before I was supposed to meet them at Papago Park.  She was very nice, but completely green and all in a panic because the lighting double they had hired hadn’t shown up and bailed out on them at the last minute.  She inquired if I knew anybody who could be hired at the last minute on Saturday morning to head down to the studio immediately and do the gig.  I was rather perplexed and suggested the obvious answer that whatever talent agency they booked the slacker from needed to send a backup dude pronto. 

The PA was very nice (and about 18 years old!) but seemed not to know what I meant by the term “talent agency.”  She informed me that she had simply called a friend of a friend and asked him if he would do it.  Of course, I’m guessing this kid was all of about 20 years old as well, and didn’t see any problem with simply “changing his mind” (his car wouldn’t start—Seriously, dude?!) and leaving the shoot in the lurch.  I asked young PA girl how much she offered to pay the dude to get out of bed at 7am on Saturday morning, and the mystery about why he wouldn’t show up was solved.  $50.  Seriously?!!!  I told her I needed to talk to the “producer” for a second and she didn’t see any problems with the price or the way they had done things either!!!

I told them I didn’t have a handy list of swimmers or anyone else I could call on Saturday morning for an immediate job for the princely sum of $50, so I sighed deeply, muttered a few curse words under my breath, thanked myself for taking my 54-year-old ass to the gym the past few years, and got into my car.  I took one for the team, but I will freely admit it was an honor to actually be able to pull that shit off at my age!  I was annoyed at the time, but looking back on it now, I am very grateful to be offered that unique opportunity and to help out some clueless newbies in the process.  The local crew was kind of looking at me funny wondering how the hell Eric the producer/location guy ended up in front of their lights in a bathing suit. And the state of the so-called “production” department was revealed to have become exactly the expression my friend Denise and I had been calling it for the past decade at least—“A race to the bottom…”

Heidi Klum Does Hair & Makeup… On Me!

Back in the 1990s, I did a lot of work on old-school fashion catalogs, most of them out of New York.  My ex-wife Sandy and I had East-West Productions, and at the same time Marc & I were partners in a production motorhome via Cinemasters.  I used to do everything in those days—Be the local producer/location guy and chauffeur everyone around in the motorhome.  I honestly can’t remember the particular client, but Heidi Klum was one of their regular fashion catalog models long before she became famous.  I had worked with her several times by then with the same client, so we knew each other on a casual professional level.  She was in her early 20s or so and was always a really fun, easygoing person who never took any of this stuff too seriously. 

We were shooting down in Tucson on one of Arizona’s rare rainy days.  The photographer was struggling a bit to find overhangs to park the models under in Tucson’s barrio district, so each shot was taking quite a bit of time.  I think he was shooting a double or triple (we usually had 3-4 models each day), so Heidi and I were the only ones in the motorhome, and she was a little bored.  To relieve her boredom, Heidi got the bright idea that it would be fun if she did hair and makeup on me, a rather plain 35-year-old dude who was not remotely photogenic.  I looked at her quizzically, but within a nanosecond or so thought: “What the hell—If Heidi the Hottie wants to fondle my hair and face for a while, who am I to disappoint?!!! 

At this point she told me to sit at the hair and makeup station but that I had to remove the mirror so I would have no idea what she was doing until she was done.  Who was I to say no?  For the next 45 minutes or so I got a complete makeover from one of the most beautiful (and funny!) women on the planet.  To her credit, Heidi gave me the complete treatment including face makeup, eye makeup and a completely new hairstyle (good for her and I that I actually had kind of long hair!)  I got the curling iron, hairspray, and the whole nine yards.  Coincidentally, I had taken a couple of years of German in high school (thank you, MUHS!!!), and I could still remember a few hundred words or so.  I’m sure she was impressed—NOT—Hahaha!

As we were finishing up, I asked Heidi when I would get to see her fine work.  I was honestly imagining that I had become some kind of beautiful drag queen from the neck up and really was curious to see what I looked like as a femme gay dude or a “woman” (long before the days of #LGBTQXYZLMNOP, etc.!)  She then explained that we were finished and she was ready to “model” with me outside live in front of the entire crew!!!  I asked if I could at least see what I looked like first; Heidi refused of course, and led me arm-in-arm down the sidewalk toward the rest of the crew. 

Well, as soon as we got close enough for them to see me, everyone broke out into derisive laughter!  Of course, I didn’t know exactly why but the photographer and his assistant were more than happy to show me via their Polaroid camera.  They snapped a few Polaroids of Heidi and I arm-in-arm on the sidewalk, and I waited anxiously for the Polaroids to develop (yes, I know I’m old, dammit!)  When they finally came out, I looked something like the image at the end of this post from the neck up.  I was appalled on the one hand but totally laughed my ass off on the other hand, because after all: “If you can’t have fun doing this, you’re doing it wrong!”  And Heidi obviously agreed wholeheartedly with this sentiment.

So the obvious question remains in terms of where the original Polaroids are and why the hell am I not posting those?  Well, I sure wish I had those to share now, but I have only myself to blame.  I took the Polaroids at the time, tossed them on the dashboard of the motorhome and finished the shoot a few days later.  We had all had our laugh and I didn’t think anything more of it.  Stupid, stupid me got back home with the motorhome and while cleaning it up after the job, mindlessly threw the polaroids in the trash!!!  I never gave it a second thought.  We had our laughs on a rainy day, and Heidi wasn’t a household name yet, so why would I save them?  Who would have thought I’d kill to have them now to share with the world.  Thank you Heidi!  That memory is unique and priceless and I’m extremely grateful for it.  I am glad you stuck to modeling and didn’t get into hair & makeup though! 

Eric “Mrs. Doubtfire”

I didn’t look exactly like that, but you get the idea
Heidi in her younger days when we were doing this catalog stuff. Imagine posing for a photo with her! Even if I looked like Mrs. Doubtfire–Hahahaha!!!

Scruffy Saves the Day!

:30 Version of The Scruffs

TV Commercial – PetSmart – Dog Food – Memorable Mealtimes – Dinner With Dancing – Savings Instore – YouTube

:15 Version on YouTube–The :30 has a lot more Scruffs!!!

We were doing a couple of PetSmart commercials at one of my Arcadia homes (thank you, Shawna and family!) and everything went according to plan on the first spot in the morning. I knew it would be a long day to shoot two spots, so just for the hell of it I decided to bring my dog Scruffy (aka “the Scruffs”) to “work” with me so he wouldn’t be home alone all day. He wasn’t cast in the shoot or anything–We already had talent dogs for that.

My good friend Denise was the producer and about 90 minutes after lunch ended she came out to the garage talking to me in a panic. Apparently, the “talent” dog they booked to do the “Dinner Dance” was great at the audition, but now that there were lights, cameras, and 25 people watching, the poor thing got stage fright and wouldn’t do the dance. The conversation quickly moved in the direction of what the “Dinner Dance” entailed, and it was really nothing more than a boy holding a treat up in the air while his dog danced around on its hind legs.

“Can the Scruffs do something like that?” Denise asked me. I smiled and chuckled and said that for $10K the Scruffs could do whatever you asked him to! (I really didn’t say that but I wish I would have–Hahahaha!) I explained that the Scruffs would do it for me, but I had no idea whether he would do it on set either. With nothing to lose of course, we brought Scruffs in the house and he must have done 30+ takes in an hour or so. You are such an awesome dog, and I love you Scruffs!!!

Production Photos 1

I could sit here until 2022 posting production stills, but you get the idea. It sure beats a “real job!”

Feel free to share your stories and memories or send me some cool stuff we worked on together. Man, it was fun working with all of you! (Most of the time 🙂

“Instinct de Morte” in Monument Valley
Uh Oh–I know whose camera car that is!!
One of many PetSmart shoots over the decades. Gotta love “shooting dogs”–Hahahaha!
Jaci & Amber working hard!
Jaci and Eric working hard!
Wish the wimpy German client would have chosen this version. Only humor can make bug spray interesting!

Film & Photo Production–It Beats a “Real Job!”

Just another day at “the office” in beautiful southern Utah.
Ivo the German car photographer always had a sense of humor…

One of the things I’m most grateful for is that I never had to work a “real job” after graduating from ASU in 1987.  If you’ve read my story “Do You Have the Term Paper Blues?” you know about 10 years of one of my accidental career paths, but the bulk of my career (almost 28 years!) was spent working on photo and video shoots for advertising projects. 

My career in advertising production began completely by accident as well when I was introduced to Marc by my friend Robert or my neighbor Rick (I think—You guys can let me know how Marc and I actually met.)  Marc and I were casual friends for a while, and at some point Marc gave my number to another Mark who called me a few weeks later (July 1991) asking me if I wanted to be a production assistant (PA—a fancy word for “go-fer”) on a beer commercial that was shooting the following day.  I had never been on a set before, so Mark was authorized to offer me the princely sum of $75/day for an unlimited number of hours working in 115-degree heat!  Me being me, I thought “what the hell—I’ll give it a try,” and the assholes with attitude from a Miami production company worked my ass from 4am-10pm for the next two days!  I did ask Mark though what the hell anyone would be doing out in the middle of the desert in the dark, and he told me that I would soon find out.

In hindsight I did manage to do something smart after I got Mark’s call for the job though.  I called my friend Marc who had about a year or two into the film production biz by this point, thanked him for the referral, and told him a little bit about the gig at 4am the following morning.  I shall be forever grateful for the two pieces of advice Marc gave me before my first PA gig.  The first thing he said was to let anyone’s snotty attitude roll off you “like water off a duck’s back.”  And the second piece of sage advice Marc gave me was to look around closely on set and see where I wanted to end up in terms of my ultimate job goal.  He told me being a PA was strictly entry level and I needed to figure out what I really wanted to do as quickly as possible to have any long-term success in the film biz.  He briefly described the various departments to me, and I was off to the races on a few hours sleep (imagine that—Hahahaha!)  Life-changing advice to be sure.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Marc!!!

When I showed up at 4am at the corner of Hayden and Dynamite roads in Scottsdale (vacant desert then—now upscale homes worth seven figures!), a few other PAs and a location manager were wandering around in the dark with flashlights telling people where to park, etc.  Someone grunted that I was “the new guy,” told me where to park and to get out and follow him, be quiet, and do what I was told.  I followed Marc’s first piece of advice and did exactly that!  I was still wondering what the hell was going to happen out here at zero-dark-thirty am, and as the sun rose all my questions were answered.  By 6am the dark, lonely desert was full of cars, trucks, motorhomes, horses, piles of equipment, and about 100 people or so.  I soon found out that we were shooting a Stender beer commercial, and the client was from Holland I think. 

As the initial shock wore off and the sun rose ever higher, I began to follow Marc’s second piece of advice and look around at the various departments and what they were doing.  I immediately ruled out the grip & electric department when I saw about 10 dudes sweating their asses off unloading 18Ks and such from a couple of 10-ton trucks!  It was pretty much the same for the art department as I watched them build a set as fast as they could in the blazing heat.  At some point, I had to go into the production motorhome to meet the Miami production team and get my first “go-fer” assignment.  When I saw a bunch of people in a mobile office working on typewriters, calculators, etc. (yes—Stop telling me I’m old—Hahahaha!) in a somewhat air-conditioned space (hey–90 degrees in the shade sure beats 110 in the sun!) I made a mental note that production was definitely something I could do.  I had a college degree and some organizational skills, so I knew production was a strong possibility for me. 

As the day went on, I eliminated some obvious things like hair, makeup, and wardrobe (no straight dudes back in those days, although dressing beautiful women certainly had its appeal—hahahaha!), and I knew I didn’t have the technical skills or patience to learn them required to be a camera geek.  About mid-afternoon I noticed a guy sitting in an SUV with the windows rolled up, the motor and A/C obviously running, and he was looking at a map.  Now I had always loved geography and maps as a kid (I was one of those geeks who stapled all the National Geographic maps to my bedroom wall–it was literally almost completely covered much to my Mom’s chagrin!), and that guy seemed to have the best job on the set at that particular moment.  I asked someone who that was, and it was Mike the location manager.  I asked what the location manager did and was told that he scouted and photographed various location options for the client and then negotiated all the details in terms of prices, logistics, paperwork, made maps, etc. and made sure it all went smoothly on the shoot days.  Ka-Ching!!!  Production job #2 was staring me in the face! 

Marc and I eventually bought a production motorhome and both ended up as location scouts and production coordinators before Marc got a more steady corporate gig as a cameraman, which is what I think his goal became at some point.  I continued on as a location scout/manager and producer for the next couple of decades, and damn I miss not doing it anymore!

There are literally hundreds of production stories any of us in the industry could tell (and I’ll probably tell a few pretty soon), but I’ll sum up what I loved about production in a few bullet points and let all of you share your own memories, stories, photos, etc. in the comments (or send me an email if you don’t want to go public—Hahahaha!  I’ll keep your secret—“Scout’s Honor!)

–I had the pleasure of traveling all over the state (and occasionally a few other states) to more amazing locations than I ever dreamed possible.  I’ve seen the most scenic spots imaginable, the rattiest underbellies of cities and towns, and been in mansions and hundreds of other places I never would have been in if it weren’t for my “job.”  (Remember—It’s not a “real job!”) 

–I had the even greater pleasure of working with a lot of amazing local people who I consider friends to this day, and I met clients, crew, actors, models, etc. from all over the world.  Although we often worked very long 12-18 hour days, there was typically a lot of down time on set when some of us were free to stand around and socialize, tell jokes, talk about life, etc. waiting until someone needed us.  I’ve met everyone from famous athletes, actors, rock stars, and models to regular folks just like me from all over the planet.  Who wouldn’t be grateful for all of that?!!  It sure beat sitting in the same cubicle day after day like many people do.  Thanks again, Marc, Mark, and all of you I met along the way!