So last Tuesday five exceptionally gorgeous individuals (and about 15 other producers, creative directors, photographers, and various other professionals) stormed our house to shoot a national print ad campaign for Major Alcohol Brand. (I’m too paranoid to reveal the actual company name, as those involved asked us not to share pictures of the ads on social media prior to the campaign release, obvy, so I’m erring on the side of caution here too.)
Like what though?!?! The experience was wicked cool, and some of these individuals were shockingly compassionate about our loss (yes, Matthew came up in conversation), so I figured it’d be a great topic for a post.
“So how’d this all come about?” you’re probably asking.
Well, about two years ago we designed and built a custom home. With our thin budget and specific wishes, suffice it to say we were way involved in the design and build process, working closely with a sole proprietor architect and eventually partially general contracting the construction phase.
In fact, we were so involved we possibly drove our first architect, with whom we mutually parted ways a few weeks before we broke ground, to insanity.
But said architect must’ve been at least sort of fond of us and our house. Because a little over a year ago, we received an email from him apologizing for his role in said mutual departure as well as asking if we’d be interested in hosting the filming of a Purina dog food commercial spanning two days.
Apparently our house met several detailed requirements – like correct area of town, nice yard, Craftsman style, one (or one and a half) story, light, wide plank, distressed hardwood floors… I think we met each of the super specific criteria except for white kitchen cabinets (ours are dark).
And he explained they’d pay us like $2,500, so we were like, “Sign us up!”
So this “talent scout” came over and took ~647 pictures of our house and yard. But we ended up being Purina’s second or third choice or something. (How disappointing.)
But the talent scout put the photos of our house in his look book to show other companies seeking random houses to use in commercials or print ads.
So from then on about once a quarter we received a call informing us a company was interested in using our house. (SSM Healthcare and Mercy Hospital were two of these companies.) But we were never picked – it was like the always-the-bridesmaid-never-the-bride type of scenario…
Until recently – we were notified that Major Alcohol Brand picked our house. (Apparently our house is set up great for a party!) So a few days prior to last Tuesday, I met some photographers over my lunch break, fully expecting they’d find something they didn’t like and go another direction (per usual). But instead, before they left, they asked, “Can we park a semi-truck in your driveway?” to which I responded, “Yes,” to which they replied, “Okay, see you at 8:30am Tuesday morning.”
We got the job!
I planned to come home only at lunch last Tuesday, but, luckily, I was sick that day, so I hung around the shoot the entire time. (Mark stayed home most the day too.) And I’m so glad we got to see it all, because it was such a fun, interesting distraction, and everyone was really nice.
I actually ventured to the doctor around 8:30am that morning, so I didn’t arrive home until 10:30am, when everything was already in full swing. Here’s the highlights from the day…
It was certainly a production – it’s amazing how much goes into getting the “perfect shot.” Indeed, an almost-semi truck parked in our driveway, several large wardrobe racks filled our garage, the models took over a bedroom and bathroom as their “changing space,” and creative directors, each with laptops, filled almost every seat at our dining room table.
The shoot actually took place in the kitchen/living room area, which was overtaken by lighting equipment and a large computer station (so the shots could be viewed in real time). Other props consisted of items necessary to make delectable-looking alcoholic beverages, so our sink area was basically turned into a bar with liquor, juice, fruit, etc.
Like you, I wondered why the hell Major Alcohol Brand would come to St. Louis and pick our house among all houses. While I love our house, I’m one hundred percent certain there are cooler houses in the world. (Like ALL of the ones on Million Dollar Listing New York and Los Angeles, for example, as well as many others, even in our city.)
Though I discovered Major Alcohol Brand’s preferred photographers are actually from St. Louis, go figure. And it’s cheaper to fly everyone to St. Louis than it is to fly the photographers and their equipment out to, say, Los Angeles. Also, Midwesterners are apparently cooler with letting swarms of people take over their houses for what, in the grand scheme of things, is a meager fee. So if a house in St. Louis fits the specs, it’s basically like hitting the jackpot. (Lucky us.)
I learned none of the models were from St. Louis either, despite St. Louis actually having talent agencies. Three were flown in from Los Angeles, one from Miami, and one from Chicago. I guess when company executives fall in love with a face, it doesn’t really matter where that face is from – they’re getting it.
Mark and I watched the models work, and we fantasized about how crazy it’d be if companies flew us around the world just to be hot. And it was also fun that people referred to the models as “the talent.” And talented they were – you couldn’t take a bad picture of ANY of them. And, let me tell you, the models “worked it” all day – it looked exhausting.
I talked to one of the guys who told me he worked for Wilhelmina Models. And I was like, “OMG really?! That’s awesome!” And he was like, “Do you know them?” And I was like, “Of course! I used to watch America’s Next Top Model!” And he seemed so impressed by my knowledge and told me, “That guy over there works for Ford Models.” And I was like, “I know Ford! And there’s Elite and Next and IMG.” And he was further impressed. Proud moment for me, this was.
The Major Alcohol Brand producers ordered so. Much. Food. Like enough food for 200 people despite there only being like 20 people there. So, needless to say, we ate well. Food consisted of pretty much the entire St. Louis Bread Company (Panera) menu for both breakfast and lunch. (Poor models really only ate yogurt and salad, but everyone else was living the dream.)
They also ordered four pizzas from Pizza Hut in case they needed pizza props for the shoot, but they didn’t use any of it, so we got to keep these leftovers too! But, annoyingly, none of the pies were sliced, because the Food Stylist didn’t know whether she preferred triangle or square slices.
That’s right, there were multiple “Food Stylists” on set, whose entire jobs were to make sure anything food or drink related looked perfect. And these people were anal! They had these fake ice cubes, made out of gelatin or acrylic that they placed carefully into the glasses, and if a model was holding a glass the wrong way, they’d be like, “You gotta turn it this way, so this ice cube captures the light correctly.” (That mother effing ice cube better shine bright like a diamond (sung in Rihanna voice), you know?)
Sometimes I want to be a Food Stylist. Like I’d rather decide whether a banana looks good on a table than continue making sure financial statements balance. But somehow I think this industry would be hard to break into, like it’s a there’s-only-seven-of-these-jobs-in-the-world type of career. And I bet there are already 37,000 people getting degrees in this via our awesome university system. And it’s really going to suck for them when they realize they’ll be saddled with their student debt forever.
All of those from Major Alcohol Brand as well as the creative agency flew in from New York, and, let me tell you, these people were awesome. So much so it made me wonder whether people in my chosen field just suck or are generally low on social skills? (Perhaps yes to both?)
We were given no instructions in advance of the shoot. So basically, we just cleaned our house. Prior to everyone’s arrival, I wondered out loud to Mark if we should take Matthew’s picture down from the living room. (It’s sitting on a sideboard to the right of the fireplace.) “No, he’s part of our family,” Mark answered, “And, besides, they gave us no specific instructions.” And I nodded, but I secretly wondered if I’d get painful questions from strangers as a result. Would I be able to handle this?
Almost immediately upon arriving home from the doctor I noticed someone had moved Matthew’s picture. I decided the questions would come eventually. And they did.
Within the first twenty minutes of hanging around the shoot, I was introduced to the Creative Director, a sweet woman, about 40 (though she looked 25), who asked excitedly, “So you have a baby boy?!”
“Yes,” I answered, “But sadly, he died… He was beautiful and healthy and perfect, but we lost him at 33 weeks after an emergency C-section. They couldn’t save him. He lived like 20 minutes. His umbilical cord was in a knot…” I explained nervously.
“I’m so sorry,” she offered condolences.
I don’t even know what else she said. But she didn’t say anything awful, like so many others do. And there was something about her – I could tell she wouldn’t treat me awkwardly. I took an immediate liking to her and, later that day, as I stood next to her as we gazed out our windows into the backyard, she asked, “What’s your little boy’s name?”
“Matthew,” I answered.
“Are you going to plant a tree for him?” she asked.
“Maybe so. We did our front landscaping after he died. So we’ll watch it grow, and it’ll remind us of him.”
“He’ll always be a very important part of your family,” she whispered, “And someday your other kids will grow up knowing him.”
I nodded. And I wondered how her reaction could possibly be so perfect, when we have family members who visibly cringe at the mention of Matthew’s name. I was speechless.
And later a member of the photography team pointed to my Angel Cloud picture and asked, “Does this cloud represent a baby?”
“Yes, it does…” I paused, “And actually, it’s extra special to us, because we lost our first and only son just seven months ago.”
“I’m very sorry, and I’m so glad you told me,” he replied, “The photo means so much more to me now.”
And I wondered how someone could get it so right again. Two strangers. Two perfect interactions. In one day. And each time it was so simple. Yet, it’s so rare anyone ever gets it right.
And I wondered if this post-child-loss world would be a little bit easier for each of us to navigate if such compassion were the rule and not the exception. If it’d be easier to actually be out in public and face each day.
I think maybe it would be. Of course, the loss itself wouldn’t be. But reintegration into society would be.
At 5:30pm everyone packed up and left as quickly as they’d arrived. I watched as the last member of the crew exited through the garage. And I smiled to myself – it’d been a fun day, for the first time in a long time. (Too bad it isn’t realistic to expect to experience such radical distractions very often.)
But it was a fun day nonetheless.