The Making of the "Not Actual Wal-Mart Commercials"
BY: LAURIE LEVIT, Producer of parody commercials
It all started at a political meeting. My old friend and colleague, Robert Greenwald politely asked what I was doing these days. I started with my usual Mommy task rundown, but made the fatal error of confessing that I was a little bored. A little light went on behind Robert’s smile and he invited me to stop by his office Tuesday afternoon.
It had been awhile since I had attended a production meeting. I had the clothes right, but the technology completely wrong. I was the only one in the room with paper. Laptops, digital cameras, conference call on the speakerphone, Blackberries – very 21st century. By the time I left two hours later, I had been exposed to countless EMF rays and had somehow agreed to produce 10 parody commercials with no budget, but recognizable talent.
I started by watching 61 real Wal-Mart ads. Wow. They were terrific. They had style, they were full of real feel-good people (lots of budget, no recognizable talent) and they made me want to run out and support Wal-Mart in any way I could. I began to doubt the project.
But a promise is a promise, so I started to call in the favors. Little did I know, but many comedy writers had just been waiting for someone to call with an outlet for their Wal-Mart humor. We got lots of volunteered material. Most of it funny. Lots of it foul. And, because they were all Hollywood writers, none of them had any respect at all for my no budget parameters.
But we did it. We found 12 scripts. And set out to make them. No one, NO ONE, would let us shoot in their retail establishment once they heard we were poking fun at Wal-Mart. The snacks someone volunteered to donate for the crew were pulled because Wal-Mart might be angry. Actors hungry for work refused us because they were afraid Wal-Mart might remember and not stock their DVD when/if they became famous.
We were undeterred. We made snacks, cast our own children and my son’s teacher’s daughter. We used that dreaded green screen technology to create the appearance of Wal-Mart without ever setting foot in a store. James Cromwell hopped on board as soon as he was approached – what a delight. Frances Fisher emailed Robert with a ‘how can I help?’ offer and flew down from Carmel to play his wife. Great – recognizable talent! Now for the budget restrictions.
Alan Smithee, the world famous director, gave us several days of inspired work. We found Wal-Mart vests (aka costumes) on EBay. Many college students were eager to be interns and drive all over LA for us. We managed to get a day at a spectacular university stage in exchange for a part in the commercials for a loved one. My dear friend, Sam, lent us her front porch. Certain we had cleaned up every Coke can and napkin, I found out the next morning we had blown a fuse and her alarm went off uncontrollably at 4 AM. I hope she really enjoys her boxed gift set of Robert’s DVDs.
My brother, the hotshot advertising executive, told me we could NEVER shoot more than two spots a day. So we shot six – each day. He’s my little brother. What does he know? As for me, I am back to carpooling. Okay it’s a little boring after my glamorous few months of free Diet Cokes, yanking Smiley’s head off of suffocating actors and hearing every bad Wal-Mart joke ever written. But I have learned to email with the best of them, and I think I might even be invited to my first movie premiere in years.