Thursday, November 10, 2011

How I Became a Television Star -- And Almost Didn't

In early 2007 I appeared in a national television commercial. This is a story I wrote at that time explaining how it came to be:

      "Excuse me, Sir, would you be interested in . . .?" 
      "No. Whatever it is, I'm not interested." 
      Having grown up in and around New York City, I was suspicious when I was approached by a stranger with a clipboard in Grand Central Terminal. I thought it was either a request for a donation to a spurious charity or an attempt to sell me something I didn't need and didn't want. But when the man approached me a second time, saying "I'm not selling anything" and showing me a photo ID issued by Grand Central, I was at least willing to listen to what he had to say. 
      I'm glad I did, because it lead to an interesting experience, a stint as a very minor celebrity and a serendipitous payment of a few hundred dollars. You may have seen me on ABC television shouting "Frodo!" in a Spike Lee-directed commercial for the Feb. 25 Oscars telecast. My being approached in Grand Central was how it came about. 
      Two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, my wife Keleigh and I took the Shoreline East commuter train from Old Saybrook into the city to visit the Metropolitan Museum and have lunch and dinner in kosher restaurants. With the holidays coming up, I knew that it would be late October before we might have another chance. But when I was asked if I would be willing to audition for a commercial directed by Spike Lee, Keleigh and I decided to give up an hour or so of our museum visit, if both of us could audition. So we filled out some information sheets and release forms, had digital and Polaroid pictures taken, and were ushered into a large but unused waiting area where there were cameras and lights set up. 
      A couple of hundred feet away from where we were told to stand, a middle-aged Black man was sitting on a crate and saying lines to a young boy, who repeated them. My wife asked me why he looked familiar, and I looked closely and said "because that's Spike Lee." After two or three other would-be actors auditioned, Keleigh went up and gave her lines. It had been explained to us that the commercial would be for the Oscars telecast, and the idea was ordinary people saying famous lines from classic films. 
      I thought that Keleigh's audition was very good, and when she finished and it was my turn, Spike Lee told me that he thought so as well. He gave me some lines to say -- some of them were familiar, some not, and I didn't remember everything that I said, though I do remember saying "ET phone home" and "Luke, I am your father." 
      A month later we got a phone call from Chiat-Day, the Los Angeles advertising agency producing the commercial. They told me that they wanted to use some of my footage -- unfortunately only mine, not Keleigh's -- if I was still willing to allow them to do so. If so, they would Fed-Ex a release and a contract which was to be signed and returned immediately. 
      I didn't know what they would use until the morning the Oscar nominations were announced, at which time the commercial began running on, and on television. I watched myself shout "Frodo", and I must have seen that moment a hundred times since. To be honest, I didn't even know who or what "Frodo" was until I "Googled" the word after seeing the commercial for the first time -- it's a line from "Lord of the Rings." I also don't know how much I will get paid, because the compensation formula in the contract was a bit complicated, but it should be between 600 and 1200 dollars -- much of which, God willing, Keleigh and I hope to use this summer in Jerusalem to help strengthen the Israeli economy. All in all, it was an interesting experience, but I'm not planning on giving up the rabbinate to go into acting full time.

Note: the actual payment for the commercial turned out to be about $3600, not the $600 to $1200 I anticipated it would be.

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