Be Careful What You Wish For
July 15, 2012 by JoBe Cerny
I love thoroughbred race horses. One day my agent called me to audition for a commercial for Washington Park Race Track. I loved the script. But I wanted to win the job so I could spend an entire day with a racehorse. But it was ironic had to go to a cattle call to win the audition. Almost a hundred actors were auditioning so the odds of me winning the commercial were high. Since I grew up less than a mile away from Hawthorne Race Track and Sportsman’s Park in Cicero, I knew that long shots won once in awhile, too. The ad agency flew hired an L.A. director, so that was an added incentive. I gave a good audition, and since there were three roles, I hoped the director would make me part of an audition winning trifecta.
A day later my agent called and told me I made call-backs which improved my odds considerably. Ten actors were called back and the director wanted to mix and match us in different combinations. Frankly, I wanted to work more with the horse than the actors, but I survived cut after cut, and take after take. (The horse’s agent already booked the horse.) The director settled on two final groups of three actors. The other group went first and worked with the director for fifteen minutes. Then my group was called into the room. The director loved us on the first take. He poked his head out the door and told the first group they could leave. That was a good sign. Then he asked us if we would mind doing few more takes and we agreed. Fifty-two more takes later he said we could go home.
Our persistence paid off, our group booked the job. It was a funny script and I had the punch line. So I was even happier. The commercial was going to be shot in a disco dance bar. The commercial involved three guys bellied up to a bar with a horse. It was a good attention-getting visual with a funny pay-off punch line. No brainer, right? After fifty-two takes, the actors knew their lines. The crew was set up to shoot before the actors got there. The trainer brought the racehorse on time. It was gentle and well-trained. I figured we would be done in time to go the track that afternoon. But, I doubted the director ever worked with a horse before. I’ve never met a horse that was house-broken. As far as the horse was concerned the bar was a barn. The crew was ill-equipped to deal with an animal that urinates in litres and defecates in pounds. The crew wasn’t happy. The owner of the bar wasn’t happy. Craft services were prepared to feed the cast and crew, but they weren’t ready to feed or water a horse.
I also noted the director occasionally snuck a drink from the bar. He was not dealing well with the stress of directing an animal. As we shot the manure piled up and the floor needed frequent mopping. We shot lots and lots of takes. There is a reason smart actors don’t act with babies and animals. By mid-afternoon, the horse got a little fidgety. So the trainer gave him a pill to settle him down. We continued to shoot more and more takes. At one point, I noticed the horse had its head resting on the bar and its eyes were closed. That must have been quite a pill.
The last shot was going to be the punch-line. This line would tell the viewing audience why the horse was in a bar. The director called the agency creative team together and said we didn’t need to have me say the punch line because, it was implied. We all looked at each other in disbelief! We all knew it was implied because he heard it 52 times during the call back. Ultimately, he refused to shoot the line. Since the horse was asleep, I didn’t press the point. So the commercial was aired without a punch line, and everyone that saw me in the commercial asked me why was the horse in the bar. When I recited the punch line, they laughed.
The director made one final mistake. After the trainer woke the horse and led him back through the bar, somebody accidentally turned on the moving lights under the disco dance floor as the horse stepped onto it. It had moves Travolta never dreamed of!