Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Making of Season's Greetings on Super-8 Film starring Santa Clause and the Original Miracle on 34th street Sleigh.



The four pictures above represent actual Super-8 Frames from different award winning super-8 shoots that I have done over the years. The lower right hand image from above is from my Super-8 Shoot with Santa and the Original Miracle on 34th Street Sleigh. I would market the Finished commercial as a "Season's Greetings" that Cable Companies around the country would "bonus" to their favorite advertisers during the BUSIEST TIME OF THE YEAR.


I did a sell the two commercials I made to a couple of cable systems, but frankly, I was far too young and inexperienced to understand that market penetration mattered more than maximum profitability in each market. I made these two Season's Greetings Promos back in 1988 and 1989. Back then, Video Editing cost $250.00 an hour!

What is probably just as fascinating is that Louis Febre created the music for one of the two spots. I met Louis through a mutual friend when he was just starting out. I KNEW Louis was going to be famous when I walked into his home studio and he showed me a sample from a low budget movie that he was putting the finishing touches on. I seriously wanted to go out right then and there and make my own feature just so Louis would do the music.

The Santa Sleigh I rented was from the prop department of Disney Studios. I was told the Sleigh I was renting was the actual Sleigh used in the original "Miracle on 34th Street Movie!" Unfortunately, the flatbed truck I was renting might have been just as old and had THE WORST SHOCKS IMAGINEABLE.

We drove 75 miles down to Laguna Beach to be near our Santa...(Santa had driven up to my location for other Season's Greetings shoots, so I obliged him by driving down to where he was going to be for this one). My friends Tony and Julie came along and were my valued helpers.

The 75 mile drive to meet Santa was HORRIBLE...the darn truck was bobbing up and down like an out of control jackhammer the whole way down. Either the shocks were just plain terrible, or because it was a flatbed truck, the shocks were designed to work better when the flatbed was weighted down.

Santa had a starring cameo role in my Season's Greetings Promo that I was making and was gracious enough to glide in onto the flat bed. Of course, even though Santa landed perfectly on the back of my flat-bed truck rental, nothing else really went as planned for the rest of the night.

I set-up my Super-8 Camera on the front part of the flat-bed truck, facing towards the back. We began to shoot some night time-exposure footage designed to look like Santa was flying through the sky with lights streaking above and behind him.

The shot was framed in such a way so that "TV Safe" would cut off the part of the sleigh that was actually touching the back of the flat bed truck. TV Safe means that when you are watching TV, you don't see the entire area of the picture frame, a portion of the picture on all four sides is "hidden" from normal viewing. By carefully framing my shot, I could "hide" the part of the sleigh that was touching the flat-bed truck in the part of the frame that does not get seen by a normal television set.

When I started filming, I remember thinking, "Wow, I'm actually doing this shoot! I got a Santa, an actual Santa Sleigh from Disney, my friends helping me...this is amazing!" And it was, for about five minutes.

Our Santa was a hearty soul, so fake pillows were not required. Our jackhammer truck moved down the road, Santa waving to the masses in Laguna Beach in the middle of a Warm July California Night from the cheery confines of our "Miracle Sleigh".......and because all good things must come to an end, the Sleigh started to list to one side.

It was quite loud on the truck, just horrible filming conditions, the wind was blowing even though the truck was not moving that quickly. Suddenly I realized the Sleigh was listing to one side more and more. The Sleigh was crumbling from the jackhammer action created by our rental truck. I was destroying the Original Miracle On 34th Street Sleigh, and I hadn't even gotten my shot yet!


We pulled over and assessed the situation. I couldn't believe that I had destroyed the sleigh so quickly. The idea that I might have to cancel the shoot with all that had gone into preparing for that night seemed beyond my comprehension.

Tony helped me rig a couple of apple boxes and a solid pelican case underneath the nearly broken underside of the Sleigh. I forget why I had the apple boxes, but I had been "raised" to always have apple boxes on film productions. The pelican case was for my still camera.

The silver stuff pictured underneath the sleigh actually covers the apple boxes from view.
Well, after tying off the crumbling sleigh with rope and shoring it up as best we could, resting the sleigh on the apple boxes and pelican case, AND telling Santa to ride the Sleigh like a jockey coming down a homestretch run who gets up off the saddle, we were able to continue, barely, and everything held together, barely...

It's hard knowing when to quit when you KNOW you won't be doing this type of shoot again anytime soon. "Just one more shot, no really, just one more shot".
We filmed for a couple of hours. We kept filming even after the battery in my sungun light had gone dead. I had ruined the lead battery because it continued to draw a current even after the light had completely disappeared. When a lead battery goes below 10.2 volts, it starts to internally destroy itself.

Even though the Sleigh continued to, uhm, disintegrate, it seemed to settle into a slow-motion type of disintegration. We were able to finish the shoot, and I was satisfied that I had gotten something I could use, on Super-8 film. However, that 75 mile jackhammer drive back home was pretty depressing. A 150 mile roundtrip just so that I could be fair to my Santa and save him a trip up to my part of town...what a moron I was!

I had better streets to film what I needed just miles from where I lived, and that should have been the overriding factor in my decision as to where to shoot. Live and Learn. The next day, when I finally looked at the Sleigh in the light of day, I was pretty sure I was going to never work in this town again.
I consulted with Dad over the sleigh situation and he seemed to think it was not hopeless. Since the Sleigh was primarily made out of wood, he suggested we try elmer's glue to save the day. Amazingly enough, most of the damage was to the underside of the sleigh rather than the cosmetic exterior. We used Elmers Glue and crushed, pulpy sawdust as filler and began mending all the weaken areas.

Perhaps it was ironic that Santa's Sleigh, constructed to take him around the world in blizzard like conditions, would need the sun's warm rays to harden the Elmers glue sawdust concoction. Waiting to see if the Glue concoction would make a difference was like watching lotto numbers being picked even though I had no ticket. The best I could hope for was returning the sleigh just as I had received it.

Cut to a music crescendo of a new day dawning, the birds tweeting, the reindeer perking up their heads in disbelief, dad and I had made the sled much much sturdier than it was when we first rented it! The elmers glue really did reinforce the various undercarriage joints that had weakened. I was so proud of the "fix" my dad had helped me accomplish on the sleigh, (probably prouder than the final product I created.) that I WANTED TO TELL THE PEOPLE AT DISNEY HOW WELL WE HAD FIXED THE SLEIGH...

Now, that would have been pretty stupid, wouldn't it?

Instead, I waited until I was convinced that the gluing had truly fixed the sleigh before returning it. I held my tongue, changed my name (kidding), and never heard anything bad from Disney.

However, the truck rental place wanted to charge me an EXTRA day because I showed up something like 30 minutes after the one day deadline. I reminded them that they had immediately stamped my invoice when I had come to pick up the truck, even though they made me wait 45 minutes to get the truck, and that they had waited to stamp my invoice for returning the truck UNTIL it was my turn in line, easily another half an hour.

I was not about to pay an extra day for the down-time they caused. I finished the Season's Greetings Promo, and managed to sell it in a couple of very small cable markets, but I never did recoup the 5,000 dollars in expenses that not only that night, but other nights added up to...(that is another story).



If you are planning on creating or broadcasting a commercial and want an objective, outsiders point of view about your commercial, contact Alessandro Machi about his consulting services at...



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