ANCRAMDALE—It was a top secret operation.
I’ll probably have to seek asylum somewhere when this hits the newsstands.
It involved the highly sensitive, cloak and dagger world of… beverage ads.
The name of this particular beverage must not be spoken, so let’s just say English people are always drinking “a spot” of it and it was the guest of honor at a famous party thrown at Boston Harbor 230 years ago. The first syllable of the brand name sounds like the place where most birds choose to lay their eggs, but keep that under your hat.
You may be under the mistaken impression, like I was, that the purpose behind advertising is to get the word out about a product so people will buy it. But I discovered the idea is to go to great lengths, spend a lot of money to stage an elaborate production to make a product look good, but not to tell anybody about it while you’re at it.
Beckenrah Farm owner and plastic surgeon Sherwood “Woody” Baxt, MD, FACS, let me know that “a commercial” was being shot at his place this week. He was excited about it and thought some publicity would be a “boost” for the town. He described how a production crew of 27 people was bringing in a motor home and “a massive water truck” and they were going to shoot this scene with two people frolicking about in the fields while being sprayed with water to create the illusion of a sun shower. Sounds refreshing. He said the crew would be staying at the Swiss Hutte and that he had provided the name of a local caterer to feed them on location.
Commercial shoots happen here now and then. A TV spot was recorded in the Village of Kinderhook last week.
Ann Marie Schaummann at the Columbia County Tourism Department says that her office has records only for location shoots in the county that take place on public property and require a public safety detail provided by the Sheriff’s Office. Ms. Schaumman said four such shoots have taken place so far this year. Last year, there were two. She said the department wants to create interest in Columbia County as a destination for shooting films. Her number is 518 828-3375.
The good doctor said he would let me know the Ancramdale production schedule and would arrange an interview with the director. Then he called me called me back saying that the director decreed “absolutely” no photos or interviews.
The doctor found it “hysterical” and guessed what was really going on was “a secret mission” involving “the launching of a rocket ship to Mars from our place.”
Even though I wouldn’t be getting any interviews or photos, Dr. Baxt said that shouldn’t prevent me from going to the farm to observe what was going on. So on Tuesday I went.
Given the ho-hum demeanor of the cows, horses, sheep, goats, ducks and one llama that live at the farm, it seemed like business as usual on their hilltop paradise. But a couple hundred feet behind the barn on a grassy expanse overlooking the rural landscape that rolls off toward the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains in the distance, there was an assemblage of not-what you-usually-see-on-a farm equipment and people.
Someone who luckily had not gotten the keep-your-lips-zipped memo, told me the whole production had a price tag of $325,000—all in the pursuit of a single photograph that was to be a full-page ad in a national publication.
I saw the water truck, a tanker carrying four tons of water, someone told me. The truck had come from Rosendale in Ulster County. I saw the motor home, which I was told was the make-up trailer, next to a small tent, probably 10 X 10 feet, and an equipment truck, from which the crew periodically retrieved needed gadgets.
The main stage was a small section of the field, with a large reflective screen on one side and two or three tall tripods, about 12 feet high, each holding a single bright light. The lights had black umbrellas behind them and one of the lights was flashing.
A photographer was working with one of the models, a young thin man, wearing mustard brown-colored pants and a t-shirt with a plaid button-down, long-sleeved shirt over it. The young man had his shirt unbuttoned and kept running and spinning around, looking upward with his arms outstretched, giving the impression that he was getting rained upon. But instead of shielding himself from it, he seemed to sort of like it and maybe thought it was kind of fun. Every so often he would throw in a couple of cartwheels and a forward tumble-type move. (He was no Gene Kelly.) All the while the photographer was down on his knees clicking frame after frame.
Every so often the model changed his t-shirt and a woman wearing a waist-pack, came out and retouched his make-up. He was undoubtedly working up a sweat doing all that rolling around in the sun.
I stood around watching for an hour or so, no one from the crew spoke to me, except this one guy who said he was sorry for kicking up dust on me as he drove by in his black Mercedes van.
I never did get to see any shimmering shower simulation or water being sprayed, but oddly enough when the crew needed some refreshment—they broke out—bottled water.
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