Back in the first years of our marriage, before I gave up my career to be a wife, and years later, a mother, I was a senior art director on a Big Three SUV account. (Yes, chances are very good all of you have seen my work both print and television.) Anyhoo, one of the fun, or very grueling, aspects depending upon your outlook, of being an senior art director on a Big Three SUV account was that to shoot the commercials (and print), you, a few agency types, Hollywoood director, an entire film crew, catering crew, a brand-spanking new SUV prototype (with its own handlers) and a famous as well as profesional race car driver, had to travel to some of the most remote, yet incredibly beautiful places this country has to offer. Once there, you had to park it, literally, for weeks at a time, to get the perfect shots needed for you 30 seconds of film. The perfect shots took so long because perfect shots are only capable of being shot, literally, at a few minutes before sunrise and a few minutes before sunset a day at a time. So, this means getting to the location before sunrise to set up to catch the first attempt at a perfect shot, and then, if you're far enough away from your hotel, staying out there all day to wait for the few minutes before sunset to get the next attempt at a perfect shot. Then, when you concluded you had nailed it, you and the entire caravan moved on to the next location.
So, being (usually) the only girl on the shoot, I learned quickly how to sit around on rocks and logs, chewing the fat with all of the guys. And even in the wilderness, a pony-tailed Hollywood director who had been to Woodstock and was now charging about 50 grand per day (20 years ago) for just his services, not his crew or materials, even becomes just one of the guys. I would amuse the guys with stories of my life and my family. Then, they in turn would amuse me with stories of their lives and careers. This one was has always been a favorite.
In the 60's, '70's, and early '80's, the environnmentalist movement gained a lot of street cred and power in California with their efforts to save the California Condor. The California Condor (pictured above) is a very large, ugly, and mean bird in the vulture family. By the late '70's there was, perhaps 3 or 4 mating pairs left in all of California. These birds resided in a protected environment and were all protected by local, state and probably federal governments and woe to the fool who sneezed on one. The Bastille would've been a better fate.
About this time ( in the '80's) the American car maker, General Motors, (remember them?) was prepared to roll out a new vehicle, which it was hoped would bring the car maker back to its former glory. The Carter years with gas rationing and price controls along with the new and much better Japanese imports had not been kind to GM. This car was a comeback kid. So, the ad guys couldn't help seeing a connection with the California Condor and lo and behold, came up with this idea of having the car, at an incredible California sundown, sit at the base of one of those oceanside Californian craggy cliffs while the voiceover prattled on all about the car's finer attributes and then, for the finish, have a California Condor with its great wingspan fly into view of the lens and over the car.
GM loved the idea.
So, the California Condor handlers (Audubon types on steriods) were approached and an agreement was struck (translation: large transfer of cash) and one of the 3 remaining male Condors was allowed to star in the commerical. As long as the Condor handlers and all of their assorted friends were allowed to be on the set for the shoot. No problem.
So the day came and it was gorgeous. The California Condor showed up with its handlers and all sorts of Very Big People in the endangered bird world were in tow, along with important GM people and important agency people. All of the assorted VIP's were seated in folding chairs behind the director down below the cliff and near the car, so they could watch the action via the monitor. The Condor and his handlers went up to the top of the cliff above the car, where he could be released, on cue from the director's walkie talkie and fly into screen like a good California Condor. Everything was set and ready to go, all that was needed was the perfect moment (literally) in the gorgeous California sunset for the director to say, "Action" and then a few moments later, "Set Free The Condor!" into his walkie talkie to his crew that was up on top of the cliff with the bird and its handlers.
Now everyone that knows California, knows it's always been the land of the liberals. And where ever liberals go, what do they bring with them besides monumental amounts of self-loathing, hatred of others, and failed dreams? Why monumental amounts of State and Federal regulations of course. What few people know about the film world is that it is run by the Unions. Yes, it is. Everyone on a set is a Union member of some sort. This means they must all do the jobs they have been hired for, no one else is allowed to do it. Or the director will never work in Hollywood again. So, even if the California Condor showed up at the set with his own handlers and all sorts of VIP's from the endangered bird world, once the film began rolling they were not allowed to touch a feather on his head. Only a Union guy could because those are Union rules. So, once the film began rolling the Condor became the responsibility of the props guy. Yes, the props guy. And because it was such an important moment in car advertising the props guy was given his own walkie talkie to hear the director's "Set Free The Condor."
I had mention earlier the California Condor is a mean bird. It is so mean it will attack. So, his handlers, understanding the bird had to sit around and wait for just the right moment in the sunset before he could do his stuff, so to speak, had shackled him and his wings (with metal chains) before they had ever arrived on the set so the Condor could not go crazy and harm anyone or, more importantly, harm himself. So up on the cliff, you have a props guy and the shackled Condor with his handlers waiting for the big moment. And then the big moment came. The sunset was close to peak perfection.
The director calmly called "Action."
The shooter, or DP as they're now called, began rolling film.
The film snapped.
The shooter had to open the camera and reload. Time was wasting. The sun was about to hit perfection and the moment would be lost. The DP had maybe a minute to fix the snaffoo. The director is screaming for all hands to assist. The crew is scrambling, everyone is moving fast as they can. The seated VIPs are getting nervous and begin fidgeting, wondering what will happen. Then the shooter screams he's got it. It's not too late, they might just get the perfect shot.
The director, still unnerved, screams "ACTION!!".
The film rolls. After a few moments, the director, into his walkie talkie, still unnerved, bellows, "SET FREE THE CONDOR!!!"
The prop guy hears his command and understands it's THE MOMENT. He reaches over and like a props guy of the old school picks up the huge bird and gives him the best heave over the cliff anyone had ever seen. The shooter sees the bird in flight and immediately picks him up on the lens. The director, the assorted VIPs all lean forward, looking to monitor awaiting for the Condor to do his magic with his enormous wingspan.
What they saw on the monitor instead, was one of the 3 remaining male California Condors struggling valiantly to free himself from the metal chains he was still bound in as the props guy had forgotten to set him free before he tossed him over the cliff and the struggling continued all the way down the side of cliff before the Condor landed (with a very audible 'thud') on the hood of the car, leaving a dent, taking about 3 good size bounces, leaving more dents, and landing on the ground with his neck stretched out at an most unnatural angle.
The entire crew was speechless. No one moved. Then, the Very Important People from the endangered bird world knew immediately what to do. They turned their hawk-like eyes on the important GM people. The important people from GM understood immediately what they had to do; write a check.
So, if you have ever wondered how the California Condor actually was saved from extinction, it was not because of the environmentalists. It was because of one whoopsie made by a props guys that required GM to make good.