First, this blog post is dedicated to my good friend and coworker, Israel Diaz. I’m sure I would not be writing about this today without him. Thank you, Israel, for all your skill and vision. You do great work!
I am sure many of the people who follow me on Facebook have already seen this, but if you haven’t, here is the commercial Israel and I made:
Now let me tell you all about it.
For the longest time, I have watched depression medication commercials and thought they were hilarious. Let me start out by reiterating that I am talking about depression MEDICATION commercials. I have friends that suffer from depression, which is no laughing matter, and I am in no way making light of their struggle.
But the medication commercials for depression were always interesting to me.
They usually follow this pattern. A person is depressed. Just done with the world. They take a drug. They are slightly less depressed. They have the ability to get through the day now. There is a list of side effects listed that, when you think of how little has changed in the person’s life, might not be worth the risk. The math doesn’t add up. But you will notice even with things getting minutely better, they never smile.
Cut to my job. I work at the corporate office of a furniture company. We are efficient and wear many hats with no actual titles. But for the most part, I work on the website and am part of the advertising team.
Now lately our stores have been making quirky little videos which are creative and funny. They are shared internally. When I talked about them with Israel, our videographer and a real pro, I thought it was time for the Ad team to do one of our own.
Previously, I had ordered some furniture scheduled to be delivered the following Saturday. I talked with Israel about making a depression medication commercial but with the furniture as the drug. I imagined this guy in his apartment alone in a wobbly chair that breaks, and he shrugs and decides to sleep on the floor. He wakes up spitting out hairs from the carpet he slept on. Somehow he would get furniture, and there would be side effects listed, especially the one that says, “Retail therapy isn’t for everyone. Check with your financial advisor to see if a furniture purchase is right for you.”
Israel was all about it.
He wrote a very rough draft of a script.
Which I thought was all wrong.
It was like I had this vision that I had maybe shared a part of, but the rest of the iceberg was under the surface. So I wrote out what I had in mind. But if he had not written his version, I would never have been prompted to write one, so I am eternally grateful to him.
Because of the access to his talent, what I thought of as a good idea, and the timing of my furniture delivery, I knew we could make something great.
There was this idea pretty early on that the clothes would change. Initially, the character would wear blue, then after taking the “drug,” dress in neutrals, and finally in warm tones.
Also, the difference between our ad and a medication ad would be that our character would smile when he sees a furniture ad. Just a hint of a smile at the end before the screen goes black. That he would recognize at the end how his life had changed.
The other part was that we didn’t tell our boss what we were doing. April Fools Day was coming up, and I thought our ad would be the perfect thing to put on our social media. The one day we could get away with posting something like this.
While I do have a company card, I decided to pay for everything in case the owner of the company didn’t like it. There was a $19 chair, a $7 hacksaw, $98 in music rights, and some $40 placemats and wine glasses, not including what I paid for the furniture.
Day 1: Delivery
My wife, son, and I went to Home Depot the day before delivery to buy a cheap plastic chair. Years ago, on a cruise visiting Isla Mujeres, I sat in the sand on a plastic chair, and all the legs bent and crumpled beneath me. I was thinking of finding something thin that would fold easily. I found the cheapest thing, but when I put it in the car, I realized it was made of sterner stuff. When unloading the chair the next day, I knew I needed to cut a leg, or it would never fall on its own.
I rushed to Home Depot to get a hacksaw and returned before Israel made his way to the apartment. Once Israel arrived, I helped him with the equipment. We started filming as soon as he got a look at the place.
Throughout the process, we would do multiple takes. He would want to try something, and I would think of a way to do something different. Due to movie magic, you see a chair break under the character, and he falls to the floor. But that process took maybe 20 minutes to film; between multiple takes and repositioning the camera, it was on screen for two seconds.
In the shot we used, where I fall on the carpet, my head hits the floor so hard my cheek vibrates. It gave me quite a headache later, but you do what you must for your art!
Also, getting the chair to break wasn’t as easy as I had thought. I sawed until it was hanging on by a thread, but no amount of wobbling would make it snap. I broke it by hand and then leaned, which did the trick. But my fall didn’t look great on film, so we had to repeat it. And again. Ultimately, we couldn’t have the legs in the shot because they were smashed to bits. I would balance on the two chair legs and let gravity take its course.
The delivery truck took a while to get to the apartment. They missed the street entirely when they arrived, but we got that sweet overhead shot because of it.
We also filmed the scene where my character throws away the chair and peeks through the window. The chair being thrown away was not in the script, but it made so much sense that it would be a transition to his new life.
Day 2: Store
We needed a scene where our character met with a store employee, and we were able to snatch the hottest talent in Home Zone Corporate, Robyn! Robyn and I share an office, so she was privy to all the talks Israel, and I had about the script.
In the commercial, I play this depressed guy, and Robyn plays a bubbly salesperson, but it is far from our natural personalities. Robyn doesn’t smile too often, and I can’t stop. It goes to show what massive talents we were on screen!
Originally Israel wanted us to shake hands upon meeting, and I thought it would be good if my character just looked at her hand. Then I came up with this limp handshake that worked the best.
Israel had a great idea for the water bottle coming in and shocking me and then Robyn smiling. Comedic gold!
At first, Robyn did not seem to understand some of the weird things, like walking up and shaking hands with the camera, but once she saw the first cut, she got it and loved it.
Home Zone gives out water and ice cream to its customers, and I grabbed an ice cream sandwich for my exit from the store. Robyn suggested a cone because it looked more childlike, and I have to say I agreed upon seeing the final product.
We took two hours, including drive time to film this scene.
Day 3: Walk in the Park
For this scene, I had to get a haircut. Israel had thought to keep it long and style it; I thought I should be clean-cut because the furniture had impacted my character’s life. Israel and many others thought the haircut was the right thing to do in the end, but I still wonder what it would have looked like had the character not cleaned up so much. Usually, a significant hairstyle denotes a passage of time. But in the end, it wasn’t too big of a departure in facial tone. I also started adjusting my posture from my previous slump to show his life was more in control.
Israel and I met up at his apartments for the sunlight walkthrough scene. I think it was on the way that I had this vision of my character not being able to sit on a bench because it was uncomfortable now that he had sat on real furniture, which added a great line to the list of side effects.
Day 4: Dining Scene
This was a super fun scene to do. Now the character has friends (using him for his furniture?) and stares at them during their nice little dinner party. The night before, I had purchased the placemats and some wine glasses. I set up the table early in the morning before work and did not have time to wash the glasses. That afternoon I coordinated with Susie from the design team on a few things to put on my wall. Israel and I had asked a few coworkers to come to the apartment at 3:30, and I ran out of time, so they watched me hang art on the walls.
When that was finished, I explained the scene, I would be staring at them, and they should be animated and having a good time. My coworker Joanna and Matthew said, “Let’s just make fun of Sam,” so they, along with Taiźa, razed me the entire scene. It was so hard to keep a straight face.
I lost it when Joanna pointed out my placement of the soup spoon. The internet had shown me earlier that morning table setting placement. But yeah, there wasn’t soup being served. Or any food at all. Israel had said we needed something in the glasses. I had wine, but we wanted to avoid mixing alcohol into the mix. I opted for lemon juice but was given a hard time for being such a sour host!
Once everyone left, Israel and I filmed the end scene where my character smiles upon seeing a Home Zone commercial.
Day 5: Voiceover
During our initial talks about the commercial, I said I would pay for a professional voiceover. Israel had said it would be about $150, and I was okay with that. But this was without a finished voiceover. I needed to see the finished product to fill the space with a voice-over. Once we were close, I wrote the final voice-over script and read it repeatedly as I watched along with the commercial.
When Israel saw how much I had written, he told me it would be around $800, which was a little out of my price range. I said I would do the voiceover, which Israel had said I should do from the beginning, and if our boss liked it enough, he could pay to have a professional redo it.
There was an empathy I had wanted from the very beginning. But it’s also a ridiculous premise, so there was a melody that needed to be present without tipping your hat.
We also wanted our coworker Rebecca to have a presence, so Israel had her read the side effects and legalese part of the commercial.
I had told my boss a few days before that we had a treat coming up, and it would probably be ready on Thursday. When the commercial was finished, we had him view it in Israel’s office and dragged some other coworkers in too. I brought my GoPro and asked if I could film his reaction shot which I will cherish, but I didn’t feel it needed to be shared here. He loved it and said we should put it all over our social media.
I emailed all our stores on April 1st, sharing this video on which we had all worked so hard. Everyone loved it.
Last weekend, my wife and I went to Austin and, on the way, popped into the Round Rock store. I felt like a celebrity because the managers rushed to me and said they loved the video.
So yeah. That was our commercial.
I took Israel out afterward, and while we were sharing Chipotle, I started spilling out more ridiculous ideas. Who knows where they will go, but with Israel there to drive things, I know the stars are the limit!
Israel put together this blooper reel. I hope you enjoy it.