Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Oral history of the "Whassup!" Budweiser commercials, part 2 of 4

Part 1.

Where was the commercial shot?

Scott: The spot was shot in NYC, in an apartment in Alphabet City. The nice family who lived there got a hotel room for a few days while we used their apartment.
Fred: In Harlem at [Paul's brother] Terry's home. 
Paul: All the commercials were shot in NYC. Different places but all in the city. One of my proudest moments was when I got to film in the world-famous Silvercup Studios in the Bronx. [Even] after all the awards and accolades, that was the first time that I felt I was actually doing sumfin big…sumfin real. I was working in a space where real actors worked.

While working on it, did it seem like just another commercial to you, or did it feel like something special?

Scott: We had no idea. It felt special only in the respect that all of us would be making a TV commercial together and how cool and fun that would be. After we left the callback, when we knew we'd gotten the gig, I remember Paul telling us about an actress he knew who made 40 grand off one shoe commercial! We were hyped at the mere prospect of making even half that! At the end of the day, we thought we'd just do a commercial, get some residual checks, and move on. I even kept my job for the first three months after it started airing.
Fred: It felt special because I was working with my friends, but knowing it would take off the way it did? I had no idea. 
Paul: [Even] in the beginning, it never seemed like another commercial. How could it? A childhood friend was directing it, my high school and college friends were in [it]. How could life get better than this? But when we came back to do the second set of spots, we kinda knew what we were doing. This was when I started saying to the guys "Hey, hopefully we will go on and have successful careers in this crazy business, but let's take a moment and understand what's going on right now. We will never do something that transcends everything like this spot does. Let's take a moment and breathe this in."

Do you remember what you earned for the shoot, including residuals [payments for every time the commercial airs]?

Scott: If I remember, for the initial shoot, I made about $3,000 (this includes the shoot days, wardrobe fitting days, holding fee, etc.). I can't tell you how much I made in residuals—those checks rolled in every week and I never really kept track—but it was quite substantial (way more than the $40,000 Paul's friend made).
Fred: Are you working for the IRS? LOL. It was low six figures. 
Paul: Wow. So we filmed four spots the first time. Honestly, I don't remember.

Are you still receiving residuals? 

Scott: Residuals end when the commercials stop airing; the campaign ran from 2000-2002. But whenever a TV show or feature film wants to use the commercial, we get paid (for instance, whenever some network does one of those "Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials" TV specials). Most recently, the movies Uncle Drew and Central Intelligence used clips from the commercial, so I got paid for their usage.
Fred: Every now and then I'll get called to ask if someone can use my image [from] the commercial. 
Paul: No, not residuals. That ship sailed a while ago. But what's kool is that sometimes I get a check outta nowhere. For example, for years I've been getting a check around the Super Bowl because one of our spots gets included in some annual Top 10 Super Bowl [spots] show or something.

Hey, wanna do some real reporting? Track down my dough for the multiple times one of our spots [has] been used in a movie or TV show. From Central Intelligence to Jack and Jill (Adam Sandler movie).

Did you have any say in how the commercial would be put together?

Scott: No, that was all the purview of Chuck, the ad agency, and Anheuser-Busch, but we were very much encouraged to ad-lib and be creative with our performance. Some of those ad-libs did make it into the commercial.
Fred: I knew the commercial was going to be a version of the original short True, but with Budweiser in our hands. 
Paul: Understand, the first spot the world saw was a recreation of Charles's 2:37-minute, award-winning short film True, shortened to 60 seconds. This is what Vinny Warren from DDB Chicago identified as a hot short. So there was no need for give and take. LOL. This short was what got us to the show!

In your mind, were you watching a game of a specific team? Did any professional teams ever approach you or Anheuser-Busch about becoming the Official Team of the Whassup! Guys?

Scott: No and no. (Paul and Chuck were watchin' the game, I was on my computer…if we're going for accuracy here. LOL.)
Fred: I was watching the Eagles playing, but can't remember the opposing team. Official team? Not that I know of. 
Paul: To your first question: no, I never thought about that. Being a lifetime Eagles fan, it was easy to channel my football fever into that scene. Now I would be lying if I didn't say that I wanted to put a little extra sauce on my performance, because it was ours. It was about US. And the dude that was directing it was Our Dude, telling Our Story. I wanted to be as good as I could be for him and us. And if anyone saw me and liked me, hopefully they would want to hire me. That's it.

To your second question: look, there were a number of amazing things that happened to us along this wonderful ride, but one of them wasn't an offer of sponsorship with a major [football team]. Any sport, actually. LOL. It's weird because Budweiser and sports go hand in hand in a way I hadn't realized before this campaign. They have their hands in everything. Every sport, all nightlife, every happy hour. But the idea of a league wanting [to be the official] sponsor never occurred to me. 

Do you know how many "Whassup!" commercials you made?

Scott: I believe there were 12 altogether. I was in all of them except two. I also had a couple of solo commercials, one of which ("Wasabi!") won a CLIO award!

Fred: I think it was around 14-16. 
Paul: Imma say somewhere between 16 and 20.

Any funny anecdotes about making any of the commercials?

Scott: During one take, Chuck had me do "Whassup!" repeatedly, over and over and over, one after another after another, continuously egging me on to "Do it harder! Do it louder! Do it bigger!" This went on for what felt like five minutes, and when he finally said "Cut," I was hoarse, sweating, and out of breath. I looked at him like "Dude, WTF?" He was holding his hand over his mouth trying not to laugh and ruin the take, but then he and the whole crew erupted in laughter and applause. That was pretty funny.

There was the time that me and Walter (the Anheuser-Busch executive in charge of overseeing the ads) got into a push-up contest on set. He kept teasing me about the fact that I was into weightlifting and bodybuilding, and he laid down the challenge. Of course I won, easily.
Fred: We would always just have a good time—making up songs, cracking jokes.
Paul: Wow. A lot but not many I think would translate to the general public. Like, there are words and actions we did with each other from our childhood that mean something to us, but if you weren't there, I don't know if you get it.

Do you have a favorite "Whassup!" commercial?

Scott: Pizza Guy. Fred kills me in that one.

Fred: I have to say Pizza Guy because I'm featured in that one. LOL.
Paul: I feel like this question was put in because of Brooksie [Scott]. LOL. Of all of us, he was the only one that had a spot where he was the focus. So I'm sure he thought those were the best. As much as I would like to deny him that honor, the wasabi spot definitely got much acclaim. The best part of the story is how it came about. It was sooo natural and genuine. Charles was out having sushi after a day of editing our previous spots when the waiter dragged out the word "Wasaaaaabi!" He looked at his friend and a light came on. And much to my disdain, a star was born. LOL. 

Were any shot but never aired?

Scott: Yes! One! It had Chuck sitting on the couch watching TV, then Fred joins him on the couch. When Chuck moves over and squirms a little to get comfortable, we hear a noise. It could've been the leather couch squealing or it could've been a fart. Then Fred and Chuck sit silently and just cut their eyes at each other, and it ends. Anheuser-Busch decided that was a little too "vulgar" for their taste. LOL.
Fred: Unfortunately…yes. We did a funny one in the "What are you doing" series called "Nightmare."
Paul: Yes. We shot four new spots and after that, my brother Terry, [my friend] Mike, and I broke out to Europe for two weeks. Unfortunately, 9/11 happened while we were there and they never got aired. Understandably, Budweiser and every other advertiser started showing patriotic spots. Bud rolled with this: 

Do you have a least favorite?

Scott: The last one we did (I can't remember the name of it anymore). My performance was horrible. I find it difficult to watch.
Fred: Just any I wasn't in. LOL.
Paul: No. LOL. That's like asking a Super Bowl-winning QB "Which play would you want back?" Whatever we did was a piece of the puzzle that made this thing happen! I wouldn't want any of it back because all of it played a part.

What did the commercials do for your career?

Scott: [They] gave me a career. I was not an actor before this and had never done anything professionally.
Fred: I was able to finance and produce film and theatre projects. I invested in a bunch of small theatre productions. Financed a few short film projects for other artists whom I believed in. It put me in position to hire talented and diverse crews and cast on various projects. I was able to invest in myself and people. I got to meet and network with a lot of people in the film industry, which lead to opportunities [to star] on TV shows, [make] development deals, [make] appearances, and [make] endorsement deals. 
Paul: Everything and nuffin. It made me a household face but not a household name. Lemme try to explain this.

Just 'cause your face shows up on a TV screen does not mean you are caked out. I've had cat after cat see me someplace that apparently they thought I shouldn't be, like a market or a clothing store. Their response was, "Yooooo, I seen you on TV. I know your ballin' out. What are you doing here?"


Did you appear on any talk shows or cameo in any shows because of the commercials?

Scott: So many local and national talks shows, entertainment shows, and news shows—too many to count. A few of the highlights: The Tonight Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Entertainment Tonight, The Today Show, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, The Howard Stern Show, WWF Raw, Inside Edition, Fame for 15 (TNN), The Source Awards, America's Favorite TV Commercials (A&E documentary), Best Ads Ever (BBC television special), the annual CBS special Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials (twice), The Parkers (UPN), The Cindy Margolis Show (Fox)… We also hosted a series on ABC called The Greatest Commercials You've Never Seen (I went on to become the solo host of the show).

Paul, Fred, and I were more the "faces" of the campaign, the ones who did almost all of the media all over the country, appearing in all their promotional materials such as posters, billboards, etc. Chuck never did any of that stuff. That wasn't his thing. He was directing feature films, so he only made major national media appearances.
Fred: We did hundreds of shows—The Today Show, Oprah, twice on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Hollywood Squares, Entertainment Tonight…the list goes on and on and on. LOL.
Paul: Our commercial got so hot that actual stars were excited to meet us. One of my favorite stories is when we did The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

We had done the green room thing for a while. Enough that we knew a good green room when we saw it. So when I got to the green room of The Tonight Show, I knew I was gunna get sumfin special.

I didn't.

It had wood paneling like from the '70s and I felt like I was in my mom's basement…but check the story.

Apparently Jay doesn't usually come thru the green room because he wants the interviews on camera to be fresh. So imagine my surprise when he shows up outside my door…with my guys in tow. All of them.

They pour into my room. So it's Leno and four black cats. Why is that important? Here's the convo that ensued and the reason I have love for Leno to this day.

He comes in and says "Hey, just wanted to say hello to you guys…you're doing big things! Is everyone ok?"

Me: "Well, Jay, not for nuffin but I've been in a lot of green rooms lately. And I think I can say without a doubt that this is the worst we have ever been in. What the hell is going on?"

And without missing a beat, he says—in a room full of black guys—"This is the room we have for black people. You should see it downstairs! It's sweet! Cats are slicing lamb off the rotisserie. It's a whole big thing!"

The entire room burst out in laughter.

It takes a confident white dude to pull that off in a room full of black dudes, and we appreciated it. Leno is kool with the Wassup guys!

But I knew Hollywood. Unlike Fred and Scott, I had done things in LA and I knew the fickle chick she could be. I'm not going to say I didn't bask in the glow that was shining on us, but I took it with a grain of salt. 

[As for cameos on shows], we did an intro for The Parkers. Other than that, nah.

Part 3.

1 comment:

Kurt said...

Great Leno story. I love these oral histories. Thanks.