Thursday, October 25, 2018

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

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

What are you doing these days?

Scott: Still grinding. Going on auditions for commercials, movies, and TV shows, trying to score the next gig. I've come up with a couple of TV show ideas. I'm currently working on a treatment for one of them with a well-known actor/writer/producer who's attached himself to my project. When it's done, we're gonna pitch it to HBO and a few other places. It's kind of exciting!

Fred: I've been producing and directing quite a few stage plays. One entitled 12' x 9' deals with the penitentiary system. I wrote, directed, and starred in this piece winning three NAACP Theatre Awards: Best Director, Best Producer and Best Playwright. I have a few TV movies I directed steaming on Amazon and Netflix. I stay rooted on the production side which has lead me to work on quite a few network shows. In addition, I just completed three feature films scripts for hire, and I'm requested as a panelist and/or guest speaker at colleges and universities.

Paul: I've been working on multiple stories hoping someone will take an interest when done. Also, my family owns rental property that needs to be maintained. So I guess I'm working in the family biz, but it's not that serious. We've been doing this my whole life so it's not like working.

Paul, "stories"—meaning what exactly? Screenplays? Movie treatments? Books? 

Paul: All of that. Being a part of a commercial campaign gave us an inside window [on] what makes a commercial popular. So I started writing commercials. Then I started to spread out. I'm now working on scripts about the campaign, what we experienced, and what created us. I liken my favorite script to something along the lines of Entourage

It's actually spooky how the storylines match. But this is real life. I really think I'm sitting on something that could be big. Can't tell you more than that at his point, though.

Where do you live?

Scott: I say New York for professional reasons. But my home is in Philly. (Shhh…don't tell anyone.)
Fred: California.
Paul: Philadelphia.

If you have children, how many and ages?

Scott: Nope. I successfully dodged that bullet. I have close friends who have kids, so I'm perfectly happy being the crazy "uncle."
Fred: We have a 25-year-old and a 12-year-old.
Paul: Max. He's a year-and-a-half-old puppy.

What do they think about the "Whassup!" commercials?

Scott: My non-existent kids? Probably not much.
Fred: They find it hysterical. 

How often do you find yourself saying "Whassup!" (aside from when a fan/stranger asks you to)?

Scott: Not much these days, unless I'm being ironic, or funny.
Fred: LOL. Everyday…unaccountable. 
Paul: Never. Never. LOL. LOL.

Paul, still have those overalls?

Paul: Yes, I do. LOL. That's a question I've been asked repeatedly. To talk about the overalls and not my woolly mane would be remiss. Because they are inextricably connected.

I had, for months, growing my hair long enough so that I could do…something. I didn't know what but I knew I wanted it to be something big. 

Around that time, the Sixers drafted a mercurial guard named Allen Iverson who would become the next rookie of the year. He would also go on to be a transformative person on and off the court. He introduced hip hop and tattoos to professional basketball in a way that perhaps the league predicted but could never have prepared for. It was a sea change.

I was caught up in this. Growing up in the hood, I never thought my baby face could support cornrows. Why? Because I wasn't hood enough. LOL. Bad boys rocked cornrows. I'm not a bad boy. 

But when Babyfaced Iverson did it…I took a chance.

For the first time, cornrows were associated with success and I hoped it would translate to police officers and the public in general. Of course, that didn't happen. See Colin Kaepernick.

The overalls…I love overalls. I have three or four pair. Here's where this connects to our commercial.

You can't wear cornrows all the time. They stress your hair. You have to take them out and let your hair rest for a few days before you tie it up again. I happened to be in a place where I was letting my hair rest when Charles called about the audition.

When I showed up, I had my hair out. And I happened to be wearing a pair of overalls. Around commercial 8 or 9, I asked if I could wear cornrows and not wear overalls. The advertising execs said, "You're the big hair and overalls guy. That's who you are."

How often do the four of you get together? When you do, what do you do?

Scott: The last time all four of us were together was in '08 when we shot the Obama promotional video "Whassup 2008: Change." We're spread out all over the country now, so we see each other every now and then whenever one of us is in the other's town. But we still keep in touch.

Fred: It's rough for everyone to link all together because of distance and schedules, but I usually catch up with everyone individually a few times a year. 
Paul: All of us are never together unless we're working on something together. We catch up with each other individually when we can, but responsibilities and distance prevents most group meetings. When we do it's filled with deep belly laughs, food, and the sharing of stories old and new. When you're childhood friends, you are never too far away from each other in heart and mind.

Do you drink beer? If so, do you drink Bud? If so, do you get a lifetime supply for free?

Scott: That's one of the great ironies. My friends used to tease me "How did you become a celebrity from a beer commercial when you don't even drink?!" I don't drink at all, never have. I'm just a great actor! LOL. There used to be discussion amongst the bud execs about having me walk around at conventions and appearances with a bottle of Bud, taking sips from it every now and then; I told them "Just put Coca-Cola in my bottle and I'll be sipping all day long!"
Fred: I drink beer from time to time. Bud is always on the list. Yeah, they left the free supply out of the contract. LOL. 
Paul: I love beer. I don't mind a cold Bud, but right now I'm big into German Hefeweizens. I have not been offered a lifetime supply but they still know how to get in contact with me!

Scott, did Anheuser-Busch send you to walk the floor at trade shows with Coke in Bud bottles? If so, did they ask you to keep that a secret?

Scott: Okay, here's the weird thing…when I made that suggestion, the Bud exec got this dead serious look on his face and said to me "Oh, no, we could never do that…they would know." I scoffed. "What? Are you serious? How the hell would they know?" Again, deathly serious, he responds "You don't understand. When a baby is born into the Busch family, the first thing they do is dab a little Budweiser on the baby's lips. They grow up knowing all about Budweiser. It's the family heritage. If any of the Busch family members were ever to see it, they would be able to look at that bottle and tell, just from the color and the way it moves, that it wasn't Budweiser." I was speechless. He fervently believed every word of what he just said (or he was pulling the most convincing rib of all time). In the end, they never bothered having us walk around with Bud bottles.

Are you still in touch with Budweiser? Any talk of more "Whassup!" commercials? (Everything else is being rebooted!)

Scott: No contact with Bud on my end. They were acquired a few years ago by a Belgian beer conglomerate [InBev], and all the guys I used to know [there] are gone. I still keep in touch via Facebook with a few of the former execs, mostly Bill Etling, AKA Billy Boy, AKA Boom Boom. He was the PR exec assigned to accompany us on all our national appearances. He was an awesome dude, we loved Bill. 

There was something of a revival recently, when Burger King and Budweiser teamed up to promote the new [American Brewhouse King Sandwich] and they used clips from the old commercial in the new TV ads. But as far as reviving the "Whassup!" campaign with Anheuser-Busch, there's been no talk. We've wanted to approach them with the idea. We'd all love to do a revival. (If you have any contacts there, let me know.)

I do, however, still keep in touch with Vinny Warren, the ad exec whose idea it was to create the commercials. He's now got his own ad agency in Chicago. He's doing well.
Fred: I have not been, but from time to time I do correspond with former Bud reps who were really great people who worked on our campaign. 
Paul: I haven't but it would be fun. I have an idea for a great line a spots for them. 

I don't believe I know anyone at Anheuser-Busch, and while I'm happy to doublecheck, you don't need my help! Between Vinny and your former Anheuser-Busch contacts who may still know people there, wouldn't you simply be able to reach out to whoever is there now? You're company royalty! Don't you think they would take your call?

Scott: No one knows anyone there anymore. Since InBev bought the joint, all of the old execs are gone. (Remember, the spots ended 16 years ago.) I've tried over the years to contact them hoping to pitch them a few ideas on a revival of the campaign—I even had a big-time Hollywood PR person working on it—but no one was able to reach out to them.

What did you think when you first heard from me?

Scott: When I realized who you were, I was very excited! I am a big fan of the Bill Finger documentary, and I loved your interview with the former child actors from Splash, which I randomly stumbled upon one day; I didn't realize both were done by the same person until I got your email! I was flattered you'd want to interview me/us!
Fred: "Wow! This guy wants to do a thorough in-depth interview on our experiences during the run and our lives after." I'm grateful for the consideration. 
Paul: Nothing really. Honestly, I'm still not sure who you are. LOL! The guys asked me to do this so I did it. Are you famous? Wanna be friends?!

Scott, thanks for the kind word about Batman & Bill. Did you discover it because you're a Batman fan, or was it some other way?

Scott: I'm a lifelong comic book nerd/collector. [When] I saw it on the Hulu menu, I watched it immediately.

How do you look back on your "Whassup!" experience?

Scott: With huge amounts of fondness and gratitude. It made me rich and famous, and all I was doing was traveling the country with my real-life buddies, shooting commercials and TV shows, making personal appearances, meeting all kinds of folks, and having a blast! It was a great experience.
Fred: It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was part of an iconic pop cultural phenomenon. The fact that the commercial reminded people of how they cherish their own friendships was special to me. I never thought something like this could be so globally influential. 
Paul: Flat-out, the time of my life. I was being paid to hang with my friends with really famous people in really kool places and all we had to do was drink beer and make commercials. [I came] to realize that I dig limos and first class flights. I feel like I toured with a rock band for a few years. Got in places I wasn't supposed to get in, did things I never woulda had a chance to do, traveled to countries I'd never been…

If the experience changed your life in any way, how?

Scott: Like I said earlier; a career that I never would've had was virtually thrown in my lap. Practically overnight, I went from being a nightclub bouncer to being a world-famous celebrity, with all the perks that come along with that. I was able to travel in circles I never would've been allowed in before, I got to meet all kinds of folks I never would've met, I got to go places I never would've gone, [and I got to] do and see things I never would've done or seen. It changed my life completely, in every way imaginable.
Fred: I live by knowing the little good deeds you do and may take for granted and the joys you share can change someone's life for the better. 
Paul: Traveling to other countries, hands down. I found something in myself I didn't know existed. And it drives me to this day. I want to swim in every ocean in the world. I want to make it to as many places as possible and experience a piece of their lives. I want to eat their food, drink their wine, listen to their music, and soak up as much of their culture as I can. Then I want to go to the next place and do it again.

Do you feel the commercials have a legacy?

Scott: Actually, yeah. I think, in a small way, we opened the door to more diversity in mainstream advertising of mainstream products. I see TV commercials now that have an energy, style, and/or characters that are very reminiscent of the "Whassup!" commercials.   Interestingly, I have been told by five or six people over the years that various college and university courses talk about our commercials! Plus we're a Trivial Pursuit question! How cool is that! 

Also, I believe Paul's hairstyle opened the door for a lot of actors/characters to have that hair! LOL. (No, seriously!) But mostly, if people do remember us, I just think we'll be remembered as those funny beer commercials from around 2000 that everybody loved. And I'm perfectly fine with that.
Fred: Most definitely. When I'm sitting at a coffee shop and hear people greet each other with a loud and boisterous "Whassup!" the proof is right there. Budweiser did a lot of charity work so we were able to be involved in the humanitarian aspect of it as well, which lead me to personally supporting various charitable organizations. So I would like to think that those contributions are still paying forward. 
Paul: People say they do. I guess so. I know the spots were special. I mean, look what happened. I think we can all agree that shit wasn't normal for a TV commercial. LOL. I feel proud to be a part of the long legacy of great Anheuser commercials and great American beer commercials in general.

Anything you'd like to add?

Scott: "Remember…wherever you go, there you are."
Fred: I am grateful for Charles and his genius and everyone who participated in the campaign on every level and affiliation. It's a dream come true to say I was part of this with lifelong friends and with people who became lifelong friends. I would do it all again.
Paul: When I really got into [answering these questions], it was fun. I got a lot more to share but it's too much for me to type, so I invite you to call me and record our convo. There's simply too much shit to talk about with all the things that happened to us. Dealing with the paparazzi in London gave me new insight into how crazy they really are. That crazy culture in Bud management. Talking to Wayne Greztsky and Dan Marino at a convention. Did Scott tell you about him and Dale Earnhardt? Too much to talk about…

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