The first spot I ever booked in Los Angeles was for “Ah, The Power of Cheese” by the Dairy Council. In the commercial, I try to purchase cheese at a small shop and inadvertently trigger an elaborate security alarm. I trip a laser beam, get hit by a giant paint ball and am finally arrested by multiple very large police officers.
It was a a two-night shoot on the Universal Lot and it was my introduction to what it felt like to not only live but to actually work in Hollywood. Just a few months earlier, I had been working as a Production Assistant and was the lowest man on set. Now they provided me with a stunt crew, people who took care of my every need and even a guy who’s only job was to drive me around in a golf cart. I told him, “This feels silly. I can just walk.” His response, “Listen, dude. If you don’t let me drive you around, then they are going to make me do another job that involves a lot of heavy lifting or some other BS!” He drove me around for the entire shoot.
When they were setting up shots, I would wander around the lot alone and one night found the Back to the Future courthouse and clock tower around the corner. I remembered looking at it on the “big screen” years ago and now I was actually standing right in front of it. I went up to the front door, pushed it open and stood inside. I am a little embarrassed to say that I secretly thought that the interior would be a working courthouse instead of a skeleton building. But it didn’t matter. I was standing INSIDE it! Nerd alert bells went off for miles.
As I said, it was a two-night shoot and on the second night there was the biggest shot of the entire commercial. The crew was pulled back almost a block to get a wide shot of my final moment, where I fall backwards right in front of the stopped tires of the arriving police cars. On a side note, this shot is also when I learned what precision driving really means. They blocked off my fall from the curb onto the road, where three police cars would come to a screeching halt just inches from me. We walked through it and the AD had me hit my mark. The drivers rolled into their final position and each got out, making only a mental note where their final marks would be. The head driver said, “Just make sure to hit your mark.” I found his comment comical because they were coming at me about three-miles per hour in the rehearsal. When the cameras started rolling they burst out from around three different blind corners at FULL SPEED! Suddenly the stunt driver’s advice made sense and I kept thinking, “Hit my mark! Hit my mark! Hit my mark!” They slammed on their brakes, tires sliding across the wet road and stopped…exactly on their marks. (If you ever see the commercial, I am not acting scared at that moment.)
When we were finally ready to shoot the final wide shot, multiple cameras were set up, everyone moved back a block and there was a time when I was completely “alone”. We were trying to beat the sunrise and I could feel it starting to break over the buildings in the distance. Over the bullhorn the 1st AD yelled, “Roll Cameras!” My hand on the doorknob of that fake cheese shop, I looked up the streets and in every direction was a mass of people all staring in one direction…at me. I can’t begin to describe what was going through my head & my heart but I remember thinking, “Don’t EVER forget this feeling.”
After we completed the spot I wanted to create a ritual for myself. Something I did after every shoot. Get a beer? Buy something for myself? Go someplace special? No. It had to be something inspired by that shoot but also something I could duplicate each time I was wrapped. That’s when I decided my ritual would be to have a pancake. Silly? Simple? Odd? Perhaps. But that is what I did after that shoot and have done after every shoot since. Pancakes are accessible almost anywhere at any time. There was one time that I knew I would be in a remote area after shooting a documentary, so I pre-made a pancake and sealed it in a baggie. After the shoot, I sat alone in my car and ate a very stale pancake. But the ritual was kept alive.
There are no “rules” for Pancake Time, only guidelines. 1. I eat a pancake. 2. I go alone. (Very few times, I have gone with someone from the shoot who knows that I do it and what it means to me.) 3. I spend my time thinking about how incredibly blessed I am to have the opportunity to live my dreams. I remember the day and relish the feeling of accomplishment. 4. I give the server a higher than usual tip. The size varies on my current financial situation that day. The goal is to give them a tip they have never received but sometimes I just don’t have access to that much money and it depends on if it is a project I funded myself or one where I am paid to do it, but I always leave as much as I am able to give. If they say anything, and I’ve heard “Is this a mistake?” multiple times…I say the same thing every time. “I had a really good day today and I want you to have one too.”
When I am working on a shoot, I am so focused on getting the job done that I rarely take the time to realize how special this moment really is to me. Pancake Time gives me that chance. It’s a gift I give myself. A little pocket of time between living my dreams and going back to reality. A brief reminder that life is a gift and dreams do come true.
I also get to eat a pancake, so that’s pretty great too!