You ever do something out of the ordinary… push yourself out of your comfort zone, and it changes how you view yourself and what you’re capable of? And in doing so, it strengthens that muscle and sets you on a course of discovery and reward?
For me, one of those instances involved a chicken sandwich.
I used to live in San Francisco, and for a short time, I worked as a temp on the fourteenth floor of the Citibank Tower downtown. I loved that office, everyone there was so quirky, and I was especially friendly with another assistant named Craig. He had tousled ginger hair and freckles all over his face; he was a ski bum trying to get serious in a financial career. We both liked the same music and had the same sense of humor, so we became fast friends. One morning, he told me there was a film crew outside doing one of those testimonial commercials for Wendy’s fast food restaurants, and they asked him if he wanted to be in it, but he turned it down. He urged me to go check it out.
I want to think I’d have no problem walking right up to someone and saying “Hey, put me in your commercial!”, but the truth is, I was scared out of my mind. What if they have me arrested? What if I drop dead right on the spot, or worse, they tell me I’m too chubby? But I saw an opportunity to take a chance to do something out of the ordinary and push myself out of my comfort zone, so I made myself do it.
I rushed downstairs and saw this large trailer with some people milling around. I searched for the most important looking person I could find and spotted a woman with a clipboard in her hand. As a rule, anyone who holds a clipboard is someone who makes decisions, so I walked straight up to her and asked if I could be in their commercial. I waited for the world to come to an end, then she said “Sorry, but we’re done here, we’re moving to another location.”
All the air went out of my balloon.
She must’ve seen the disappointment on my face, so she said “I tell you what, we’re going to Washington Square, meet us there.” and she handed me a map and walked away. I ran back upstairs to the office to grab my belongings and ask my super cool boss if it was it okay to leave for a couple hours. She told me to take as long as I needed, so I hopped on a bus to Washington Square and found the woman with the clipboard. She said “Okay, before we get started, I have to ask, are you a member of SAG?”
SAG is the Screen Actors Guild, it’s the union for actors and performers, and I was not a member. For a brief moment, I thought about lying and saying I was, which would’ve been really stupid, but I decided to be honest and told her no, preparing for the rejection to follow. She told me that was good, because if I were, I wouldn’t be able to film; this was a testimonial ad, they weren’t allowed to use professional actors.
She had me fill out a form and sign my life away to whatever their contract demanded, then we waited for the director. A few moments later, he arrived, and he was organized, professional, and didn’t waste any time. He had me stand in front of the window of some music store, then told me he was going to ask me a series of questions as prompts, and to just be myself. There was a production crew of about ten people all watching me, and I was nervous.
A production assistant appeared and put a warm Wendy’s chicken sandwich in my hand (don’t ask me how they kept it warm), then the director told me to take a bite of the sandwich and tell him what the sauce was. I must’ve taken a bigger bite than I meant to, because I heard someone say “Whoa”. I nearly spit it out from laughter, but also because it tasted awful; I never ate fast food… and here I was, trying to hawk some on camera.
I said “Mayonnaise”… nope. “Uh…horseradish?” nope, not that either. “What is this sauce?” was all I could come up with. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what the damn sauce was! Now I was getting really nervous because if I couldn’t figure it out, they were gonna give up on me. The director changed gears and said “Okay, I want you to say something about the sandwich, but I want you to sing it.” He was probably inspired by the musical notes floating across the storefront window I was standing in front of, and I was inspired by the prompt, because I never turn down a chance to ham it up.
I belted out a jazzy little ditty, right there on the spot. The entire crew started laughing and I knew it was a good take. I stood there with a shit-eating grin on my face because I managed to pull something out of my ass after blowing it with the sauce… which was Ranch, by the way. It was Wendy’s Monterey Ranch Chicken Sandwich… which I don’t recommend.
The director said “It’s a wrap”, the production assistant took away the sandwich and woman with the clipboard handed me five bucks. I turned to the director, shook his hand and thanked him, then thanked the crew and walked towards the bus stop on a natural high. I had one hell of a story to tell my boyfriend when I got home. I didn’t go back to work, I was too giddy from the experience.
After a week or so of excitement, telling everyone I knew about my experience, it started to wear off, and I actually forgot about it. That is, until I received a phone call three weeks later. A guy who worked for the ad agency was calling. He had one question: Was the song I sang in my take something I made up, or was it a published song? I laughed and told him I definitely made it up. He said he figured that was the case but needed to make sure in case of copyright infringement, and with an excitement I could barely contain, I asked him if I was in the commercial. He couldn’t tell me for sure… company policy… but he did say that Dave, the owner of Wendy’s, loved me.
Holy crap, you’d have thought he told me it was the President of the United States, I was so excited!
A few weeks later, when I got home from work, my boyfriend said “Guess who I saw on t.v?” I started jumping up and down squealing with delight and prodded him with questions: How did I look? When did you see it? Was I funny? He told me he’d already seen it twice that day.
Then the checks started coming in. Every week I’d get one, and it continued for months. I think all in all, I made about seven thousand dollars in residuals. It ended up playing nationally and in Canada. Everyone I knew saw it.
Oh, in case you’re curious, I found it on YouTube: