“A Whale of a Tale”
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
The original yellow whale was a meaningless
prop, a small ceramic soap holder that I’d placed
in the background of a kitchen location we were
using for a Borden’s shoot in Jersey. It added just
the right, soft-focus splash of color to what could have
been an overly bland product shot that day.
Of course, after we’d finished, the happy little beast
was unceremoniously packed away with the other props,
destined to die a lonely death with the motley collection of ceramic bowls, glasses, silverware, bathroom sets, window treatments, clothes, tablecloths, signs, lamps, and assorted “junk” from previous commercials kept in our storage facility.
Or so I thought.
My next shoot was at a beautiful outdoor cafe. As my Associate Producer and I began rifling through the various props that would be used to dress the location, we discovered - you guessed it - our small yellow friend, inexplicably nestled among the dishware we were about to use. It was definitely a twilight Zone moment for both of us.
Not to mention a wonderfully subversive opportunity.
Now, I’ve always been a mischievous sort, and a cultivated a “benign irreverence” with all of my commercial clients in order to maintain a relaxed atmosphere on my sets. God knows, the stress of running a successful commercial shoot is all too real - and any of us who’ve been around for a while have seen our share of productions that ultimately sank under the weight of their own, inflated self-importance.
“After all,” I liked to remind everyone, “we’re not curing cancer here - we’re sellin’ soap in Jersey City!”
And so, as a tiny nod to that spirit of “reality-checking,” the whale found it’s way onto one of the background tables at our little cafe. Totally random. Absolutely harmless. Some might say disturbingly out of place. And much to my delight, completely undiscovered - until I screened dailies with my Agency client and friend, Cuqui Mohat.
To the sound of laughter, a tradition was born.
In what became a good-natured game with Cuqui and other clients, I carted that glazed yellow “chotchke” to shoot after shoot, placing it discreetly in frame regardless of the environment for that particular spot.
Beer ad on the Beach? Look closely near the cooler on that second towel in the back.
Insect spray in a science lab? Dude, check those beakers clustered on the third shelf from the top.
Instant photos at a backyard birthday party? Hey - those aren’t all garden gnomes in that flower bed, my friend!
Oh sure, there were plenty of times that a mock-indignant voice rang out from behind the video monitors saying, “Yo, Portune. Get that damn whale outta there!” But there were also plenty of occasions where my little pal survived to me its cameo appearance, until the ravages of old age - and a butter fingered PA. - brought an end to its illustrious film career.
So a short while ago, Cuqui and I decided to resurrect our yellow friend - if only in spirit. Call it an ode to a simpler time. Call it an homage to the idea that we can’t take ourselves to seriously 24/7.
Or call it a symbol of our philosophy that while we must strive to do the best job possible at all times, taking care to dot every “I” and cross every “T” with unwavering concentration, we should never forget to have fun doing it.
Seems like that was the reason we got into this crazy business in the first place!