Another ad campaign, a basic job: seven or eight hours, hundred bucks an hour, come sober and showered, no makeup or hair products, subtle piercings and tattoos are fine, snacks and water provided, don’t be late.
The studio set is a large white wall, a child’s writing desk, a thumb tack, and a pair of sharp tongs. Stuff I’ve seen before and understand.
“This campaign isn’t about comfort,” the photographer tells me and the six other men, as different as six men can be except for our naturally thick hair and youthful age. Apparently I was the tall, skinny choice. Number 1 according to the headshot line up.
The make-up dude, practicing what he preaches, says, “Smear a whole bunch of black eyeliner underneath both eyes and then tousle your hair really crazy like wind-blown-awesome meets Abercrombie and Fitch.”
“Number one, you’re up.” Some voice calls from above. I stand and take the set.
“Now cry.” The photographer drops to his knees. “But don’t ugly up your face.”
“Last time I checked, this wasn’t an acting class.” He lies on the ground, arguing with some of his lenses. “I need real tears from a place of real pain. Do you have that in you or not? If not, use those tools to make some.”
“I don’t need an aid.” If twenty-odd acting classes taught me anything, it’s that crying on cue is paramount to getting a callback or paid. More, I have the images of my mother’s cruel death at the hands of my drunken father to back me up.
“Excellent. I can really see the pain in your eyes.”
The room becomes a bunch of strobe lights at a dance club.
“Now put your fingers over your face like a spider and let the tears and mascara bleed together.”
I do as I’m told, pushing my fingers into my face before sliding them down my neck. I make sure to lean in and cry a little harder.
“Genius. Whatever you’re thinking about, don’t stop.”
The other six men come onto the set. Two of them are whispering, pointing.
“You’re just so raw and exciting.” The photographer snaps his fingers. A step stool appears. “I’m gonna shoot down on you but I don’t want you to look up. Stay focused on whatever it is you’re feeling and let me do the rest. God, I love shooting when it goes like this.”
Two days later, walking home from another ad campaign—everyone’s got something to sell—I was startled at the sight of my don’t-be-sad-about-your-old-car face plastered on the side of a bus, at my boney fingers spread apart like spiders, at the black mascara running down my cheeks, at the pain oozing from my eyes. Had I not just been smiling for seven hours, I almost wanted to cry.
published 10 April 2013