(In the summer of 2004, I accompanied a film crew to Inglewood, a small country town not far from Bendigo, where we shot the first Jetstar ad featuring Magda Szubanski as Julie the marching girl. I had written the jingle, and the advertising agency thought I should be there. I don't know why. Maybe Magda had requested it? Anyway, I wrote an article about the weekend but Qantas didn't like it so it was never published. I figure, seven years later, it's probably okay to publish the story.)
At eleven o’clock the first marching girl begins to feel faint. This prompts an immediate response from two guys who are probably around fifty, but they’re in advertising so it’s hard to tell. Ted (the bearded one) ushers the girl into the shade, fans her with a newspaper and offers her water. Chris (the long-haired one) calls a stop to the filming and we all get out of the sun. It shines blindingly off the silver foil that drapes the daggiest looking parade-float you ever saw. There is a huge orange star at the back of the float. It’s covered in bits of crepe paper and looks cheap. It probably isn’t. The client is Qantas.
The Inglewood locals tell us that weather-wise it is a fairly typical weekend. The farmers say it’s good fencing weather. The wire is easier to manage when the temperature reaches the mid-forties. But us city-slickers are staggering around with soggy Chux superwipes tied around our necks, drinking the recommended half a litre of water per hour so as to avoid the marching girl’s fate. We are told it is a danger sign if our wee goes dark. None of us has weed yet.
Magda Szubanski appears in costume as Julie the marching girl. In her orange marching skirt, long brown wig and tight white boots she looks – well, gorgeous. She chats with the other marching girls – the real marching girls - who range in age from fifteen to fifty. Do they normally march in this heat? They say there are hotter places, though we can’t imagine where. Venus, maybe.
Magda’s job in this first scene is to look excited, then downcast, then alarmed, then confused. She does all four with aplomb. Unfortunately, one of the real marching girls starts giggling at Magda and we have to shoot the scene a few times. Ben the director is handsome, which never happens in television. Most TV directors are as plain as Pyrex. You obviously get a more attractive crew when you’re working with film.
The scene is done, the client is happy and another marching girl feels woozy. This afternoon Magda will be on top of the float, riding through the main street of Inglewood. There will be three hundred extras, marching girls, a brass band, tappers and six dancers choreographed by Tony Bartuccio. And it will be 45 degrees, or so the locals say. But sometimes they tell porkies. They would never be able to work in advertising.
Mandy wanders up to see what is going on. Everyone in Inglewood knows Mandy. (In Inglewood everyone knows everyone.) She is a likeable soul who smiles and talks a lot, though I can’t make sense of what she says. Clearly one of us has sunstroke. Mandy will continue to observe us, smilingly, throughout the whole shoot. She keeps chatting but I still can’t understand what she says. I talk with a lot of the locals and they all make perfect sense, so I guess Mandy is in her own little world. She seems happy there.
Magda is driven to the next location by Stef, the CEO of the ad agency. She is young, pretty and smart, which seems grossly unfair. Stef admits that she recently did something she is not proud of. She ate a raw bull’s willy in a bun on TV. It was for Fear Factor, one of the current jewels in TV’s crown. Some of the crewmembers saw it and are giving Stef a hard time. Then Stef reveals that she won ten thousand bucks for doing it. I think about how much it would take to persuade me to eat a bull’s willy in a bun. Probably less than ten thousand bucks.
Stef hands a big fluffy Babe pig to Magda to sign. It’s for a local police officer’s kid. Magda autographs the pig in texta and draws some big kisses on its bum.
The Calder Highway is blocked off, three hundred extras assemble in the Inglewood Town Hall, massive trucks line the streets. Hollywood comes to Inglewood. Across from the Town Hall is a mansion that is crumbling from neglect. A member of the historical society (and extra) explains that it was built by a man who made a fortune during the gold rush, invested in the stock market then drowned himself in his own dam during the crash of 1890. He left behind a wife and fourteen kids, which is a bit crook. He also managed to drown himself in around ten inches of water, which is just showing off.
The locals say the decaying mansion is inhabited by a little old lady with wild grey hair. She regularly runs across to the public toilet block with a bucket because her water supply was turned off long ago. I think this might be a local myth, like the one about houses that disappear into the earth because the entire town was undermined during the gold rush. But the old lady does appear, albeit without a bucket.
A few doors up is the place where Reginald Ansett was born. He used to run a bike shop in Inglewood before he branched out into aeronautical forms of transport, and indeed once gave our client a run for their money.
The float is set up, the brass band and marching girls are ready. Magda steps up on to the float and it is dragged through the street. She lip-syncs a song she recorded two nights ago and the locals look on. They have been preparing for the moment. Phillip is a temporary Inglewood resident who has agreed to be in the ad. He bought a second-hand Janome sewing machine for twenty bucks and ran up some Hawaiian shirts. All townsfolk have been instructed not to wear white (it flares) or stripes (they strobe) or black (it’s too hot). They already knew about the last one.
We have been duped by the locals. It can’t be 45 degrees in the main street. It has to be at least 80. Grips and gaffers set up cranes and tracks that stick to the bitumen, which has turned into toffee. Chris and Ted hand out drinks and Heaven ice-creams. There’s been a bit of a run on Heavens at the milk bar and we may have to fall back on Paddle-pops. I can’t believe that the guys who are running around handing out ice-creams are the bosses of the whole operation. They have no right to be so nice. They’re in advertising. Together, they claim varying degrees of responsibility for a famous ad involving a Scotsman and a Goggomobile, and for helping get John Howard elected. Ted empties his water bottle over my head. It is a kind gesture. Because I’m the idiot who decided to wear a black teeshirt. Anna from wardrobe finds me an orange shirt to wear. The only problem is, I now look official and extras keep asking me if they are wearing the right clothes. A little old lady asks nervously if her gingham will strobe.
Magda throws her all into playing Julie the marching girl and is therefore stuffed by the end of the scene. The real problem is the wig. Heather from make-up does her best to loosen it but Magda says it feels like a ten-tonne bathing cap. This gives Stef an idea. During the lunch break, Stef goes to the local baths and sits fully dressed in the pool for half an hour.
Six dancers with top hats, tails and umbrellas are in front of the pub, rehearsing their dance routine with Tony Bartuccio. The umbrellas are swung around in Gene Kelly fashion, but keep falling to bits. The art department people have plenty of spare umbrellas. They have spare everything. But Tony modifies the dance moves to prevent umbrella breakage. This will be a huge crowd scene. An umbrella in the eye could bring the party down.
They manage to shoot the insanely enormous scene where hundreds of extras wave their arms, glitter cannons go off and balloons are released into the air. Everyone applauds and Mandy does a sort of victory dance. Tomorrow will be even more spectacular. Magda will stage-dive into the audience.
We are told by The Weather Bureau that Sunday will be cooler.
It is a lie. The weather is far too hot for stage-diving. But apparently it’s okay for Magda to crowd-surf. Magda climbs onto a small platform on top of a hydraulic jack. She is lifted two metres in the air, then spun around by those extras that have managed to last the weekend.
I finally manage to do something useful. Magda is getting ready for a close-up and notices something green stuck between her teeth. (The caterers have very sensibly served us all vast quantities of salad.) Magda asks for dental floss and I realise I have some in the car. I cry out that I can help. We are losing the light, everyone is ready, time is running out. Like Mel Gibson in Gallipoli though slightly less handsome I make the five-hundred-metre dash to my car and return with dental floss. I now feel like a genuine team player. I am also delirious. Mandy starts making sense.
I’m not sure why they wanted me to go on the shoot. All I did was write the words to a jingle, the song that has been driving us mad for the past two days and that will shortly be inflicted upon Australia. But it was an educational time. And in case the client is concerned about my junket, my Saturday evening meal was a huge deluxe pizza that we got for five bucks because the woman who ran the shop was having an argument with her husband and she wanted to piss him off by undercharging. At first she charged only two bucks but we haggled her up.
As for the meal on the Sunday night, I was supposed to follow Chris’s car into Bendigo where we would try to find the one restaurant that had any food left after the Valentine’s Day rush the night before. A nervous driver, I thought I lost Chris once or twice. But I kept following him through the back streets of Bendigo, then up a romantic lane that turned out to be someone’s driveway. The man I had been following was clearly not Chris and somewhat freaked out that I had been tailing him for so long. I explained that I had been working on a TV ad all weekend and was lost. He nodded understandingly then told me to go away.
I stopped at a milk bar, bought a bag of hazelnuts, ate them in the car and drove home. I have the receipt for the hazelnuts but will probably not seek reimbursement.