Mexico and the Torticos Man
Buzz and the Pyramids
This all happened way back in the day when I was producing TV commercials. While I got some pretty bizarre requests from clients, this one remains at the top of the heap.
Torticos was a brand of corn chips, much like Fritos or Doritos. But before I started putting this story together, I tried to find out if the brand still existed, since I’d never heard of it either before, or after we finished our part in it. But all I learned was that Torticos, the corn chip, has apparently been long gone. However, the name, Torticos, does remain as a shortened term for a breed of cats.
At the time, I was head of production at a company called Wakeford/Orloff. On this particular day, I happen to have a visitor in my office. Not an unusual situation. But in this case no one seemed to know who he was, or where he came from, until he introduced himself to me. He said he was an account exec from a small ad agency in the south east, like Virginia or Georgia. But it was an ad agency I’d never heard of either.
While this was a little unusual, since we basically knew all the ad agencies that we dealt with, it was not a problem. The account man went on to introduce himself as Buzz something. Unfortunately, I forgot his last name years ago. So, now all I remember is “Buzz”.
Anyway, while he represented himself as an account executive, Buzz was also acting as the agency’s art director and TV producer. That in itself was a little weird, but not unheard of, especially in the case of very small ad agencies.
Buzz said that the reason he had come to us was because he knew the work of one of our directors, Steve Dollinger, and the he was familiar with filming in Mexico.
Some of you out there may have known, and/or worked with Steve back then.
Buzz also knew that I had contacts in Mexico, because Mexico was where he needed to shoot. Apparently his client, Torticos, had money in Mexico. But they couldn’t get it out. So, they decided to take advantage of it down there, and have there ad agency use it to shoot a couple of TV spots for their brand.
Buzz had no story boards, which are normally the blue print for what the ad agency wants their commercial to communicate. But he was able to describe what he wanted in a few words, since he already knew where he wanted to shoot, and what he wanted it to look like.
But I got the distinct impression that he’d never actually been to Mexico before, since his vision of it was more like this picture.
Nevertheless, we figured that he and Steve could work out the rest as they went along. And Steve seemed amenable.
The action was simple. In four instances, we would see either our leading lady/housewife, or our leading man/ husband, happily pushing a shopping cart from point A to point B, in two well known locations: the Plaza de Toros in Mexico City, and the pyramids at Teotihuacan.
The Bull Ring was not an issue, since it was all on a flat surface. But the pyramids were a totally different story.
And now comes the rub. Buzz’s vision was to see each one of his “All American” looking actors pushing their individual shopping carts up the steps of the Pyramid of the Sun, at Teotihuacan!!!
Trying to manage getting up one step at a time, with only yourself to worry about is difficult enough. But trying to do it with a shopping cart was not only nuts, it was impossible. If any of you’ve ever been there and climbed it, you know what I mean.
But, I couldn’t talk him out of it. So, I decided to wait until we got to Mexico City, and let the Bureau of Antiquities explain it to him.
We did our casting locally, since Buzz wanted the “All American, Proctor & Gamble” look. Of course finding actors with that perfect TV appeal was easy right here in Hollywood. So, with a few suggestions from Steve, Buzz quickly found the people he wanted, and seemed happy with the results. His four choices were perfect All American P&G types. And each one was capable of pushing a shopping cart!
Meanwhile I contacted my friend, Ray Sinatra, who owned a film studio in Mexico City called “Forosetenta”, and from where we were going to work. Ray and I had worked together a few years earlier, while I was at Dove Films. But we only worked together here in the U.S. Nevertheless, we had a good working relationship. So, this was an opportunity not only to work with him again through Wakeford/Orloff, but to work with him in and around his own studio, in Mexico City.
For the shoot Steve hired one of his favorite DPs, David Shore, who also brought along his teenage daughter, since she’d never been to Mexico before. As it turned out, during her stay, she and Ray Sinatra’s wife became fast friends.
In addition, we had our four “white bread actors” flying with us. But Ray was supplying the rest of the crew. And when we got to Mexico City, they were ready for us.
Our first location was the Plaza de Toros. The shoot went well. So well, in fact, that it was totally unmemorable for me. The only thing I do remember was Ray explaining to me how the 50 or so background extras, that we had filling the stands were segregated. The first two rows were the good looking ones, and could be used in closeups, if necessary. They also got the higher rate than those in the upper rows.
They were the not so good looking ones, with bad teeth, bad skin, facial blemishes, and God knows what else. They were simply there to fill the rest of the seats.
Our next location was slated to be the Pyramids, and everyone except Buzz knew exactly how that was going to turn out.
But I took one more stab at reality an said, “Buzz, they’re going to look at our request and treat it as if we were trying to sell Kotex in front of the Vatican. And that’s before you even try to figure out how you’re going to get a 5’½ foot woman up a series of very steep stairs . . . pushing a shopping cart yet, while having her act like she’s enjoying it!”
But he still didn’t want to hear it from me. So the next step was to take him downtown, to the Bureau of Antiquities, and try to apply for a permit. A permit to shoot an American TV commercial for a stupid corn chip, that would require actors to climb their sacred pyramid steps, while pushing a shopping cart.
Surprise, surprise! When we got there and attempted to explain what we wanted to do, they didn’t even want to talk to us. They had no intention of even listening to our explanation as to why we Gringos should be allowed to use the pyramids as a background to sell some unknown American corn chip.
So, they never even got to learn how Buzz intended to have his actors push their shopping carts up the stone face of the pyramid!!!
Fortunately, Ray Sinatra had already worked out the perfect alternative location, right in the city. It was a small park made to look like a charming Mexican village, with short streets and a lovely fountain right in the center. It also happened to be a stable for horses. But they were housed in stalls that were charmingly hidden behind the village facades.
The shoot went without a hitch, and the talent could push their shopping carts around the village streets to their — or Buzz’s — heart’s content.
But the best parts for me were the meals served in our little village. Incredible Mexican dishes topped by the best damn tacos ever. All made by one single woman, who the crew knew as “Raul’s mother”!
Oddly enough, beside being an incredible cook, she also happened to be the mother of a young PA named Raul, and simply became known as “Raul’s mother”.
Obviously she had been the cook of choice for a long time, for Ray’s crew at Forosetenta. Working all alone, she was with us the entire day of the shoot, cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner, while serving the crew from her kitchen . . . which just happened to be in the back of the grip truck!