Without even waiting for the holiday glut of toy and perfume pitches, promoters of last July's Live Aid benefit concert have added one more set of 30-second spots to the growing TV repertory of Christmas commercials.
A crew of 40 actors, technicians and ad agency employees gathered at a Hollywood video production studio this week to film Elliott Gould, Amy Irving, Dionne Warwick, Robin Williams, Pee Wee Herman and several other celebrities plugging a newly published 192-page commemorative picture book of the July 13 mega-event to benefit Africa.
About 10 different commercials, featuring each of the celebrities, will air on network television between Thanksgiving and Christmas. A schedule of times and dates is being finalized this week, according to production publicist Tess Haley.
Like the crew and performers who donated their time for the commercials, the networks are being asked to contribute the commercial air time to advertise the $9.98 paperback volume.
"The book was published in this country about three weeks ago, but it has been No. 1 on the British best-seller list for weeks," Haley said. "The BBC gave free air time for commercials in the U.K., so that's what we're trying to do here. Everyone is donating their time and services, right down to the shelves in the bookstores."
Melvin Sokolsky, a veteran director of commercials for Dr Pepper, Coca-Cola and several models of automobiles over the last 20 years, even cited an ice cream company that loaned the crew a truck in which to haul equipment for the commercial shoot at Cinepro studios . . . where production facilities were also donated Tuesday.
"It's interesting we could do something like this with no money attached to it. Nobody negotiated, nobody demanded. Everybody did something they know how to do for free," Sokolsky said in amazement.
Haley said 100% of the proceeds from the book, published by New Jersey-based Unicorn Publishing, are going directly to the Live Aid Foundation.
Most of the commercials involve an actor holding up the book in a medium close-up shot while discoursing for 27 seconds about the good that will come from buying it. A three-second trailer spotlighting the book itself ends each commercial.
Some are maudlin/serious. Elliott Gould reminisces about his mother ordering him to clean his plate, for instance. Then he points out that Africans have nothing to clean off of theirs.
Others are funny. Robin Williams mock-scolds viewers to think about Africa and the Live Aid book while biting into a three-pound hamburger.
But the best takes of all may never see the small screen.
"You're talking about starving people and yet we're falling on the floor laughing," Sokolsky said apologetically.
The high point of a day's worth of charity commercial production came late Tuesday afternoon when Williams interrupted Patti LaBelle with a parody of her gospel riff, according to Sokolsky. While the pair did an impromptu exchange on camera, Pee Wee Herman walked on stage, doing his impression of a hound baying at the moon.
"Williams went from speaking Russian to Chinese to doing something in Scandinavian," said Sokolsky. People have come up to me all day saying, 'You've done a wonderful job today,' and all I did was turn the camera on."