Would you like fries with that?
Posted by Trixter on April 14, 2008
I found this visiting at my parent’s house for my Dad’s 66th birthday and just had to share it. But first, some background, because otherwise the picture has no meaning.
During my senior year at New Trier High School, our concert choir won a state-wide competition and, along with our “audition tape” singing Handel’s Messiah, we were picked to sing at Carnegie Hall for a 1989 concert. (The conductor and composer was John Rutter; I forget the piece at the moment.) Although the township that New Trier serviced was quite wealthy, it was still a very expensive trip for the entire choir to go to New York, so a series of money-making activities were tossed around to see what we could come up with. Eventually the most feasible ones (ie. the ones that would bring in the most money) were putting together a small group for holiday-performances-for-rent, and a headshot cattle call at a Chicago agency to see if any of us could get some work. The small group idea gelled into a group of six to perform at a holiday party at the Swift mansion — you know, the makers of the sausage — and the cattle call produced a single “hit”: A photo shoot for McDonald’s.
I was lucky enough to hit both of these.
The Swift mansion story is not the focus of this post, but it’s short and sweet so I’ll simply say this: A bass, baritone, tenor, contralto, mezzo-soprano, and soprano all packed into two cars to drive to Lake Forest, IL. Along the way, one of the cars breaks down and we all pack into the other car (a ford escort!) so as to meet our engagement. To all fit into the car, I sat on the lap of a girl in the back seat, and was ignorant enough to not offer her the seat position, and too naive to use my position to hit on her. (In my defense, she was the one who requested the seating arrangement, probably because she was uncomfortable with the thought of sitting on a boy she didn’t know.) Once there, we found that the entrance hall had to be at least 2000 square feet and we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. We went directly to the performance room/hall/whatever-you-call-another-2000-square-foot-room, met our pianist, and proceeded to sing about 2 hours’ worth of classical holiday song, including the Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah. It lost a bit of… depth with only six people singing it, but I didn’t crack my high note and overall the entire room seemed to like it. After our performances we immediately packed back into the car and headed home. I saw only those two adjacent halls but I’ll never forget them. I guess sausage brings in a lot of dough.
So. Let’s talk about my McDonald’s photo shoot.
There was (and probably still is) a McDonald’s regional headquarters office building in Illinois, and on the day of the shoot I was to be there at 7:30am. When my mother dropped me off, I was surprised to see that there were a lot of other models already in McDonald’s uniform, hair, and makeup; also surprising was that shooting had already been going on for at least an hour. I was directed to a hair and makeup lady, and she did something to my face and, for “hair” put a McDonald’s cap on me. I was then to wait in the larger waiting area with the others until they called me.
While I waited, I listened to the other talents’ conversations. I was too shy to introduce myself, and I also felt sheepish that I was a complete and total amateur, so I just eavesdropped. The crowd seemed to fit into two camps: Career models (who brought their portfolio with them, which I found odd because they had already landed the job) and people who did modeling part-time for extra cash. One elderly gentleman (whom you’ll see below) mentioned he started taking these jobs after he retired, to supplement his fixed income. After two hours, I worked up the courage to ask a girl if I could see her portfolio; I was surprised to see that it was mostly boring things like catalogs and Sunday-paper-insert stuff. Such is the life of a working model, I guess. One of the older women in her mid-40’s (whom you’ll also see in the photo below) had a small part in a movie where she played a peasant who plants a bomb in a church or something. She was the only one who had movie experience, so she had a tiny entourage of people asking how she got the work.
After three hours, I started to wonder if they didn’t need me, if I would still get money for the trip, etc. when they finally called me over. “We’re heading to the photo shoot.” I started to head for the outside door, thinking that we would be transported to a set, or a McDonald’s that was empty for the day. “No, it’s over here.” She was pointing to the elevator.
I rode the elevator down to the first floor, where the doors opened to a 100% faithful reproduction of a McDonald’s. This literally could have been any McDonald’s anywhere, with the requisite fiberglass tables and chairs connected to the wall and each other, cash registers, griddle, fry station, etc. It even had all of the backroom stuff, such as a dishwasher for trays and a tiny office for a fictional manager. What it did not have was a ton of dirt, grease, grime, angry customers, screaming kids, deep fryer alarms, and an overall sense of gluttony and despair. It was the McDonald’s from AnyTown, USA, and it was suitable for framing.
I spent the late morning doing my best to look like I was paling around with a guy in his mid-twenties in the same employee getup as me. We did our shtick in front of the dishwasher, arms around each other, at one point me picking him up. I guess the goal was to make working at McDonald’s look like great chummy fun, but all I could think about at the time was how to smile without my braces showing. I was also quite unnerved that I had to share personal space with a guy I had just met, and further unnerved by the fact that the photographer coordinating the shoot was obviously not happy with my performance for some reason.
We broke for lunch, and you get one guess who catered our lunch and what it was. I remember eating very slowly and carefully, to make sure I didn’t screw up my makeup. The makeup lady had only worked on me for 30 seconds, but whatever she did, I didn’t want to screw it up.
After lunch, I sat and waited for another three hours, and contemplated other mundane questions: Would I still get paid if my photos weren’t used in the ad campaign? (answer: yes) Would I get to keep any of this money? (answer: no) Will I get a copy of the photos after the shoot? (answer: no) I was trying to obsess with as little motion as possible when I was called back to the AnyTown set for the final shoot of the day. The goal was also to make working at McDonald’s as cheery as possible, but this time it was directly behind the counter and it was a mixture of five AnyTown denizens:
- An elderly white male
- An elderly black female
- A middle-age latina woman
- A young adult white female
- A teen white male
The photographer had an interesting way of getting the right performance out of us: He wanted us to take positions from various places behind the counter, and then, on the count of three, run toward each other and collide on our mark. I’m serious: We were to appear in-frame in a split second, usually with a positive “Hey!” or affirmative “Alright!”. This went on for at least half an hour, with the photographer getting frustrated because things weren’t “clicking”. I was beginning to wonder when the elderly models were going to break a hip when, in a fit of frustration, the photographer told me smile wider dammit because the reason I had been picked from the cattle call was because I had a perfect row of braces on both teeth.
They wanted to see my braces? Would’ve been nice to tell me that when I started so I didn’t have to try to hide them the entire shoot! With that limitation lifted, I relaxed a bit, which everyone else picked up on, which made them relax a bit, and the photographer got the shot he wanted.
I never heard from the agency again, although I saw a statement of the money I had made for the school. I believe it was $1500, which to this day still seems like a misprint for so little work on my part. 18 months later, back from college on a break, I was greeted by my own face walking into the local McDonald’s, staring back at me from a pad of employment application forms.
Click and enjoy: