Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sherman Foundation Exclusive Interview: Actor Steve Tom

I received an email from actor Steve Tom thanking me for complimenting his performance in the Kodak "Winds of Change" video that I posted a few weeks ago. We chatted via email and as I had a few questions about it I asked if we could do a little Q&A. He agreed.

Here's the video if you haven't seen it.

As I was copying and pasting the code for the video embed I let it play in the background and just listened to it, he really knows how to work his voice. Listen to how straight the delivery is in the beginning and how well he changes it up to work the comedic bits.

How did you get involved with the Kodak "Winds of Change" video project?
In May of last year I had the original audition for the video along with about 50 other guys, pared down to maybe 25 at the callback. The agency, Partners + Napier out of Rochester, NY had done some great work I was already familiar with. I just had fun with the rant at the callback and, fortunately, wound up booking the job. We shot at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Countless takes from multiple angles. Other than a few technical notes, direction was pretty minimal because, as I learned later from Partners + Napier's Jeff Gable, I was the only actor in the audition process that "got" the material, and understood exactly what was trying to be accomplished. The shoot was a blast, except for a few days of laryngitis afterward.

In September, we did two more videos in New York City for other Kodak divisions. At that time I was asked to be involved in a pre-con event for Kodak at the 2007 CES show, which I enjoyed immensely.

I've read that this was initially conceived as an internal communication. Is that accurate or were there always plans to release this as a viral video?
That's an interesting question. Honestly, I was told the same thing originally...that the L.A. video was going to be shown publicly one time only, immediately before Kodak CEO Antonio Perez' keynote to the Wall St. Journal's D4: Everything Digital trade show in San Diego. Apparently it was a huge hit at D4, getting a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. As far as I knew, that was it until one of my agents emailed me a link to the piece that appeared in the January 5th online issue of Advertising Age, which linked to the video on YouTube. The You Tube clip is actually a sanitized version of the original. A few references had been cut and some of the background visuals were different. How (or why) it jumped the transom from the Kodak intranet to You Tube, I don't know. And I have no idea if it was premeditated or not. As a performer, speculating on that kind of thing is like mind taffy. I'll leave that to the marketing analysts.

All I can tell you is that I personally think the original and subsequent videos are absolute genius in a re-branding sense. They deliver a plain and simple message that resonates with every single Joe Schlub consumer that I know. I think it's one of the most effective re-branding efforts that's been undertaken in decades. As an aside, all I did was bring a little life to a fabulous concept by the great team at Partners + Napier. All the credit goes to them and, just as importantly, to the people at Kodak who saw the wisdom in this concept. The trick now, in my opinion, will be to widen the message to reach more than a YouTube audience. If Kodak and Partners + Napier can do that, well, look out! And if I'm lucky enough to be a part of it, I'll gladly take the ride.

You can read the rest of my interview with Steve Tom by clicking on "comments".

1 comment:

Tom Sherman said...

What do you mean by sanitized? Was there some edgier material that has been edited out in the versions we've on Youtube?
Yes, some slight changes were made. Mostly in areas that referred to other companies. I'd have to look at the original again to refresh my memory and be more specific. But the changes to the You Tube version were minor.

Will we be seeing the other videos that were shot?
Never can tell. I never expected to see my original work show up again the way it has. One of the subsequent shoots was specific to a new Kodak printer that hasn't been released on the consumer market yet so, for sure, you won't be seeing that. At least not on purpose.

What sort of direction did you get on the character? Does He have a name? Was there any backstory? How was he described to you?
As I mentioned earlier, direction at the actual shoot was minimal. They had liked my audition performance so much that they suggested that I just go with the same sort of frenetic rant. So I did, and then some.

My original audition notes say, "Kindly, trustworthy CEO/announcer type begins calmly describing Kodak's new commitment to digital imagery and then escalates to a fever pitch - almost insane." No backstory. People at CES kept calling me the "Booo-yah guy" and, so far, that's the only name he has.

I approached the first part of the dialogue from a stereotypical industrial video standpoint. The turning point in the script was, "But that kind of crap doesn't work anymore!" It was there that the escalation began, and the fun part was seeing just how far they'd let him go in his craziness. The director and agency team were up for anything, so I just let 'er rip. I remember that pulling and messing up my hair at the Annie Liebowitz reference got a great reaction. It's not often that even the crew bursts into applause at the end of a take, but it happened several times. Everything just seemed to come together beautifully.

I was going to ask about that. Did you improv any of the dialog or was it straight from the script?
I'm trying to remember. No, it was all straight off the page. But, then again, the copy didn't really need anything extra, in my opinion. Again, all I did was bring life to their words.

And you did a fantastic job of that. You're voice is great as well and you use it to great effect. Are there plans to do any more work with Kodak? Have they spoken to you about doing live events?
Thank you so much. The only live work I've done so far was at CES this week, at a Kodak pre-con event for an audience of about 250. After some rather dry (by design, I suspect) speeches from Kodak people, I was introduced as a special guest speaker who would go into detail about consumer-trending and how Kodak needs to respond. When I took the stage, the audience started laughing and cheering - knowing full well what they were in for. But I pressed on, as if nothing were unusual...tearing my suit coat off in a frenzied finale. I'm told it was the first time in the history of a Kodak pre-con event that a presentation ended with a standing ovation.

As for the possibility of more Kodak work, there was a brief mention at CES about a possible appearance at the upcoming PMA show in Las Vegas, but nothing solid as yet.

I feel as if I've lucked into something rather groundbreaking here, and I'd be delighted to be a part of whatever plans Kodak may have for this wonderfully truthful and eccentric character's continued existence. After all, my wife and I were using Kodak products long before this came about. I don't think they even know that. Well, they do now. So it wouldn't be a stretch at all.

Do you won a digital camera?
My wife and I own several digital cameras, yes.

Any of them Kodak models?
Yup. Three of our four cameras are Kodak. The one that isn't was a 2 megapixel Christmas gift several years ago that's now an antique, and we just haven't disposed of it yet.

The AVN awards happen as the same time as CES in Vegas. Did you see anything interesting?
Laughing. Nope, I was pretty much cloistered inside my hotel for much of my CES visit. Only made it to the actual CES show on opening day, and that was a zoo. Didn't see anything "interesting", as you put it, and that's probably a good thing.

What's next? Do you have any upcoming projects? Anything you want to plug?
Nothing really exciting coming up with film or television at the moment. Had a very nice year, though, with recurring roles on NBC's "Windfall", ABC's "Commander in Chief", and guest spots on several other episodics. Added "Pulse" and the upcoming "Rendition" to my film reportoire, and am looking forward to seeing what pilot season might offer this year.

That's what's so fun about my business. You never know what's around the corner. Last May I never imagined that I'd soon be mobbed as the Kodak "Boo-yah guy" at CES. Not in a million years. And I couldn't be more proud.