I’m A Beekeeper, And I Play One On T.V.
I didn’t think it was relevant to mention that I am a film producer today when I showed up to perform my career-defining, break-out role of “The Beekeeper” in the Kashi commercial. I just wanted to enjoy the novel experience of being on the opposite side of the camera, so I decided to go undercover. Other than the make-up artist, the sound guy was the only other person on set who knew that I am not a full-time beekeeper. He found me out when he was wiring me for sound and I told him that am notoriously awful at walking off with sound gear. “Seriously,” I told him. “I will drive home with the battery pack still clipped to the inside of my pants.” He laughed, but I am not exaggerating. I’ve gone to dinner still wearing my headphones around my neck. My assistants carry my walkie talkie for me when I’m on set because I’ve actually managed, at various times, to leave my walkie on the dashboard of my rental car, at the magazine rack at the grocery store, and in my hotel room…in another state. At any rate, he immediately figured out that I’m a producer. No one else on set could be that stupid.
Before the filming started, I met with the commercial beekeepers who had dropped off 10 frames of bees that had been split between two separate hives, so I could meet my buzzy co-stars in advance. Once they left, it was going to be up to me to wrangle the bugs. One of the beekeepers asked how I was treating for Varroa mites. When I told him that I don’t deal with mites, because I use small-cell feral bees that are naturally disease resistant, he looked at me gravely and said in his best ooga booga voice, “Oh, you’re using AFRICANIZED BEES.” Like I should be afraid. “Yeah, they’re so dangerous,” I said, without bothering to mention that my meanest hive is not as spazzy as the allegedly gentle bees he’d brought for the shoot.
The first shot of the day took place in the middle of a group of beehives that had been meticulously positioned by the art department in the center of a walnut orchard in Ojai. The trees hadn’t flowered yet, but the wild mustard was in full bloom. It was gorgeous.
Lara, “The Kashi Star,” (which is how she was credited on the call sheet) and I were in full bee gear, and so were the two camera operators. Since the rest of the crew was hunkered down around monitors, working remotely from a quarter mile away to avoid stings, a walkie talkie had been hidden behind one of the hives so that the director could tell us what to do.
My first piece of direction: “Okay Max, can you act like you are talking to Lara about bees so she can stay animated and look interested in the hives?”
Okay, why would I ever act like I was talking about bees, when I can actually talk about bees? I’m not the Ruinator of dinner parties for nothing.
So, I popped open the hive and started giving Lara a hive tour. I showed her that the drones have huge, goggle-like eyes for ogling the queen. I pointed out how capped brood looks like apple pie crust. We looked for the queen, but didn’t find her. Since this was Lara’s first time inside a bee hive she was a little nervous at first, but then she quickly got into the swing of things, and started asking tons of questions and holding the frames like a pro. I’m hoping that she takes up beekeeping, because she was really good with the bees.
The next set up was at the Honey Table, which was the food porn part of the commercial. The crew shot a ton of footage of us eating honey, backlit honeycomb, and honey being poured in slow motion into glass jars. I don’t know how Lara avoided going into sugar shock because she had to eat a spoonful of honey in ever take.
Between takes I discovered that even though Lara, The Kashi Star, has flawless skin and naturally bouncy hair, she’s not an actress playing the role of a Kashi Executive, she IS a Kashi executive. When she’s not ecstatically modeling granola, she is one of Kashi’s in-house marketing gurus. Kashi uses real employees in all their commercials, which is pretty cool. No artificial flavors, colors or executives in Kashi products. Judging from the appearance of the other Kashi marketing executives overseeing the shoot, that company must have the cutest staff photos ever.
The end of the day was my favorite part of the shoot, mainly because I was lavishly complimented. Unbeknownst to me, the sound guy had left my mic on all day, even though I don’t have any lines of dialogue in the commercial, so the crew and the Kashi executives had been treated to my seven hour bee lecture. A bunch of the crew told me how much they’d enjoyed learning about bees, which made me so happy. (Hopefully, I’ve converted some of them to beekeeping). What was really funny was how many compliments I got on my acting. Since the director and most of the crew had no idea that I work in film in real life, and that I am not a full-time beekeeper, they thought that they’d discovered some kind of beekeeping acting savant, who naturally understood continuity and where to stand so not to put a shadow on the product. Several people came up after I wrapped for the day and told me how impressed they were by my performance. “Wow. You really understand the process.”
I made it all the way back to base camp before I realized that I still had a microphone clipped to my bra.