August, 1991 - It was a commercial for Pontiac and we had flown into El Paso, TX before being shuttled to our hotel in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Catherine Lefebvre was directing the commercial for Gibson-Lefebvre-Gartner and the spot was supposed to take place out at White Sands National Monument. Unlike its name, the landscape is composed of gypsum and calcium sulfate, which is what gives it such a bright white color, and it is actually a desert. More importantly, and perhaps of greater concern to those of us who were working there, was the fact that on the northern end of the grounds was a missile test site for military use. More importantly, was the fact that White Sands is home to the Trinity Site, aka “Ground Zero.” This is where the first ever nuclear bomb was detonated.
Also important to note that Roswell was close by. So the location was wrought with history, shrouded in mystery, and somewhat hazardous to our health.
If I remember correctly, I believe we even had to wear radiation detection badges to monitor our exposure to possible radiation. That’s always a comfortable work environment in which to enter.
The commercial itself wasn’t terribly interesting, a Pontiac automobile staged in front of white sand dunes, seated on a white surface. What was more fascinating was the location itself. We were cautioned prior to arriving that the reflective quality of the white “sand” is so intense that they recommend wearing those lovely, oversized cataracts sunglasses on top of your own pair of sunglasses, to avoid snow blindness.
They also cautioned all the men not to wear shorts, but if they did choose to do so it was suggested that we avoid wearing boxers underneath. Again, the “sand” is so reflective that should your package be exposed via baggie boxers, you could risk getting a very uncomfortable sun burn!! Not kidding.
The most notable experience from that day was watching a military plane approach our location from high overhead. It did not look like anything familiar to anyone, but with the sand glare, the heat, and the aircraft’s altitude it could have been easily distorted. But we all noticed how quiet its approach was until it flew over us and then, only then, did we really hear the engines. Looking back with historical hindsight, I would have to say that we were witnessing a Stealth B-2 bomber.
We ended up filming into the night and, as a result, had to mimic the daylight by breaking out several large lamps and a 20’x20’ silk to diffuse the light into a nice, indirect daylight look. But this is the desert. And the critters don’t sleep at night, especially insects. It wasn’t too long before every flying insect, moth, or winged creature within a 20 mile radius had congregated on our lights. In fact, the density of the bugs was great enough that it was actually affecting the light exposure. We had to wrap and return the next day to get the shot. In other words, the end of the day was scrapped due to an infestation of biblical proportions.
Like I said, the Pontiac spot was less than memorable, but the location was unforgettable.