Before we get into today's story, a little background info: As many of you know, my sister Sarah works at National Geographic. Sarah's friend, Sarah A., also works at Nat Geo and is currently involved with a project about Jane Goodall. Sarah A. asked me and some other parents she knows to send in videos of our kids talking about Jane Goodall. Jack, being four, had no idea who Jane Goodall was, but I don't like to disappoint, and besides, I figured it couldn't be that hard to feed Jack a couple of lines about chimpanzees and the illustrious Jane.
As usual, I was wrong.
First we watched a video about Jane for context. Jack enjoyed the chimpanzees. Then we moved onto the lines: "I really like chimpanzees. I want to be like Jane Goodall when I grow up." This took slightly longer to master than I anticipated.
Eventually, though, we got a decent take, which I sent to the Sarahs. Sarah A. said it was great, but my Sarah told me it would never work. I hadn't filmed it horizontally, and my camera skills sucked. I assured her it was fine with Sarah A., and that was what mattered. But then Sarah A. sent me an email: Could I please film it horizontally? I was more annoyed that my sister was right than that I had to re-film it. Plus, by the time I got the email it was bath time. Oh well. Nothing wrong with a kid talking about Jane Goodall in the bath tub, right? So I shot a couple more takes.
But when I sent that to my Sarah, she told me the bath tub thing wasn't going to cut it. Argh! So I got Jack dressed in his monkey pjs and chose a neutral background with bright lighting, as instructed. Then something weird happened.
Whoops! Didn't even know there was a slo mo option on my iPhone. After I figured THAT out, I got what I thought was a pretty good result.
Done and done! I sent the final product to my sister. She immediately wrote back to tell me it was no good.
Now just for a minute, imagine this scenario: it's 7:30, which is bed time. We've shot at least a dozen takes of the same scene, and Jack is getting pretty fed up. So, as it turns out, am I. I have bribed him with the last of the Cadbury mini eggs, and I'm feeling pretty awesome about giving my kid a bunch of candy right before bed. But, Sarah assures me, all I need to do is set up the shot EXACTLY like she tells me, and it will be fine.
Here are my parameters: hold my phone horizontal, use some kind of background for depth (like a couch), prop my arms on something so the image is steady, use the brightest light I can find (mind you we have one lamp next to our couch and no overhead lights in our temporary lodging), Jack should be looking at someone sitting next to me so his eyes don't wander but he's not staring right at the camera, he should be about a third of the way into the shot, I should talk to him before and after we get the lines to leave room for editing, I need to be at the same level as Jack, and it would be really fabulous if I had a book about chimps I could use in the scene. Because you know, I have tons of those lying around.
It is admittedly a rocky start, but it ends on what I think is a pretty good note.
I send the video in and declare myself well and done. Sarah, sensing my frustration, agrees that it will probably do, and I finally get to put the poor little reality television star to bed.
And then I see Sarah A. on Saturday. "How was it?" I ask, since I hadn't heard back about the final video.
Sarah A. looks at me sympathetically. "He didn't make the cut."
What the what?! How can this be? I followed all the rules (which by the way weren't actually provided). My child was adorable. I spent close to an hour on this utter nonsense! I suddenly understand why all those stage moms get so nuts when their kids don't win the beauty pageant. What could possibly be cuter than MY KID?!?!
I'll tell you what. The producer's kid.
And so began - and ended - Jack's acting career. Some of us just aren't made for this kind of cut-throat competition. It's a chimp-eat-chimp world out there. And no one understands that better than Jane.