On Storytelling: 30 Seconds or Bust

So, yep, I’ve been a bit unwell these past few days, but things are looking up. Or rather, I’m looking up at the ceiling earlier this morning and remembering “Oh yeah, I have a lot of writing to do!” as assorted creaks and groans emanate from under the covers. If one’s body is supposed to be a temple, mine is the heart-wrenching (ow) Temple of Doom, minus the fun but deadly mine cart stage. Oh, it used to be there and a hell of a ride it was (a regular E Ticket experience, whee!). But you know how things fall apart over time? Well, that part dropped into the lava about ten days ago and along with all the King’s horses and most of his men. It’s so NOT good to be the King when this sort of thing happens, but we push on. When the going get tough, the tough… kinda go back to bed for a wee bit.

Anyway, as a quick writing exercise as well as a tick towards some much needed humor, I’ve decided to practice on an unwilling audience this form of torture that I hope you appreciate (whipcrack!). Well, it’s not as bad as it sounds (hopefully).

(Thanks, James Bond 007!)

Now, pay attention.

On occasions when I’m not too busy, I like to poke at YouTube to check out old TV ads partially because it’s a memory jolt when I see stuff from my childhood and partially because some of these old ads are funny as hell. Granted, not everything I recall comes off as well as it may have back in the day. I wasn’t born yet when the ad for Ideal Toy’s less than thrilling battery-powered pooch Gaylord was on the air, but I recall a neighbor’s kids having one and not being at all thrilled by the world’s slowest moving fake doggie. In terms of any storytelling, all that ad shows in how truly boring that toy was even back in 1962. That said, toy ads were prevalent enough that kids of my era were carpet bombed with every conceivable toy or game idea under the sun with a clear distinction between most toys as being either for girls or boys. Times have definitely changed, that’s for sure.

At least most food ads were neutral, at least in terms of simpler ready-to eat items. Women were still locked into the harried wife/happy mom roles doing the part time job as dealer of “wholesome” family treats, but this nonsense was usually played for laughs and in the case of my own family, not taken at all seriously. As for stuff I liked as a kid, I was a Quisp fan for a while, but yeah, we got all sorts of cereal brands cold and hot without much of a shred of loyalty to a particular brand. That King Vitamin was sweet and all, but yeah, it DID tear up the roof of your mouth if you went for a larger than normal serving.

While I could ramble on about favorite ads and such, I’ll pipe down and let you watch one of my all-time faves and how well it tells its particularly peculiar tale in a tidy 30 seconds:


(Thanks, robatsea2009!)


If you’re old enough, you’ll recall that about seven years earlier, Big Fig (the late James Harder) first popped up in another musical ad that introduced the mascot in a pretty spectacular manner. I recall that ad running so much for so many years that it was pretty much a given when someone in school said “Here’s the tricky part,” you could glance over and see them standing on one leg and pointing somewhere off in the distance. I even remember a math teacher getting the class to crack up when she did this while explaining fractions and long division. Well, most of the class, as there was this one kid whose parents wouldn’t let him watch ANY television at all, not even on the weekends. I’m gathering if he’s still alive and kicking, he’s probably a lot better off that most of us who do watch too much of the even more of an idiot box these days.

But, I digress (it’s a terrible hobby, sorry!)

That ad above is perfect for a few reasons and it’s all in the action and reaction, choreography, editing and yes, music. First, watch it as an entire piece with everything flowing smoothly. Kid comes home from wherever (his backpack, shown briefly, suggests he’s home from school), asks his mom for cookies. Mom says “sure” and *boing!* all hell breaks loose. Note that a mere four seconds has passed when Big Fig appears. After the first viewing, watch it again and only watch the mom. Her initial reactions are flawless, from the shock on her face at seeing a giant fig (or man in a fig suit) pop out of that large larder, to her weak smile when Fig shows her the treat (as the kid is reaching for it, no less!). If you’re not cracking up when she looks down at Fig’s wacky shoe and later, when she’s spun off camera by Fig as if he’s saying “Okay, get out of my shot, lady!” you may need to have that funny bone replaced.

A third viewing is needed to watch the kid just because he’s doing what seems like the bare minimum when compared with the other two actors, but his part is just as important. It’s he, in fact, who gets to confirm with a nod that a Fig Newton is “So goood!” as the chorus notes before Big Fig ends the ad with “There is no substitute!”. Allow me to note two important things at this point, only one of which is relevant.

1. Despite my love for the ads,  I really didn’t like Fig Newtons all that much. I recall we had them in the house and I believe my great-grandmother either ate them or had them as treats for us on occasion, but I’d never be that kid rushing home in order to have a guy in a fig suit pop out of a cabinet with a cheery tune and a fresh pack at the ready. Hell, he’d be a rotting figgy corpse stinking up the kitchen thanks to my ongoing Hydrox fetish at that time (sorry, Oreo!).


(thanks, Jazpertube!)


2.  Years later, the first time I saw Ken Russell’s exquisitely crafted Women in Love, I completely lost it when this scene rolled up because all I could think of was Big Fig popping out from behind a tree and spinning all the ladies off screen while pelting all the men with those oddly shaped cookies until they ran off, all so he could explain the proper way to eat a fig was when it was wrapped in a “tender flaky, golden cake-y outside”. So, we went from “Ah, I see the perpetual struggle has begun…” to “Is it good? Darn tootin!'”. in less time than it takes to say, eat a fig?

Yeah, I tend to mess stuff like this up frequently. Another hobby of mine, because one needs to do at least two or three things completely incorrectly.

Yes, I had to explain all that to the person I was watching the film with, but at least she was patient and kind of got the joke. This was in the pre internet age, so there were no clips of Big Fig to aid my cause, although she at least knew what a Fig Newton was. That’s when you wonder why you’re still single and in need of a good cookie, a glass of milk and a better nap afterward, heh. Sisyphus had an easier time, I bet. Ah well… I think I feel better now,  but ask me in the morning.




4 thoughts on “On Storytelling: 30 Seconds or Bust

  1. Ha! I believe that Big Fig suit is one size fits all, so we’re good. This week’s agenda now includes looking to trademark “JUSTICE HIPS!” and getting you on TV in Japan as some costumed hero for that 15 minutes of fame (30 minutes at a time). 😀


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