I have been in the TV Commercial Production game for a very long time. Eleven and a half years, to be exact. I have seen the ups and downs, crazy busy times where I felt like my hair was on fire, hell bent on not just beating an insane deadline but finishing proudly in advance, and dead zones where I was convinced I’d caught peripheral glimpses of actual tumbleweeds tumblin’ through my lonely edit bay. Through it all, I have had the tremendous pleasure of working with a handful of TV station sales people (AEs or Account Executives) that have impacted my life far beyond just contracting me to produce an ad for their clients. Most of the time, a sales person calls up and asks me to arrange a meeting with the new client. From that point on, their hands are essentially washed of the act of putting the ad together. From the creative element through script writing, the shooting of it on location, editing it in the AVID suite, final client approval, the whole process is no longer their concern. All they need to do in the end is pick up the dub of the ad that will air on their network and have faith that the job was well done, success for their customers guaranteed. As far as I’m concerned, working with this kind of AE is perfectly fine. They don’t want any part of the hassle (in their minds) of production, and they trust their business with me, of which I appreciate. All’s good. Everyone’s content.
However, there were a scant couple of ad execs that actually relished the whole kit and caboodle of TV commercial production, and happily threw themselves into all aspects of it. One such ad amigo was my beloved Mark Driscoll. Mark was a rare bird. He was late forty something when I met him 9 years ago, a hardworking, dedicated salesman, Mark had won awards for his tenacity and commitment to his client roster. He worked day and night, all while raising two brilliant and accomplished children and devoting his free time to them and his cherished, sweetheart wife. Mark stopped at nothing to gain his client’s trust, all while displaying a low key demeanor and dry, lovably biting humor. He adored writing original and innovative scripts for his clients. He would spend hours with me, helping to lug around my heavy equipment through blinding heat, bitter cold, or torrential rain. We trekked through all kinds of venues together including multiple Chinese buffets, Mexican eateries, car dealerships, shoe outlets, furniture stores, you name it, I shot it all on location with my trusty side kick by my side. If the ad called for extensive shots around the city of buildings, landmarks, or other important B-roll, Mark would take the wheel and I’d hop out along the side of the road to capture the perfect shot. Mark would lumber through the door of my home studio to sit in on the edit process occasionally, his gentle giant frame housing his heart of solid gold. He’d often talk to me with eyes downcast, no eye contact, only occasionally peering up through half mast eye lids, his eyes filled with mischievous humor once he’d connect visually. We’d enjoy lunches together through many a drive thru, but my most memorable meal with him was on one of his birthdays, now I’m no longer sure which one it was. Regardless, he was caught off guard to my delighted surprise. I’d told him I was buying, a thank you of sorts for his unwavering belief in me and for always choosing my company to produce his ads. It would be a secret til he came to pick me up that noontime. As I jumped in his car and he asked “where to?” I announced, “to the Maisonette, dear friend!” At first he protested. The Maisonette was, at the time, it’s now no longer around, the finest, most delicious, most decadent, fabulous French phenomenal dining destination in town. I wanted to pull out all the stops for my best buddy and after he finished blushing crimson, he agreed to the fun. It was times like those that his shy, sheepish side would take over full force and his no nonsense, aww shucks, I’m not good enough for a trip to the Maisonette had to be reckoned with.
Bottom line was, we worked well together. We were a mighty team, Mark and me, and his quirky friendship meant so much.
But then Mark got sick. He was diagnosed with cancer, which he valiantly fought with the same dogged determination he applied to his career. For a time, his cancer battle did become his career, as he had countless appointments involving trips to hospitals in town and clinics out of state to try to find a way, any way possible, to survive. After a time, he seemed to have beaten the evil scourge. He had hit remission and his once thick salt and pepper hair that had all but vacated was beginning to reemerge. He’d gone from despair and debilitating fatigue to rediscovering a pep in his step, that old sparkle returned to his bashful eyes.
Ultimately, the cancer came back and this time that demon was taking no prisoners. Mark declined rapidly. He was in and out of consciousness, and his iron willed wife notified his colleagues at the station that it was time. I was told there would be a gathering at Mark’s house on a Wednesday. I had not seen Mark in a little while as he was not seeing anyone til that date. I did not know what to expect. I could never see myself arriving empty handed, so I called a new local florist I’d heard good things about and explained specifically the occasion I needed flowers for. I requested their most amazing arrangement, please incorporate your best, beautiful, bright, cheerful colors. Please make it perfect for Mark!
Wednesday awoke with a thick heat draped in still air, and I scrambled to get Ava off to school followed by a rush to the florist for pick up. As I dashed through their door in a near haze, my brain fried with the thought of having to say goodbye to my dear friend, the hideousness of it hit me hard. I took one look at the front desk and what their idea of a suitable arrangement was for this gut wrenching occasion and thought oh no, please for the love of all that is good and kind in the land, please do not let that be what they have for me! I cautiously approached the counter and the overly cheerful florist confidently pushed this nightmare in a vase my way. OH NO!!! I screamed inside. How am I going to fix this??? I’m RUNNING OUT OF TIME! I was so shocked and mortified I did not even bother to ask them to fix it. My mind had already started churning, calculating the drive time to yet another florist who had to have better flowers that I could replace with the God awful ones in this. I could leave in the greenery and a few of the buds that were acceptable but that was it. I pulled out my credit card silently and ran out of there ASAP. After success at the the next floral destination, and a pit stop at NanaPapas to do the arranging myself, it was a mad dash to Mark’s. Can you believe that after all of that I managed to get there early? I was the first to arrive. Miraculous. Mark’s wife invited me in and I was asked to sit on the couch. I took a seat next to Mark’s teen daughter and awkwardly waited for what I could do next. My flowers were set aside on a table as I was told Mark was having a bad day. He’d been roaming around dangerously upstairs most of the morning and was generally out of it. It was made clear that at this time he might not remember me… or anyone visiting. After a few minutes I asked if maybe I could go up and see him. She said sure, she’d planned on having a few visitors go up in intervals, but figured it’d be OK for me to begin on my own. I started up the stairs but felt compelled to ask if it would be alright if I took my flowers along with me. I got the green light, thankfully. The vase was heavy in my grip, my hands were shaking. I did not want to drop my offering all over the place. I was nervous. My nerves disappeared as soon as I rounded the corner and entered the room they’d set up as his home hospice space. He was painfully frail, emaciated and ghost white. His once towering build had been ravaged mercilessly, and he seemed engulfed by the mass of his hospital bed. With a whisper of a voice he weakly greeted me and before I could hug him I held out the gift I’d hoped against hope would cheer him, if only for a moment. He pulled himself up on his bone thin forearms and asked if I’d twirl the vase around so he could take all of the colors and scents in at once. I held my impending tears back as I watched him bend his bald head forward, gently close his weary eyes and inhale the sweetness of the bouquet. The vase was far too heavy for this once strong man, so I continued to hold it in front of him to enjoy. After he reached out to feel the velvet softness of each bloom, he instructed me to set it across the room from him, on a table where he could keep it within eye shot. After doing so I knelt down beside him and encircled my arms around his paper thin limbs, careful not to hurt him in our embrace. We talked easily, as I took a seat in a small wooden chair beside him, never letting go of his hand. Soon the others appeared downstairs and I looked to his wife and daughter, unsure if I could continue my vigil or if I should go. Mark answered the question by saying with his old, shy smile, hollowed out eyes staring into mine, “you’re not going anywhere.”
So, for the next hour I had the great honor of sitting beside him, holding his fragile hand, helping him take sips through a hospital straw as he’d become parched from talking, all while groups of three and four of his coworkers came through. Some groups were light and elicited laughter all around. Some were weepy and somber, so quiet. Mark would talk on to all of them, occasionally glancing my way with a silent smile. At times he was lucid, making perfect sense. But at the end of that hour he began drifting off a bit, no longer able to put sensical words into sentences. But above all, his main concern even on that untimely death bed was his need for assurance from his work mates that his clients were all happy and well taken care of. A tirelessly devoted salesman to the end.
The last group finally finished their visit and I found myself alone with Mark, as his wife and daughter had joined the others all now far away voices downstairs. I stood up, knowing it was time I, too, take my leave and allow Mark some rest. He raised up his exhausted arms one last time and motioned for our parting embrace. It took every ounce of my strength not to burst into a flood of tears in front of him. He held me close as I once again knelt beside him and I told him I loved him so much. He said “I love you, too, Ainsley”. I knew I had to pull back from him then, but I also knew that in doing so I would never get to hold him again. The realization was beyond what I could take. “We were a terrific team”, he said. I smiled through the tears that had begun despite my best efforts. “We were the best!” I whispered.
I gathered myself together, stood and began that necessary walk to the doorway. And then I did something I had no plan to do. Something that came over me without thinking, but I’m so glad I did. Turning to look at him one last time, I light-heartedly reached my fingers to my lips and kissed them, then blew him a last kiss goodbye. He perked up while catching my thrown kiss, frail fingers of his own then returned the simple gesture. I caught his invisible kiss in the palm of my hand, turned and walked away from that room and on into the rest of my life, knowing my partner in production better half would soon be in a peaceful place, as well as forever resting along side my still healing heart.
A tribute to my beloved partner in production, my tireless teammate now resting on a cloud, Mark Driscoll.