Shooting a TV commercial in Japan — my experience

Every now and then I see people sharing funny commercials from Japan. I’ve seen them on my Facebook timeline, Twitter, 9gag and other countless websites — always captioned “OMG! Weird Japanese commercial!”. Never in my life had I thought that one day I would actually find myself in a film studio, shooting a commercial for Japanese TV. I’m not saying I never wanted to try it, it’s just… That kind of thought never really crossed my mind. Yet, some time ago I got the amazing opportunity to see for myself what shooting a commercial in Japan looks like. And today I’d like to share my experience with you.

JOHNSONVILLE TV COMMERCIAL

THE AUDITION

I think I was at work when I got a message from my friend Sharla (Sharla in Japan on YouTube). She asked me if I’d be interested in auditioning for a commercial and although I had never even thought about it, I thought “Why not? It won’t hurt to try!”. I exchanged a few e-mails with the director of the commercial and scheduled an audition. I knew that the company the CM was supposed to be for is an American sausage company and that there would be some sort of vintage / pin-up theme going on. They say “you gotta dress the part to get the part!” — so I tried looking kinda pin-upish, without overdoing it.

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I got some documents to sign and they took a photo of me. Notice how they wrote I’m from Russia — let me just say that I clearly wrote I was Polish on that document I had to fill out. Not that I don’t get mistaken for a Russian all the time and I’m honestly fed up with it, no no.

So anyway, what did it look like? First, I was holding a piece of paper with my name written on it and had to introduce myself in Japanese to the camera. I said some basic stuff like “I’m Stasia, I live here and there, I do this and that…”. And then…? Surprise surprise -– I was supposed to eat sausage in front of the camera. That’s it.  Sounds simple, right? I got a piece of freshly cooked sausage on a plastic plate and some plastic cutlery. They told me to sit at the table “in an elegant way”, cut the sausage and eat it “as if it was the most expensive sausage in the world”. I didn’t eat breakfast that day so I was actually genuinely happy to have received some free food. I did my best to eat it as if it cost a fortune and that was it!

A few days later I received a phone call from the director. I’m still wondering how on Earth I manage to get that far without being supported by any agency and not having any acting experience. Well, either way I’m really glad they called me back!

THE REHEARSAL DAY

I arrived at a shooting studio somewhere in Kanagawa prefecture. I was really nervous, since I had no idea what it would all look like. I was waiting in the make-up room and other people starring in the commercial started coming in. The second person to come was a tall European guy and that’s when the director explained that in fact… we would be playing a happy couple. I was supposed to sit on his lap, feed him sausages and look happy. I admit it was super awkward… You know, we just met, but we had to be convincing as a boyfriend and girlfriend. He was actually a professional actor, so naturally he was really relaxed about it. I must say that all his tips and super nice attitude really helped me.

So what was next? The make-up… Well, what can I say, the stylists were Japanese and they did our make-up the Japanese way. Those eyebrows and that thick black line under my waterlines added at least 10 years to my face, but if that’s the effect they wanted to get, who am I to judge their artistic vision? I was just hoping they would modify it a bit on the shooting day.

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On the rehearsal day we practiced everything we were supposed to do the next day. There was a lot of chair spinning involved and I honestly felt sorry for my partner — he had to carry over 50 kilograms all day, not to mention spinning in the chair, eating sausage and looking happy at the same time!

Apparently, everyone starring in this particular commercial already had a lot of experience. TV dramas, walk-on parts in cinema movies, modelling, talk shows… I was the only rookie there. Besides, I don’t even watch TV so even if I met someone really famous, I guess I wouldn’t have really known? Anyway, other cast members were super friendly and nice, and it was fun to listen to their stories — photoshoot with Kimura Takuya, behind the scenes of saigen drama etc.

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We finished practicing at about 9 pm. It was really tiring — repeating same scenes countless times, with all the lights on you, where every face expression, every gesture, every little thing had to be done according to the director’s instructions. But! I had bags of fun, there’s really nothing I could honestly complain about.

***

That night we all stayed at a business hotel nearby. They had a beer vending machine, so I treated myself to a can of cold refreshing Kirin and took a long bath. There was a long day ahead of us and we all had to be at the studio at 6 am the next day.

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THE SHOOTING DAY

I am not a morning person. It wasn’t easy to wake up so early and jump into work mode straight away. Make-up and hair styling took a few hours, so we had time to grab some coffee and breakfast. Everything was there for the cast and the staff — food buffet, a little trailer with coffee and other beverages, a snack corner. We even had a person to give us bottles of water (each bottle singed with each actor’s name).

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I was very relieved to see that they chose a lighter make-up for me on the shooting day. And I absolutely loved my hairstyle! Just look at that adorable curl!

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We practiced our chair spin with a choreographer — everything had a certain order. Spin with no sausage on the fork → putting a small piece of sausage on the fork and showing it to the camera → putting that piece in my partner’s mouth → OMG THIS SAUSAGE IS AMAZING WOOOOW! → spin → repeat. I had a certain melody in my head to keep the right rhythm. I guess I was too focused on it, because the choreographer told us to “SHOW MORE LOVE!”And this is how we practiced showing “more love”….

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I guess we were rather successful, because after that we were told it was… “NO NO, TOO SEXY!”

We didn’t have to be out there on set all the time — as you can see in the video, there were quite a few of us, and each person had their own thing to do. Some scenes were shot separately, for some we all had to be there. That chair spinning part we had to do appears on screen for a few seconds, but trust me — the whole thing took a few hours! Knowing how much time we really spent filming and that the commercial is only 30 seconds long absolutely blows my mind! 

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 ***

Making a commercial requires much more time, more acting and more people than I had imagined. There were probably more than 30 staff members — the director, assistants, choreographers, scenographers, make-up artists powdering our noses every 3 minutes, special effects people (notice that fire breathing guy), people taking care of the food… They were all really lovely though. Kind, helpful, supportive… The list of superlatives is really long. Just to give you a quick example: there was supposed to be a scene where my partner and I had to dance, but I didn’t really feel comfortable with that, I swear I was born with two left feet! The choreographers understood that and came up with something else without a single word of complaint. The atmosphere was really laid-back, we could joke around and simply have fun, doing our job at the same time. 

It was my very first experience of this sort and I can say with confidence that I wouldn’t mind repeating it again one day!

(photo courtesy of Katrina )

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Thank you for reading!♥

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13 thoughts on “Shooting a TV commercial in Japan — my experience

  1. It is such a cute commercial! I love this post so much 🙂 I am an australian actor moving to Japan next year so I am very interested in stuff like this! I am happy you had so much fun and you looked great! x

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