I don’t usually spend my Sunday mornings in front of a mirror doing victory roll curls in my hair, but it was a special occasion. My dance teachers Yuval Hod and Julia Slavikas asked me, my boyfriend Andy Whiting, and some of our friends from our swing dancing troupe, Swing Out South Florida, to be extras in a Johnnie Walker commercial at the Fort Lauderdale speakeasy Stache. Yes, Sundays were meant for potato chips and soft couches, but how often does one get the Hollywood treatment? I had to do it.
We were told to come dressed in a '40s style, so I pulled out my brown, polka dot dress, curled my hair (burning my forehead in the process), and then put on my foundation. Scorched face aside, I was ready for my closeup.
When we arrived we realized there was a miscommunication. The theme was actually '20s speakeasy style. It might not seem like a big deal, but the difference between '40s and '20s style is striking. I don't know what went on in the '30s, but all of a sudden every woman wanted curls, A-line skirts, and was looking for things to stuff in their bras. Quite different than the flapper look.
Luckily, the hair and makeup stylists quickly ushered us into the back corner of the bar and in a flash, we were '20s gals. In wardrobe, our stylist gave us flapper dresses, feathers, and headbands to make the look complete.
Meanwhile Andy Whiting, the volunteer and teaching coordinator for Swing Out South Florida, walked onto the set with a golf cap, gray vest, and a big smile and they didn’t have to do a thing to him — except a little powder for his face. No matter the decade, men always have it easier.
If you're going to film a 1920s style commercial in Fort Lauderdale, Stache is the obvious choice. Opened in 2013, the bar aimed to bring a vintage look to the bright lights and bass-heavy streets of downtown Fort Lauderdale. Inside, Stache is a dimly lit lounge. The interior looks a bit like a scene from The Great Gatsby, minus a grinning Leonardo DiCaprio. Plush couches and booths border a cozy dance floor. The upstairs area feels like a converted library. Bookshelves cover the walls, there's more vintage furniture, and you can overlook the dance floor while sipping an old fashion.
Stepping into the unmarked bar is like stepping into a time machine — especially after just coming from a place like America's Backyard.
The first shot of the day took place in Stache's upstairs room. The scene showed a group of dapper couples sitting in the vintage lounge, enjoying a nice glass of Johnnie Walker whiskey, laughing the night away without a care in the world. If only we could warn them about the great depression, or World War II.
Nah, let them drink.
Since I wasn’t selected for this scene, I got to stand by and watch from behind the camera as Director Tim Warren did his thing. "We couldn't be more grateful for the 50 plus talented professionals that contributed work to this project. Without everyone performing at their best, we wouldn't have gotten the same level of results," Warren told us.
By the way, those glasses you see in the commercial are filled with iced tea, not whiskey. Probably a good idea since there were multiple takes and swing dancing doesn't go so well when black-out drunk.
After that scene we took a quick break. Artex Productions, the Miami-based production company behind the shoot, gave us Chipotle for lunch. Before we bit in we got a stern warning from the wardrobe manager, Mila Gonzalez, to protect the costumes. They were authentic outfits from original productions in the '20s, she told us. In other words, if we got guacamole on them she might go Al Capone on us.
At this point, it was about 3 p.m. and Warren and the creative director, Ricardo Manavello, brought out the very expensive looking Milo motion control camera. The whole contraption looks a bit like a mechanical ostrich. The camera is attached to a long metal arm that bobs back and forth and up and down.
The rig is about as good as you can get without going to a major movie studio, and its shots are smoother than anything you’ve ever seen. Needless to say, we weren't allowed to get any guacamole on this either.
All of us became kind of hypnotized as we watched the arm of the camera circle the glass of whiskey time and time again. It ended up being the longest shot of the day, and the whiskey didn't even dance. It just stood there, being a glass of whiskey.
Finally our big moment came — the swing dance scene. This was why Artex Productions came to Yuval and Swing Out South Florida in the first place. Warren coupled us off and placed us in front of the bar. My friend Julian and I made conversation with the bartender and tapped our feet. Andy and his partner did some Charleston steps while Yuval (four-time World Swing Dance champion) and Julia were front and center doing aerials.
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As pretty as they looked, the outfits weren't exactly easy to move in. I don't know how they did it in the '20s, but dancer Kaycie Davis' sequined dress drew blood after a few takes. Heels obviously didn't help much either. Keds are our preferred footwear when we swing dance, but obviously those don't really scream 1925.
In the end, it all came together. Warren yelled action, the drummer started pounding away, and it suddenly all became real. It was hard not to feel like I had gone back in time, and was illegally swingin’ the night away in a speakeasy.
The only things that reminded me I was still in the 21st Century was the thousands of dollars worth of really expensive equipment around us.
Stache is located at 109 SW Second Ave., Fort Lauderdale, right next to Revolution Live. Pop in next time you find yourself in downtown Fort Lauderdale, and order a glass of Johnnie Walker. Just remember to swing responsibly.