Now that Mikhail Gorbachev is no longer with us, I don’t think he’d mind me telling this story. You see, he unknowingly participated in a little trick I pulled in order to help a major executive save face in front of an even bigger one.
Back on April 25, 2012 a gathering was held in Chicago to honor past Nobel Prize winners. At the time I was the head of Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s digital communications team, which was part of the corporate communications department.
The Jeep Brand was sponsoring a luncheon and that included a keynote speech by our chief marketing officer.
One of the services we provided was shooting and editing video posted on the company’s media website for use by any media that wished to include it in their coverage of a particular story.
Normally, I wouldn’t be the one doing the shooting but on this day our two real videographers we otherwise assigned, so I jumped in, popping over to Chicago to shoot the speech and post it to the media site.
We got to the location a little early and after setting up my tripod in the best position to capture the speech I decided to shoot some b-roll. Good call. As I was shooting I can’t believe who I see through my viewfinder ambling into the room as if it was lunch time at the company cafeteria.
First there was the former President of Poland Lech Walesa, then the Dalai Lama and finally this smiling guy with a familiar port wine spot on his head, Mikhail Gorbachev. They all take seats at the round table with our CMO. I shoot and shoot, all the while not believing the giants I’m shooting sipping from their water glasses and munching on rolls.
About 15 minutes before his speech our CMO comes up to me and gives me a troubling order. “Do not shoot me. Just shoot these famous people LISTENING to me so I can bring the video back to the CEO to show him how interested these Nobel Laureates were in my speech.” The CEO was the late, wonderful and demanding Sergio Marchionne.
I explained I was there to shoot his speech for use on the media site and the media would not use video of that does not show the speaker. But he was desperate. “You have to help me. I don’t care about the video. I have to show Marchionne something!”
OK. I can appreciate not wanted to piss off the big boss. So I came up with a plan.
To satisfy the media I actually did shoot the entire speech, but when I emailed the edited version to the CMO it showed Gorbachev and Walesa and Penn and the Dalai Lama all raptly listening and even applauding! The speech was a freakin’ hit with these historic figures! See the video below!
Within hours I received a giddy email from the CMO telling me how much Marchionne loved the video and what a genius I am.
Genius? Wouldn’t go that far. I grabbed the shots of all those folks listening to a speech, but it was my executive’s—it was the person who spoke before him. Then I edited in clips from that footage into my executive’s speech so I looked like they were listening to him. I did shoot the actual applause that came after his speech. Since this version was for internal use only and not for editorial use, it seemed like an OK way to help out a stressed executive. After all, they all DID listen to him, but I was just one guy with one camera so I had to find a way to make it work.
After that day, every time I saw Gorbachev or Walesa or the Dalai Lama or Sean Penn I just smiled to myself, remembering my little editing sleight-of-hand using some slightly time-shifted shots of them to help out an important co-worker make an impression with the big boss.
Oh…the version released on the media site did NOT include my editing artwork—just the video of the speech.
The late Mr. Gorbachev, I’m sure, could relate to a bit of intrigue to save a colleague from the wrath of the supreme leader. Call it a bit of video perestroika—restructuring. Da?