I guess the embargo’s over and I can talk about this, so here goes. About a month ago I was hired for a contract assignment by ON24, a startup in San Francisco that puts together virtual events. The job: act as Brian Wilson’s stand-in for a promotional video they were shooting for ON24 Inc.’s VUE2011 annual conference in San Francisco in November.

But that wasn’t all. I was also in charge of bringing a bunch of different items deemed necessary for the shoot, meaning that for the first time in my life I was a professional shopper. I needed to buy these items:

– 2 XL black t-shirts (one for each of us)
– 2 plain black baseball jerseys
– 1 pro model baseball glove
– 6 official MLB baseballs
– 2 plain black caps
– 1 Brian Wilson poster

I figured this would be as easy as could be, but I was very much mistaken. I was asked to buy extra-large shirts and jerseys, but I knew with Wilson’s preference for tighter-fitting clothing there was no way XL t-shirts and/or jerseys would work. So I got a 3-pack of XL black t-shirts at Nordstrom AND a 3-pack of large black t-shirts (in hindsight, I probably could’ve gone with mediums). I called 15 places to find generic black baseball jerseys (in an attempt to replicate what he’d wear with the Giants without having to worry about MLB licensing), finally at the very end finding a baseball store in Redwood City that had a few in stock — and they were GIGANTIC. I bought them anyway.

Everything else was fairly easy to source except for the Wilson poster (little did I know the Giants dugout store had a deal where if you bought $50 worth of Nike stuff you can get a free Wilson poster), but I found a canvas print of AT&T Park that ON24 could ask Wilson to autograph after the shoot was over.

On the day of the shoot I lugged all the stuff I bought to a building near 4th on Market St in San Francisco, where ON24 has a few rooms including a small studio. I left all my stuff (which included my own set of dominoes I was asked to bring as a prop, just in case they wanted to feature Wilson’s favorite game to play in the clubhouse with Guillermo Mota and Tim Lincecum) in the “green room,” and changed into one of the black t-shirts underneath one of the GIGANTIC black baseball jerseys. Then it was stand-in time.

Does this qualify me for a SAG card?

Being a stand-in is actually kind of fun, at least for someone who’s never been part of a professional video shoot of any kind. They had me stand on a little stage in front of a green screen so they could set up the lighting for a while, then I read Wilson’s scripted lines off a teleprompter three times. After each time, I was to walk off stage with emphasis. I’m pretty sure I nailed each read, although the director and all the lighting and sound people may disagree.

Wilson’s lines were pretty straightforward, just stuff about ON24′s conference, with a little Wilson-esque punchline at the end (a catchphrase regarding facial hair you may have heard before). I suggested that if they really wanted to get Wilson in character, they should punctuate his lines with the word “FACT.” Since the director had no idea who Wilson was and was worried that he and his crew were perhaps “too freaky” for a baseball player (I assured him that what he was worrying about was impossible), he was more than open to my suggestion.

After the crew figured out where Wilson should stand and got the lighting just so, I was sent to the green room to kill time. Around noon Wilson showed up with his agent. I didn’t see Wilson, as he was escorted into the room where the shoot was to take place, and his agent came into the green room where he hung out and furiously typed on his iPhone. I struck up a conversation with him about other players he represents, including Eric Surkamp. He was pretty happy that I knew both who Surkamp was and that a couple days before he pitched 6 scoreless innings for San Jose (after his first Major League start).

The director was pretty worried about the fact that Wilson was only giving them an hour for what was supposed to be a 2-hour shoot, but they were finished within a half hour. Wilson wore one of the large black t-shirts* and wanted nothing to do with the GIGANTIC black jersey, which surprised me not at all. He also liked saying “FACT,” which made me a little prouder than it probably should have. The hats, glove and dominoes were deemed unnecessary.

*The only reason why Wilson wore one of the plain black t-shirts was because he showed up in a teal tank top that barely covered his body. On the front: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with a girl in the middle holding a pizza. The text, if I remember correctly: “Girls like guys who eat out.”

Here’s the final cut of the video promoting the conference, where Wilson only says the last couple lines from the script I was asked to read from (which presumably will be used as an introduction to the conference).

 

 

And here’s a “viral” version where Wilson makes a fairly cogent point: there is no logical reason to fear one’s own beard.

 

 

After he stood on his mark and nailed his lines, Wilson came out, signed the poster of AT&T Park that (as far as I know) was subsequently hung on the wall in ON24′s office, and took off. I was in the hall watching him autograph the canvas print of AT&T Park, and he was his normal loquacious, center-of-the-universe self (he wrote “Fear the beard, not the technology – Brian Wilson” in the sky above right field, and as he was signing his name explained that from now on you will now be able to see what he wrote in the sky whenever you’re watching a game from that angle). However, I didn’t approach him myself. I was getting paid to buy all that stuff and act as Wilson’s stand-in; I figured chatting Wilson up (and possibly upsetting him by asking about the health of his elbow) would constitute bad form.

The director, who was worried about what it’d be like to work with a Major League pitcher, was ecstatic because Wilson was such a pro. That wouldn’t have been much of a surprise to Wilson’s agent, who told us while they were shooting that Wilson had spent most of the day before (a day off for the Giants) filming a spot for Taco Bell where they asked him to say the same line “a hundred times,” so Wilson said the line the same way “a hundred times,” and the director ended up using the first take. The story sounded a little far-fetched to me, but the point is Wilson is pretty good at this whole “being on TV” thing. And I guess you can look out for an upcoming commercial where Wilson gets Fire Sauce in his beard.

When “The Beard” was forced to chat with his stand-in

Fast forward to later that evening, when it got a little interesting. Wilson was still on the DL at the time, and just a few hours after being his stand-in I was in the clubhouse watching him play dominoes with Guillermo Mota and Ramon Ramirez. After an interview with Buster Posey I wanted to tell Wilson about how I spent all that time standing in the same spot while they adjusted the lighting so he wouldn’t have to. However, after Posey finished answering questions Wilson was no longer playing dominoes. Instead he was facing his locker, intently reading an edition of Giants Magazine. He didn’t look like a guy who wanted to be bothered, so I left him alone.

After the game, which was only the last exciting, fun-filled victory of the season when the team still seemed to be in semi-realistic contention (the rally rag-filled 6-2 win over the D-Backs on Sept. 2 that closed the gap between the teams to 5 games), I just had to talk to Wilson, since if I waited any longer it would be too late. So I walked up to him as he was again facing his locker, and said, “Hey Brian.”

“What.”

Wilson wasn’t asking “what,” he was saying it. As if to say, “Why the hell are you talking to me, whoever’s talking to me. GO AWAY.” Which is probably exactly how he meant it to sound.

That’s when I told him that I was his stand-in for the ON24 shoot, and his mood immediately did a 180. He turned around and talked to me while making eye contact, and seemed quite happy to know the director and everyone else thought he did a great job and was easy to work with. All in all, it was as pleasant and productive as a 90-second conversation with an injured Major League closer can be.

I had no idea until Baggs wrote this that Wilson was actually in the middle of what would turn out to be a “month-long silence with the beat writers” that wouldn’t end until Sept. 18. Good thing I’m a stand-in, not a beat writer.