in which I get to help steer the script

When Anne and I were in Yosemite, my manager called my cell phone.

“I’m sorry to bother you when you’re away,” he said.

“That’s okay,” I said. “What’s going on?”

We have a number of deals in various stages of completion, and I have to be ready to act on them when certain decision points come up. This is awesome and weird. It’s awesome, because it means for the first time in my adult life I can rely on work and plan for the future. This is weird because for the first time in my adult life I can rely on work and plan for the future.

“I have a very interesting offer for you,” he said.

“…go on…” I said.

“You’ve been offered a part in a commercial.”

I set down my coffee and looked out the window of our hotel. It had snowed overnight, and a thick blanket of white powder covered everything. The sun was just starting to crest the trees, melting the thin sheet of ice on the window. Little rivulets of water raced down the glass.

“That sounds interesting,” I said, trying my best not to jump up and down.

“Oh, it gets more interesting.”

I waited for him to continue.

“You know that rather popular football event that happens in February?”

“Shut up!” I said.

“Yes. It airs then.”

He proceeded to tell me about the job. It’s for Lincoln (the car company, not the president). It’s part of a promotion that Jimmy Fallon’s been doing with people on Twitter. The website is called steer the script. It shoots in a week.

By the time he was done, I was out of my chair, pacing excitedly around the room.

“This doesn’t make sense,” I said. “People don’t just offer me commercials that run during the Superbowl.”

Anne, who had been wondering exactly what I was so excited about, nearly spit out a mouthful of her breakfast.

“Well, it does now,” he said. I could hear the joy in his voice mirroring my own. Chris and I have worked together for a decade, and he’s stood with me at some of the hardest times in my acting career, when I struggled so mightily to get any work at all, when I had accepted that I wasn’t going to work enough as an actor to support my family, and decided to be a full time writer. Chris and I have worked very, very hard together to make good choices and steer my career to the place it is today. I still have a hard time believing it, and every day I’m afraid I’m going to wake up from this wonderful dream.

“So… it’s not a trick, right? This isn’t some sort of cruel prank by someone?”

“No, it’s real. And I want you to think about something: this helps the bigger picture, too. Not everyone is asked to do a commercial that airs during the biggest television event of the year. This is going to help me and the agents when we talk with casting.”

“Oh my god I hadn’t thought of that,” I said.

“Yes. This is all very good news. I’ll talk to Wes and we’ll get you all the details tomorrow. Enjoy your vacation.”

I looked out the window again. The sun was higher in the sky now, and had melted enough of the ice on the window to give me a clear view of the valley. Ice crystals in the snow looked like stars.  A few children built a snowman, and huge clumps of snow fell off the limbs of giant sequoias.

“I will,” I said. “I mean, I already was, but now I’m going to have to go do a little dance.”

He laughed. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you, Chris,” I said, thinking about the years we’ve spent together, years when a lot of managers would have cut me loose instead of believing in me.

“You’re welcome. Bye.”

“Bye.” I hung up the phone and did a little dance.

Then I did a big dance.

Yesterday, I went out to Vasquez Rocks to shoot the commercial. My call was noon, so I left the house just before 11 to be sure I got there on time. I listened to Poe’s Haunted the whole way (reading House of Leaves will do that to a guy like me) and reflected on all the times I’d driven out to the Antelope Valley for work over the thirty years of my acting career.

When I was really little, probably around 1979 or so, I shot a commercial somewhere in Canyon Country. I don’t remember anything about it, but my mom let me get an Egg McMuffin on the way. It’s funny how the child’s mind remembers what is truly (relatively) important.

…I need to get my bearings…

When I was a little older, I shot a movie called The Last Starfighter out there. We shot at a trailer park up in a canyon somewhere, and I remember thinking that the winding canyon road we drove on to get there looked like something from the Twilight Zone. Later, I found out that they had, indeed, shot the series on that stretch of highway. I remembered how excited I was to work on a movie that was — as far as my young mind could tell — was basically all about a video game that turned you into a real starfighter. I remembered how disappointed I was when I saw the titular game on the set, and discovered it was an empty cabinet with only lights inside. (Fun fact: the classic Atari Game Star Raiders was supposed to be a licensed game from Last Starfighter, but the deal fell through. They kept the gameplay and changed the sprites. Bonus fun fact: My scenes were cut from the movie before we filmed them, but I was already in the background of several scenes as one of the kids who lived in the trailer park, so I ended up in the credits. Every year, I get a hundred bucks or so in residuals. Semi-related fun fact: the market at the trailer park had a Star Castle game in it, and that’s when I fell in love with that game.)

…and I’m lost…

I remembered doing a movie called The Liar’s Club when I had just turned 21. It was a Roger Corman picture, so it was very much a fly-by-night production. It was incredibly hard work, and I clearly feeling despondent that it signaled the end of my acting career for reasons that belong in their own post at some point in the future.

…and these shadows keep on changing…

We shot ten nights out in Canyon Country, in the bitter cold. Driving out there in evening rush hour traffic and back home in morning rush hour, hardly seeing the sun for almost two weeks, was miserable. That experience played a very, very large part in my decision to stop acting professionally and attend drama school full time.

…and I’m haunted…

It was, as most long solitary drives are for me, a journey of miles and years and memories and questions without a lot of answers.

It was a good drive, with something wonderful at the end.

I pulled into the parking lot just before my call time. I turned off my car, picked up my backpack, and walked toward the set.

Vasquez Rocks — or, as I like to call it, Every Planet Ever In The History Of The Star Trek Universe And Most Sci-Fi Movies From The Fifties — has an incredibly rich film history, but most of us know it from the aforementioned projects. In fact, from the moment I saw the iconic rocks, my brain began a loop of the Star Trek fight music that did not stop until I left the set hours later.

wil wheaton vasquez rocks

I walked up to the honey wagon, which is what we call the truck that has a bunch of dressing rooms in it, and found the door with my name on it.

Honeywagon

wilw dressing room door steer the script

I told Twitter that actors would understand why seeing this makes me so happy. Many people made Tabletop jokes, like “The budget isn’t big enough to keep the trailer, but you get to have this piece of tape with your name on it.” I wished I’d thought of that, and filed it away for future jobs, because you can bet your cheerleading trophy I’m going to make that joke a lot from now on.

For those of you who aren’t actors: it makes me so happy because it says to me, “Welcome home, Wil. You’re on the set, doing a job, earning a living doing what you love.” Lots of things change over the course of an acting career, but the dressing room door with your name on a piece of tape is one of the constants, whether you’re in a honeywagon or a million dollar tour bus (yes, big fancy celebrity stars have those. It’s nuts.)

I put my stuff down, and went to make-up. When that was done, I got my wardrobe approved, and then I sat down and waited to be called to set.

My agent, Wes, came out to set and sat with me while we waited. For a couple of hours, we talked about the things we’ve done together, the people we’ve worked with, and what our hopes are for the coming year. A few years ago, I made a decision and then a commitment to only have awesome people in my life, from my friends to the people I hire to work with me. I will only work with people I like, good people, honest people, people who are honorable. It is as hard as you think it is to find those people in the entertainment industry, but I’ve done it: Chris, Wes, all my agents at VOX and my theatrical agents at Stone Manners Salners, they are all good people who I consider my friends as well as my business partners. I’m incredibly lucky to have found them all, and even more lucky that they all wanted to work with me.

So we ended up talking a lot about gratitude, and how not everyone feels it, and how sadly rare it is.

I was eventually called to the set. This is all I can show you, because this part of the commercial is pretty cool and they don’t want me to give it all away:

wil wheaton picture from the set for steer the script

…but I can share this picture of me:

wil wheaton steer the script

You can’t really tell, but I got to wear the How We Roll hoodie I designed. On television. For millions of people. Squee!

It was insanely cold, and everyone was working very hard through the windchill that dropped temperatures into the high 20s. In spite of the weather, it was one of the great filming experiences. I had all kinds of fun, and everyone was quite kind to me.

“It’s so cool to work here,” I said to the director, “because even though Star Trek always came here, those sons of bitches never let Wesley on the landing party.” (I didn’t ask him if they’d been on the lookout for Gorn, because I didn’t want to be too nerdy.)

When I finished, I thanked everyone who had hired me, the other actors I worked with, and the crew. I thanked Wes as we walked to our cars, and then I began the long drive home.

I called Anne on my way.

“How was it?” She asked.

“It was amazing,” I said. “How was your secret project thing?”

“It was great,” she said.

We were both quiet for a minute.

“I can’t believe that this is our life,” I said. “I mean, we’re really, really lucky.”

“We really are.”

“I want to get in the time machine and go back to the younger us, who are struggling so much, dealing with so much bullshit from [her shitbag ex-husband] and just trying to make it through every day. I just want to tell them that it’s going to be okay.”

“They know,” she said.

“Oh? Did you tell them?”

“No. I was them, and I always knew it would be okay, because we’re good people and we worked hard and we never gave up on each other.”

I was quiet again for a second. Our life together flew through my mind’s eye: our first date, our first dinner after moving in together, my proposal, our wedding, the years and years of custody struggles, Ryan asking me to adopt him, the actual adoption, thousands and thousands of words in this blog and some books and some other places. Lots of ups, even more downs, and all the while standing tall together.

“Are you still there?” She said.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m just thinking about how grateful I am. I’m really lucky.”

“You’ve worked really hard.”

“That too.” Then: “I’ll be home in about an hour.”

“Okay. Drive safe. I love you.”

“I love you too. I love you the most for one thousand times.”

I pulled onto the freeway and drove toward home.

108 thoughts on “in which I get to help steer the script”

  1. It’s nice to hear all your mostly pleasant memories of driving to the Antelope Valley. All of mine involve something like “I’m so sad winter break is over” or “God, I’m so ready to be out of this car” or something equally mundane and ever so slightly negative. But you make the dear ole AV sound almost ethereal. Which is nice because it’s hard to see home as anything but helplessly flawed sometimes.

    You always hear things about how many people never go to the thing that makes their town famous. Ellis Island for New Yorkers, and that other thing in that place that has the thing. Well, Vasquez Rocks always, always brings a smile to my face, and every time I pass it (and I’m not driving) I strain my neck hoping to see a film crew, but I’ve never seen it from anywhere but the freeway. This must be rectified.

    I hope it’s not weird to say that I’m proud of someone I don’t even know, because I’m about to. I’m proud of you, Wil. There are days when it’s tough to see through the ocean of douche canoes among my fellow humans, so it does me good to see good people like you and Anne being happy, getting what you want, and being humble and grateful for it. I hope you get more calls that make you dance, and good luck to Anne and her super secret thing.

    1. Wow, this is so great for you guys! Congrats!
      You couldn’t t have posted this at a better time. My husband and I are both in nursing school (I’m going for my masters). Some days, I can’t seem to see past the endless school, mountains of debt and the continual question of how to make time for our kids.
      I appreciated the end of your article esp for the reminder that life gets better in time, that hard work and effort pay off in the end.

  2. Wil, I got why that picture of the trailer door was so important.

    Also: Out here in the not-entertainment-industry, the honeywagon is the truck that services the port-a-johns. Climbing into the back is the least-desirable outcome. :)

    See ya next month on a big ol’ boat!

      1. And the boat starts a week AFTER the big Handegg Sportsball Deluxe Throwdown Deathmatch HypeFestival, so we’ll get to see your spot AS IT AIRS and not be forced to fast-forward through 14 hours of DVR’d Pre-Handegg and Handegg to find it. :)

        (I saw after posting that someone else mentioned the excrement/honeywagon connection, though they got much deeper into the history of the honeywagon than I bothered with…)

  3. Congratulations Wil! Great to see you having such success and happiness. I was actually just thinking the other day , that you are the one actor who deserves so much more success. No other actor came to mind! l hoped it would come soon for you. I’m so happy for you, and look forward to all your upcoming projects and posts. I’m 43, so I have grown up/older along with you.(Man time flies!) Thanks for the 27 +years of entertainment that I’ve been a fan.

  4. I have very few web sites that I religiously check to see what’s new on them.

    This is one of them and has been since before you blew it up originally :-D

    Thank you for continuing to post awesomeness and giving us a glimpse into your reality.

  5. I guess I will have to record or (gasp) actually watch the SportsBall Bowl or whavever it is. Because I don’t want to miss this commercial. Congrats on the gig, and thanks for another great post.

  6. Congratulations Wil!

    This sounds like an awesome gig! Being involved in anything involving that big event is pretty damn cool. Anyone that knows you, or has trued to get into the world you are in totally understands that the tape on the window means. And we can understand how you feel when you see, although its different for each of us. And I have seen The Last Starfighter many times, and I didn’t even realize you were in it! My loss! We love you Wil, and all your work, and we want to see more of you!

  7. Ahhh, this is the first year that I don’t get to sit around watching the Super Bowl commercials with my family because they’re not very available in Australia. Go figure that there’d actually be something I’d be looking forward to this year. I’ll have to find the other ways to view it. But congratulations!

  8. As awesome as this news is, and as wonderfully written as this post is, all I can think is that “her shitbag ex-husband” would make an awesome band name.

    Someone out there, make it happen and make me proud.

  9. This post gave me all the feels.

    As an actor, I know the utter feeling of home that comes with a piece of tape on a door or a chair in front of a theatrical mirror.

    As a fan, I’m beyond thrilled for you to be in this place where you can wear a shirt you designed on a commercial that will be seen by millions. That you’re working on your own webshow, and guesting on such amazing shows (Eureka and Leverage will be missed). That you’re writing and publishing stories. I don’t mean to date myself, but I literally grew up watching you on Star Trek: TNG. I loved you then because you were cute and on a sci-fi show; I love and respect you now because of who you are.

    Lastly, as someone who’s in that ‘struggling so much bullshit…and just trying to make it through every day’, I take heart from the journey your family went on to get to the place you are now in the hopes that one day, mine will be okay too.

    Wonderful post, Wil.

  10. It is posts like this that remind me why I read the blog, follow on twitter and just generally think that you would be a cool guy to know.
    You’re welcome in my improv group any time you feel the urge.

  11. I love this post. Congrats on a great gig and for all your achievements over the past few years. As one who’s read many of your thousands of words, I have to say that it’s been a good ride. Here’s to even more awesomeness in the future!

    Cheers, and thanks for sharing!

  12. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to hear you speak about how hard it was for you. And even though you’ve talked it about it quite a bit here on your bloggity blog, for some reason, the above hit me fairly hard.
    Right now is my low.
    I’m struggling and it gets harder and harder to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
    Just knowing that other human beings out there have made it through the dark, gives me hope that someday, I will too.
    Thanks Wil.

  13. That is awesome. I love awesome things and secret projects and things that lead to bigger things and being aware of the bigger picture. Also, “AND.”
    My little brother got an internship at a little theater in Chelsea, Michigan several years ago. They offer seven every year and it is a Very Big Deal. This little theater, the Purple Rose Theater, is owned and run by Jeff Daniels. After his internship he continued there on a freelance basis and then got word of an internship for the same work at Juilliard. With aid of a few wonderful recommendation letters, he got it. I moved him to NYC. He eventually became the staff electrician at Juilliard. (Lights, sound, etc). This xmas my bro took my parents to see Jeff perform at the Purple Rose as he does every Christmas, and talked to Jeff after the show, and he congratulated my brother on making it. He said it’s hard. He said, he’s very proud, and the big picture I never thought of – it makes the Purple Rose look like a Very Big Deal – my little bro’s success story reflects very well on that little theater. Sorry that was long. Thanks for being awesome Wil and I’m glad you never gave up.

    One more thing…. I got the audiobook of Ready Player One for xmas and I cannot stop “reading” (listening?) What am I supposed to do when it’s over?

  14. As strange as this may sound, as I was driving home from work tonight, I was thinking about how you are friends with all these awesome people. I was singing the trolololo song in the car, like you do, and I thought about the videos of you and Paul and Storm (I think?) At PAX or something. (watched on YouTube) and then I thought about how exited I was to watch Leaning Town, and I wondered… Is Wil just lucky, in that he has so many amazingly awesome friends, or does he also have friends who sometimes suck, like the rest of us? It is pretty obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to your story that you and Anne have worked hard, and now, I can see that part of that hard work and the resulting success has to do with that commitment you mentioned to only surround yourself with awesome people. If I ever grow up, I want to be like that, too. :) congratulations!

  15. I’ll be watching the SportsBall (because my friend loves it and when your friend wants you to hang out with him and drink beer and eat and do a thing that he loves, sometimes you do it even if you don’t also love it). I hope to be able to see your ad! Sometimes, we get stuck with watching it on a Canadian channel and then they replace all of the commercials with regular Canadian commercials and it’s the worst. But sometimes we can watch it on an American channel.

  16. “because even though Star Trek always came here, those sons of bitches never let Wesley on the landing party.”

    Well the ONE time they let Wesley on a landing party he had to show off, do cartwheels, make a diving catch, and get sentenced to death. After that, they were pretty much “why don’t you hang out in engineering, dude.”

  17. Congrats, man! I’ll be really interested to see the final product.

    Also, I’d like to mention that “The Last Starfighter” is still one of my favorite all-time films, so that’s even cooler that you were involved.

  18. I usually watch that big football thing in February, because I enjoy the Twitter commentary and have fun chatting with a good chunk of the world about the ads and such. But I missed it last year due to my work schedule. Such will be the case this year, too. I’m the weekend overnighter and all that. So, I’ll be catching your work online after the fact. Still, can’t wait! Sounds like a great time, and thanks for the reminder to be grateful. I think we all forget that sometimes, and we shouldn’t.

    Oh, and that piece of tape on the door? Reminds me of a trailer in the great white north that usually has an index card taped on the door that reads “vets.” It might be a crappy little trailer at a generally freezing cold logging camp in the woods, but it’s home when you volunteer vet a sled dog race (if you get bitten by the bug, you go back again and again), and you get hit in the feels in just that same way. I missed that race this year, but I’m going back this year, and I can’t wait. Thanks for sharing this story, Wil. It reminded me of that, and that made me smile.

    My best to you and yours.

  19. A few comments.

    First I am not a big sports fan, but for some reason I now want to watch the biggest sporting event of the year. Go figure.

    Seconds, THANKS (read sarcasm) for getting the Star Trek fight song stuck in my head, it will probably jump into my head when the commercial comes on. This is going to be a long day.

    Did you keep the tape from the trailer door, and wear it on your “How We Roll” hoodie for the rest of the day (week? month?) so that everybody who saw it knows you are a winner?

    Congrats on the positive happenings, Part of me is glad to see all this wonderful stuff happening, but it makes a part of me sad. Why? Because I know you will have less time for writing and often neglected podcasts where we a certain celebrity becomes a bell ringing DJ for a while. Please keep up with the writing and other endeavors if time permits.

  20. Will,
    I just want to say how happy I am for you to have this moment and to have the perspective to cherish it. You are a good man Will Wheaton and you are having the life you should be having. You have such a wonderful “one of us” quality that is so refreshing.
    And the custody stuff. I can so relate. In 2002 I gave up everything and everyone practically in my life to take full custody of my 3 very young kids. I had a horrible custody battle but ended up with full legal custody after years of hell. Some of my only moments of break in helping my kids heal and running a full time job were late at night watching episodes of Star Trek after they all were finally in bed. You and the others were my escape my peace, my thoughts of a bright future for humanity and for me. Thank you for that. I had so little time for anything. Now 11 years latter, I have a great women in my life and my children are old enought to that it is no longer a full time job like it was. One is even in college. I have earned my life now and enjoy some fun. My son even has some serious boardgaming chops and plays with me and the crew. So much to appreciate and so much hard earned when I hold my soul mate’s hand or see my kids growning up so well. So much hard times to go through. I so understand and appreciate what you wrote today. I dont often even share what I am writing.

    You go, Will Wheaton!

    Much Love and LLAP,
    Dave

  21. Glad to see a nice guy succeed in a not so nice industry, especially after reading all the trials and tribulations you went through to become both an author and revive your acting career.

  22. OMG WIL IS COMING TO OTTAWA COMIC-CON! HOLY F**K YES THIS IS AWESOME IT’S GOING TO BE THE BEST OTTAWA COMIC-CON ON RECORD HOLY MOTHER OF JONES WE GET TO Partake of his awesome storytelling and stuff aieeeeee…….

  23. I tried to express this when I had the pleasure of meeting you in Toronto this summer, but I was a little overwhelmed at you thanking ME for buying your books and supporting your career. Like others here I moved from a fan of STTNG to following your blog over a decade ago. We have participated in the Monkey Soapbox, bought our William Fing Shatner shirts, ordered our Dancing Barefoot copies. We don’t really know you, but we have all felt the same, that you are talented and provided us with a great amount of entertainment and insight. We have supported you because we have felt that you deserved it. And watching you achieve the success that you have spoken about is thanks enough for us, because we have always known that you could do it and have never understood why it has taken others so long to catch on.
    Congrats on the commercial. Don’t forget to give all of us non-Americans the you-tube link!

  24. From the desk of It’s a Small World:

    I went to dinner last night with my family and several of my wife’s friends. It turns out that one friend is @debdef who wrote one of the steer the script tweets that made the cut for the commercial and they flew her out to be in it as well.

    Pretty cool.

    Not being a huge fan of the sports contests with the egg shaped ball, I’ll be watching mainly to catch you and Deb in the commercial.

  25. Despite growing up with stern but mostly fair parents, one of which was literally ‘the man’ as an officer of the law, they didn’t grasp the concept of age appropriateness. I cultivated an inordinate amount of affection for the films, shows and books that made my childhood feel a little less lonely. The Last Starfighter was such a great concept for an eager young mind to get lost in and even though most of your scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, I’m delighted that you still remember it fondly.

  26. Great post. Vazquez Rocks is a special place – I live in the Santa Clarita Valley and frequent the rocks about once a year. The alien-esque landscape makes me think of the campy Gorn fight scene and I usually crack up a bit.

    BTW – LOVED The Star Castle videogame. It was annoying, however, when you have shot down most of the walls and that damn fast fireball takes your guy out….

  27. So just watched the commercial and have a question. Are you in the wedding scene as well? Back row left side? It looked like you but just enough out of focus that I couldn’t tell for sure.

  28. Its funny how certain things come around in circles. I have never heard of Vasquez Rocks before. Last night I was watching on-demand of The Big Bang Theory where they dress in costumes from TNG and take pictures at the Rocks. Now I read a blog post that you are shooting there, you are a “friend” of that show, and of course the whole TOS shots at the same place. The world sometimes feels in sync.

    Congrats and “See you on Super Sunday”

  29. I really enjoyed this post. Congrats on the ad :) I will probably catch it in Youtube later, as we don’t get the ads here in Malaysia. What I really like and salute is the part where you made the decision and commitment of association, plus the journey that you guys had to go through, the hard work, et al. This post is the best post in your blog so far, since I followed your blog from the writing days :)

  30. Commercial was OK to pretty good.

    The narrator had the idea down that the whole thing was silly, but didn’t convey it was also cool.

    Wil totally could have – and would have – done that.

    Which would have made the commercial Awesome.

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