The Blog

by Jim Copacino

John Updike, Ted Williams and Fred Willard

We recently worked with the comic actor Fred Willard. Willard has a long list of credits dating back to the 1960s—from Get Smart to Waiting For Guffman to Modern Family.

We hired Fred to do a series of Web videos in which he plays an eccentric grandfather dispensing dubious financial advice to his skeptical grandson. It’s part of our ongoing “Don’t Fear 65” campaign for Symetra Life Insurance encouraging prudent retirement planning.

Let’s face it: three web videos for a little-known financial services company in Seattle is a far cry from the Oscar and Emmy Red Carpets. As much as we love Mr. Willard’s comic persona, we feared that he might fly in, walk through his lines and take home a nice paycheck for a day’s (yawn) work in the hinterlands.


Fred proved to be an extremely polite and very thoughtful guy. No attitude, no celebrity demands. What was most impressive, though, was his approach to the project. He liked the scripts (whew!) but, beyond that, he respected the work and treated it with importance. He didn’t stop at two or three good takes. He was self-critical and explored variations and nuances. He cared. He worked tirelessly. And he was funny as hell.

I was reminded of John Updike’s famous essay about Ted Williams’ last major league game (“Kid Bids Hub Fans Adieu.”) Updike wrote about Williams’ enormous respect for his job and dedication to craft of hitting:

“…Williams is the classic ballplayer (playing) on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill.”

It’s a lesson for all of us who work in our industry. There is always the tendency to trivialize what we do (“it’s only advertising”) and plenty of excuses to stop short (“this is solid, the client will buy it”).

But watching an engaged, non-cynical Fred Willard (age 71, by the way) was an uplifting reminder of the importance of coming to our jobs with high purpose. Whether you’re a left fielder or an art director.

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