A terrible idea gone wonderfully right

A Croatian, an intern and an American Nederlander may just be responsible for boosting the Frisian economy, writes Greg Shapiro.

I’ve worked on some weird projects. But one terrible idea went horribly right.

In my line of work as a comedian / voice-over / writer, I’ve had all manner of bizarre pitches.

When the economy is chugging along, it’s easy to say no to the super-weird. But when the economy is in tatters, it’s surprising at what I’ll say yes to.

– I’ve done a standup comedy show in the nose of a 747, dressed as Sinterklaas.

– I’ve been dressed as John Travolta talking about porn for Amsterdam Public Transit GVB.

– And I’ve done improv comedy in the front window of Mexx high-street fashion shops, hawking a Philips iron. 

These are the projects that turned out well.

…Then there are the projects that are too far-fetched to survive. I was once in the voice-over booth, when the client said,

‘Can you try it again, a bit more convincing?’ I was not convincing enough.  

‘Can you try it a bit more authoritative?’ I was not authoritative enough.

‘Can you try to sound like Patrick Stewart?’

It was at that point I realized, ‘Are you looking for a British voice?’

‘Yes! Can you do that?’ No.

I should have known. But sometimes you can’t tell.

It’s alarming how long a project can survive, without anyone having a clear idea of what they want. So when I got the call for a ‘Fascinating Friesland’ voice-over, I was on Red Alert.

The call came via my management office. Some guy was looking for a native English speaker to come to Friesland for a voice-over.

I asked if the taping could be in Amsterdam.

‘Sure,’ was the answer. Hmmm… Way too easy.

I asked what kind of studio set up they had.

‘We’ll figure something out,’ was the answer. Again way too easy.

I asked about the text.

‘We’re still working on it… In fact, could you translate it?’
This was a recipe for disaster. So of course, I said yes.

2 guys showed up at the office: a guy about my age with a Croatian accent and a young Dutch guy, who turned out to be the intern. Mr. Croatian explained that he’d moved to Friesland years ago, and he’d gone native. He spoke English, Croatian, Dutch and – of course – Fries. He explained that the marketing department for the Province of Friesland had been almost completely laid-off. The entire tourism industry of Friesland was now down to 1 man. But he had just enough budget to make a funny, quirky online video.

Luckily, the text was okay. I translated it, punched it up a bit, and read it into the portable mic they’d set up. I told him, ‘with the right visuals, it could be like that video from last year “The Difference Between Holland and The Netherlands.”’ Amazingly, they wouldn’t give him permission to use their visuals. The publicly funded broadcaster ‘Omroep Vryslan’ didn’t feel the need to cooperate with Friesland Marketing. This gives new meaning to the term ‘Provincial.’

Sure enough, the producer found the images anyway. He released it yesterday, and today it already has about 50,000 views on YouTube. (And now, suddenly, Omroep Fryslan wants a copy.)

And so, if Friesland is to pull itself through this economic crisis, it may well be thanks to a Croatian immigrant, his Frisian intern, and an American Netherlander.

Watch the video here

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