C’est payé, balayé, oublié, je me fous du passé. Avec mes souvenirs, j’ai allumé le weekend

Why I deleted your promo email (thanks, S).

The Beasties play a gig in a London skate shop in 1994 (thanks, T):

Kramer doesn’t like it when his costars mess up (thanks, P):

Famous pictures made out of Lego (thanks, T).

Great essay on Tom Cruise’s performance in Magnolia.

Leon Black’s best advice (thanks, J2).

Expressionless guy on theme park ride set to Sound of Silence:

Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey diary.

And Kubrick’s 1968 Playboy interview.

Sparklingly good use of youtube

Well, I watched it all the way through and didn’t feel in the least bit like I’d been had.

I think they’ve made a tricky writing and filming process look easy.

Just like the method of donation.

Trojan Horse Shit

This morning I was listening to Howard Stern interviewing Alec Baldwin:

Here’s a clip that is totally unrelated to what I’m about to discuss:

The bit that caught my attention was when Alec mentioned how movie studios package movies for the cinemas. He said that they will offer a big film like Jurassic World on the condition that the cinema chain gives a couple of weekends to, say, five other films that might not seem such obvious hits.

As soon as Alec said that I began thinking of the other occasions where this happens:

The movies themselves may well have a small number of great scenes/moments/lines (most of which appear in the trailer) that are surrounded by long minutes of boring crap that you also pay for. I get that in books/movies/TV shows the structure of story means that you need some downtime between the fireworks, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean that movies especially are often constructed around those trailer moments that make up maybe 10-20% of the finished product. But the other 80-90% must be filled with something, and invariably that ‘something’ is not as well thought out and has fewer resources dedicated to making it good. So you pay for 120 minutes of entertainment, much of which is simply filler.

Many albums hide a few crappy tracks around the good ones. I guess that the people responsible always intend to create a body of music that’s entirely of great quality, but 999 times out of 1000 they don’t manage it, and with a release date looming they have to put something out. So maybe they think that track that was shit a month ago is actually not too bad. Or maybe they couldn’t care less, because if a fan wants the good tracks they have to take a chance on the shit ones (obviously the Spotify era has altered a band’s ability to do this somewhat).

Many magazines offer five decent articles amid three dozen shit articles and 100 pages of ads . Yes, I enjoyed the interview with Jack Nicholson, but the ‘Ten Ways To Look Great With Your Shirt Off’ is probably not the kind of journalism that will trouble the Pulitzer judges. And of course magazines need ads to support themselves, but when you pick one up at the newsagent you don’t really think about how many of the pages are just full of messages from car or clothing companies that you’ll simply ignore. Imagine how thin magazines would be if the only contained the bits you actually wanted.

Finally, let’s face it, advertising creative departments, where you might get the superstars but you might also get the inept juniors or the unimaginative workhorses, also fall into this category. When clients pay huge amounts of money to ad agencies do they always get the very best people in the building? Unlikely. Instead, they get a random mix of unpredictable ‘talent’ that might be incredible helpful for their brand, or might just keep it treading water. Sure, the CDs are there to keep the quality as high as possible, but if the winning idea is generated on a lucky day by a team that is poor at execution then the quality of the finished product will suffer, but the client will end up paying broadly the same fee that they would for the best team in the department.

For financial reasons agencies have to operate by this model – and it’s the only way to give younger people an opportunity. But for the client it’s sometimes the equivalent of taking on Paul Blart Mall Cop when they paid for Mad Max.

Some fine lessons from a writer

I’ve just finished reading an excellent piece by Susanna Grant, the writer of Pocahontas/Erin Brockovich.

I highly recommend reading the hell out of it, but if you don’t have time to do that, or you want to know which bits of it I found most interesting, read on…

Her Pocahontas experience, writing animation for Disney was not great, and yet also great:

And then there was the work, which was constant. There isn’t any scene in that movie that was rewritten any fewer than 30 times.

We wrote and rewrote and rewrote, often addressing notes from people who hadn’t even read the scene on which they were giving notes.

We wrote, literally, until we ran out of time.

And it sounds kind of hellish, and it was kind of hellish, but here’s the thing: Much like freshman year, despite all it’s frustrations, it was a fantastic experience. I wouldn’t change for anything.

I learned more in my year-and-a-half as one-third of Jim than I would have on 10 live-action development deals.

I learned how to throw something out if it isn’t working. Or if someone very powerful doesn’t think it’s working.

I learned to trust that I’d come up with something just as good or better.

I learned when to shut up in a meeting, which is a very valuable thing to learn.

I learned that I’m not always right, which is a very painful thing to learn.

But most importantly, I learned how to have a good time.

A lot of unpleasant things are going to happen to you in your careers and they will be infuriating.

Believe me, taking script notes from a Transylvanian artist whose only words of English were, “Script should be more like Witness. Make likeWitness.’” — I know frustration.

But if you can remind yourself that you’re getting paid to write, that you’re making a living as a creative person and remember what a privilege that is, those frustrations will be a lot less burdensome.

Those are important things to learn in many creative businesses. We all have meetings with people who are paying for what we’re making, and they all want us to change what we’ve created. Life gets much less frustrating when you learn how to bend with the wind rather than standing firm until it snaps you in half. And you are getting paid to do something other than empty the dog poo bin in a park, or wipe up toddler vomit, or stand for parliament on behalf of UKIP. Count your blessings, for they are likely to be legion.

Next:

A producer friend of mine happened to tell me about a woman whose life rights she just optioned named Erin Brockovich.

The moment I heard about Erin, I knew I wanted to write the script.

“Yes, please,” I said. “Sign me up, I’ll do it, whatever.”

She said, “Well, we’d love to, but we’re out to Callie Khouri right now.”

A few weeks later I called her up and said, “Hi, how are you doing? Heard from Callie?”

And she said, “Yes, Callie passed. Now, we’re out to Paul Attanasio.”

A few weeks later, I called her up and said, “Hi, heard from Paul?”

It went on like this. I’d call, she’d mention an A-list writer, we went back and forth.

Finally, they all passed and I think she just got tired of hearing from me and she said she would introduce me to Erin.

As long as she approved, I could have the job.

Bless her heart, Erin did approve. We got along great.

So, yeah… persistence. There’s an aspect of persistence that I don’t think we always recognise: rule-breaking. You can try, try again, but you can also force yourself through the status quo or the accepted way of being. How and when you do that can only be your call, but until you stop thinking of obstacles as such, they will always remain obstacles. In Susanna’s case, politely refusing to bother her friend would have meant no Oscar nomination. Being a bit annoying made her career.

That also applies to this advice:

You must write what you want to write.

Don’t listen to people who tell you you shouldn’t write something. Or if you do write something, it will never get made.

I’ve been told that a movie about toxic waste would never get made.

I’ve been told that a movie about someone in rehab would never get made.

I was told that if that someone was a woman, it would definitely never get made.

And I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told that a movie with a female lead will never get made.

There are no rules. Write what you want.

Write what moves you. Write something beautiful and unique to you.

Write something that no one else could write.

How many people do you know who write things that no one else could write? Pretty much none, I’d guess. So look at the size of that gap in the market. It’s all anyone wants, but no one does it, so people settle for Adam Sandler comedies and umpteen Marvel rehashes of the exact same plot because they have to make something.

It’s the same in advertising: nearly all ads are a pale version of something you’ve already seen. If that’s the kind of thing you’re doing that might be why you’re not as successful as you’d like to be, and it might be why the industry as a whole is so moribund.

Try something new today. What’s the worst that could happen?

A client speaks

We tend not to hear that much honest insight from clients, which is why this article is worth a read.

It’s written by Lesya Lysyj who, aside from being a great Scrabble score, is the ex-CMO of Heineken. And with that experience behind her she comes out with gems like this:

They (your agency) are problem solvers. And creative problem solvers, which you (clients) probably are not.

I bet you thought no client in the world actually believed that. If only they all had it tattooed inside their eyelids.

You know that no matter what you give the agency, it changes when the the creative team is briefed, right?

Damn… Has she bugged the ten minutes following every single briefing I’ve ever had?

Just get to the seven to 10 words that the creative team is going to create from. Sometimes a creative brief is right on strategy but not going to net good ideas. 

This is golden, golden, golden advice for all planners who are kind enough to read this blog. This seven to ten words are really all that’s needed. Sometimes you like having the other stuff that fills the page for when you get creatives’ block or need something to read on the lav, but in general we only care about the proposition.

Let’s admit it: Creatives are way cooler than we are. They can wear shorts to a creative presentation. They probably are part owners of a craft brewing company. You live in the suburbs and take your kid to soccer practice. Don’t tell me that doesn’t play into the dynamic of not wanting to tell the cool kids who never talked to you in high school that you don’t like their idea. I absolutely love interacting with creatives. I find them genuine, funny and super talented at something I could never do. If you can get past being intimidated, you might find the same.

I blush because I disagree with her kind opinion. We’re not fucking cool. We used to be, but not anymore. It is the complicit leaching away of that perception of coolness that has left us on what feels like a long train journey from Soho to Siberia. Nothing we do is a mystery any longer. It all looks a bit too easy. I’d ignore her compliments and do whatever you can to make the creation of brilliant ads seem tricky. Yes, I know it is tricky. No one really does it anymore; that’s how tricky it is. But you can do it. Don’t settle for nicking stuff off YouTube or wrapping your client’s logo around a can of someone else’s paint. Make Surfer or Grrrr. Make them all think we’re cool like we used to be. Then we will be as cool as we used to be.

Make sure you find a way to give creatives clear direction. I repeat: Clear direction. This means pick a couple of horses early in the race and don’t make them go back and work on everything. 

This goes for CDs as much as it does for clients. More so, in fact.

Someone once told me the best clients are the ones who, if you walk into the room, you wouldn’t know who was the agency and who was the client. Strive for that.

With some of the clients I’ve met there has often been an odd dynamic where they kind of play up to the role of being the lame idiot who lives in the suburbs. And in creating that image of themselves, they create the way you act towards them and the whole thing continues in a weird cycle of unevenness. I’ve always preferred the strong client who makes the situation a collaboration because they know what they want and will stand firm to get it (assuming their ideas aren’t bloody awful. I’m looking at you, marketing guy from a major UK pizza chain).

But in general they really are just slightly different human beings who happen to be caught up in the same situation as you. With a bit of luck, bearing that in mind might lead to an improvement in your finished work.

Close every door to me, hide all the world from me. Bar all the windows and shut out the weekend

Every single Kramer entrance, in order:

The best-ever opening tracks of albums (thanks, J).

Worst-ever special effects (thanks, J).

Disney princesses photoshopped (thanks, R).

Charts inspired by Morrissey lyrics (thanks, C).

The puntastic Tweeted Love (thanks, S).

American literature’s most epic road trips (thanks, J2).

The Rolling Stones at their most Spinal Tap (thanks, T).

Sheep rescue! (thanks, G):

The Wire tautology supercut (thanks, Popbitch):

Jurassic World as gay Thai porn.

Beaucoup Raymond Carver wisdom.

Shatner’s ‘Common People’ with fanmade Star Trek video (thanks, S):

There’s some fun stuff on this blog (thanks, L&R).

Treatments

Treatment writing is a thorny subject at the best of times.  What was introduced as an innovation to provide a director with competitive edge has now become the norm.  From the day that a virtually unknown director named Tarsem successfully pitched for Levi’s Swimmer with an inches thick book (it included swatches of material for the frocks to be worn by the women at poolside parties etc) the world of treatments has become increasingly sophisticated.

Originally treatments were meant to provide a competitive edge.  In 2015 they are a required part of the process, partly because clients rely on them as much (if not more?) than the agency. And they’ve become huge, cumbersome beasts:  30, 40 even 50 page treatments aren’t uncommon (although, oddly, only the absolute A-Listers seem brave enough to keep treatments to less than 10 pages). And with anything that can secure you millions of pounds/dollars, an entire community has sprung up to service the need. And what of the cost? A treatment can cost ‘nothing’ to produce (the director writes the text and an internal person pulls the images and creates the PDF document), but it also could cost £3k+ (a professional writer, pictures researcher, layout artist, director revisions, agency changes, ECD changes etc etc). Then there’s the whole other level: pre-viz, set models, filmed director interviews, test footage etc. Obviously, the bigger the job then the more comprehensive the treatment (with a rough ‘size of budget to scale of treatment’ ratio being acted out), but treatments are still required on even small scale, online projects with sub £50k budgets can require a £2k treatment.

And do they help or hinder?  Of course it’s great to have a comprehensive idea of what the director is about to shoot, but then you can plan so much you squeeze all the fun out of an artistic endeavour. And so many great ads managed to occur before the days of treatments that you can’t help but wonder how exactly they fall under the definition of ‘necessary’. And a 40 page deck for a 30 second spot?  Really? Then you’ve committed to so much, you’re not even sure of exactly what you’ve promised and what you haven’t:

Client: ‘And that shot of the chipmunk with the mandolin – where’s that in my finished film?’  

Agency: ‘Oh, but that was just in the treatment as a reference…’

Client: ‘But my husband loves chipmunks. Stick it in, there’s a good chap.’

Agency: ‘But a chipmunk wrangler will cost another 5k.’

Client: ‘Oh. I wonder if your biggest rival can afford a chipmunk wrangler…’

etc.

And when it comes to unreasonable bollocks the agency can be just as guilty:‘I’m sending you a script, could we do a meeting / call tomorrow – and a treatment by the end of the week?’ And that’s often the sort of timescale everyone is faced with, so you can imagine the time pressures involved in an effort to present something that’s half decent.

And on top of all that, do the creatives even know or care about what they’re looking at? I recall an interesting treatment I once received for a Nicorette ad (one of the ones with a man dressed as a giant cigarette), which involved the directors explaining to me their desire to use an anamorphic lens in order to achieve the same look as Alien or Aliens. Then we moved onto how they were going to invoke the Kubrick of 2001. Then the whole thing collapsed under the pile of bullshit that had been generated.

Then again, at least it was their own work and ideas. Many’s the time I’ve received a treatment written by a professional writer of such things, leading me to wonder where the director began and the writer ended. Under such circumstances, can you be sure whose vision are you hiring? And does that matter?

In LA – a town where creative/screenwriting is in the DNA of the community – treatment writers are recognised as an asset, not a dirty word.  “Who’s your writer?” is a question asked out of genuine interest – not deep suspicion.  From what I’ve seen, the treatment writer is thought of as someone the director turns to in an effort to make the project better, in the same way he turns to a DoP or an editor.

And yet in London the opposite is true.  I was talking to a producer whose director always writes his own treatments.  He recently lost a job and was told by the agency that they’d given the project ‘to the only director we’d shortlisted who’d written their own treatment’.  Not only did the agency positively discriminate against treatments written by third parties – they couldn’t distinguish accurately who did and who didn’t rely on a writer to knock the words into shape.

Seems like everyone agrees that picture researchers are a valuable asset. Need a still image of a sad frog standing next to a bicycle? A wistful hipster staring out of a rainy window? Give the photo researcher a call.  But the words?  No, no, no – they must come straight from the director.

Whatever the right and wrong, it seems odd that the two communities should be so split about the same issue.  Is it an LA vs London thing?  Or is it something more complex than that…Can you discern the difference?  And even if you can, do you care?

amazing…

 

It ain’t what you do, it’s the why that you do it

If you saw someone knock a T-shirt off a shop display then walk away you might be inclined to pick it up and replace it, but why?

If you want the place to look a bit tidier for other people, or you want to save the shop assistant from having to do it, or you want to avoid people treading on the T-shirt and ruining it, then great.

If you want to make the other person feel bad, or you want to make yourself feel all virtuous, or you want to show the other people nearby what an ace person you are, then not so great.

Same action; different motives. Some rather lovely; some an expression of the little inadequacies in your head.

What about winning Wimbledon, and indeed the training it takes to do that?

If you love tennis for its own sake, or you want to inspire people to fulfil on their possibilities, or you want to keep testing your abilities at a higher level to see what you can be capable of, then that’s just dandy.

If you hate your dad and you want to show him you’re better than he’ll ever be, or you have a deep hole of misery in your soul from when you were abused as a child and the adulation from the crowd can temporarily reduce it, or you want the stability that comes from the prize money because you never quite feel safe, then that’s not so fine.

Yes, there may be other benefits that come from actions that exacerbate existing damage or make a single person feel bad, but the holes will never be filled. The cycle will continue. No amount of success or acts of (supposed) kindness will heal the wounds.

It might be worth bearing this in mind when we look at things that make little or no sense in the advertising world. For example, I can’t believe anyone still tacks pre-roll ads to the beginning of YouTube clips. We’re all consumers. We all hate the companies that do this. Why bother? A media buyer that recommends pre-roll might truly believe that the client is getting their message in front of the right eyes because TV is dead and this is a great way to target people with greater precision. Or they might simply be going along with the prevailing fashion that will deliver some KPIs that are bullshitty enough to keep them in their job, or get them a raise. And that might make mummy proud, or lead to the Audi A8 that will show those bastards at school who said they’d never amount to anything.

On the flip side, why is the client saying yes? She watches YouTube and hates the preroll just like the rest of us. Why would her company escape the hatred by doing the same thing? Does she want to just keep her head down and hope no one notices that she was promoted too soon? Is she scared of a boss that would prefer her to do something reliable, the hatred of which is impossible to truly measure? Or does she really love her ad so much that she thinks people will want to see it and therefore no skipping will occur?

Do you want that helicopter shot because you think it’ll improve the ad’s chances of selling product? Or do you want to ride in a chopper and tell your mates a story that makes you look good?

Do you refuse to work on that fast food company’s account because you are genuinely troubled by the wages they pay their staff? Or do you want to feel superior and tell your boyfriend how lovely and principled you are?

Do you work in advertising because it pays fairly well and makes you feel all gooey inside when you work with famous photographers or see your work on TV? Or are you genuinely interested in solving problems for brands that are indirectly paying you to do so?

I think most of us end up on autopilot about why we do things, but it might be worth asking those questions occasionally. And if the answers that come back don’t seem right you might want to consider altering your behaviour until they do.

Yo soy un hombre sincero De donde crece la palma. Yo soy un hombre sincero De donde crece la palma, Y antes de morirme quiero Echar mis versos del the weekend.

MacSabbath: the McDonald’s themed Black Sabbath tribute band (thanks, V).

Glitterjizz (thanks, J).

Shovel drop sounds like Smells Like Teen Spirit (thanks, J):

Inside an artificial brain (thanks, J):

Travel through the music of the past as you get further from Earth (thanks, D).

Amusing song (thanks, J):

Every episode of Murder She Wrote.

Bill Burr takes down Yoko Ono (thanks, G):

Junk food presented as haute cuisine (thanks, G).