I Was Only Disobeying Orders

Have you ever briefed a supplier (illustrator/director/photographer/musician etc.), only to find that what he or she came up with was not what you asked them to do?

Of course you have. It happens so often that I can barely think of an instance where it did not occur.

Me: So we just want a man standing by a normal park bench in a red T-shirt, like this sketch here.
Illustrator: No problem.
(Timewipe to three days later)
Me: Why the fuck have you drawn a crocodile on a spaceship in a red T-shirt?
Illustrator: Was that not what you wanted?

This post is not about that latitude you give a director to let the ‘magic’ happen or the looseness of a reportage photography brief. I’m talking about the gap between clear instructions and off-piste results that I’d like to christen the Grey Zone.

There’s always a point when you brief someone that they actually have to go off and do what you’ve asked. During this time you do not look over their shoulder, partly because it’s rude and impractical, and partly because you spoke to them in plain bloody English and do not expect to have been misunderstood.

So the Grey Zone happens (if you’re doing animation it can take a good month) and you get your handful of magic beans back from the market. Then the rebrief begins and you repeat this process until you get close enough to what you were after or you kill yourself/the supplier.

Much fun.

As odd as this may appear, in my calmer moments I can understand that it’s just like when a creative gets a brief with some clear instructions on it then comes back with something that makes a different point in a different way in a different medium. Many of us think we’ve got the right to ignore what we’ve been asked to do because we think our solution is better. I suppose that the artists we brief think the same thing: why give me something to do if you don’t want my input into it? Isn’t it a good thing when I surprise you with some work that lives three towns away from what you were expecting? Shouldn’t you just be delighted that I took your fairly dull pass and scored a goal so incredible it was actually in an entirely different sport?

Well, I can’t deny that I get exasperated when people ignore me, so maybe, just maybe, it’s all right for others to feel the same way.

But none of that sits well with the kind of self belief and insecurity it takes to be a creative.