Tales of the Tape - November 1993

by Dennis Daniel

I'm back. Don't ask.

What a job this Production Director thing is, huh? Have you ever really sat down and examined what we do with our lives, what is asked of us on a daily basis? Imagine a giant pile of horse dung before you. The horse dung represents clients and salespeople (no offense, just a metaphor), we are the golden shovel. We chuck ourselves with might and fury into the pile and fling it about with reckless abandon. Wherever it lands and sticks...that's a spot.

What am I saying? Yes. We are professional BS artists. Pure and simple. Nothing to be ashamed of. The world is full of them. We're lucky in that we are paid to do it. (Lysa just came in to my office, looked at my computer and said, "My, are we in bad mood today about our job?" Truth be told...no. I love my job. I just know what it is.)

Okay, I know some of you are saying I'm over-dramatizing all this. The point is...I need to. It's what gets me through the day when I feel like exploding from all the pressure. Pressure from salespeople. Pressure from clients. Pressure from programming. Pressure from within. By within, I mean the pressure of trying to be as creative as I can in an environment that is not conducive to creativity.

Survival is a matter of understanding the universe you reside in. A lion tamer will not go into the cage without his chair and whip because he knows he'll become dog meat. I will not walk into this radio station without the knowledge that in my department there are no rules, nothing counts, and everybody is, more or less, an asshole...including me. But, it's okay. I understand. I'm content living in my confusing, frustrating little world. This is the career I have chosen. And, by God, I do love it! Go figure!

You see, I used to believe that everything I produced had to be "art." Every commercial, a masterpiece. Time, thought, and intense energy had to be given to each and every assignment. I was not just some hack; I was an artist, a craftsman. Hooo boy, was I deluding myself! I nearly dropped dead thinking like that. YOU CAN'T THINK LIKE THAT! No one else is thinking like that around you. Why should you put that kind of pressure on yourself? The real truth of the matter is...clients and salespeople, for the most part, can't relate to fresh, new and inventive ideas EVERY TIME. Sure, occasionally, you'll luck out and find a client that appreciates originality. But, more often than not, it's "can you do Robin Leach?" "You know those Molson spots? Can you do that?" "You know that guy from Cheers?"

It's the creative impulse within us that screams for originality. But it's the lazy bastard within us that says, "Sure, I can do that guy from Cheers." With literally hundreds of requests coming to us for spots, promos, any and all creative concepts, excuses can be made when it comes to slacking off. Only WE know it's slacking off. To the client or salesperson, it's "the greatest spot they've ever heard." This truly amazes me. I busted my butt for years to become known as a very creative producer with tons of fresh and original material. I got the rep, the awards, the whole deal. What's asked of me all the time? What do I make most of my extra dough with? STRAIGHT READS OVER BEDS! BASIC BLAH SPOTS! Do you see? Are ya with me lads and lassies? I began to say to myself, "Geez, if they want to pay me for doing the same old thing all the time, why sweat it? Why weep over it?" If you can't beat 'em...and all that. So, I resigned myself to the reality of the biz. It's truly the best of both worlds, actually. I still get more than ample opportunities to go in and dazzle the world. But, I gotta tell you, I also love just going in and doing your basic BS spot. I look at each style of spot as a genre, you know? The "Straight Read" genre. The "Humorous" genre. The "Hard Sell/Retail" genre. After a while, my life started to lighten up a bit. I have clients that I know would balk at anything truly creative. So, I write something that I may think is a rancid piece of crap, but I know they'll love. As long as they love it, why should I care?

For example, the other day a salesman was running around the station, flaying his arms about and weeping about how his client, a costume place, kept rejecting spots that had been written by my partner Steve Morrison. These spots were fantastic and very creative! The spot premise was about people who spend all their time explaining how they put together their original costumes made with paper mache' and balsa wood, boring the heck out of their fellow costumed party people. I stopped him in the middle of the hall and said, "Danny, calm down. What's the problem?" I told him I would take care of it. I got the client on the phone. The client played me some old spots from another station that they had liked in the past. Those old spots turned out to be ME from the days when I worked for that station. They were cute so-so spots about the costumes talking to each other at night. I ran into the studio and put something together for them in 10 minutes, called them back, and they were thrilled. THRILLED! Everyone was happy and dancing around, except me, who felt, "What a piece of crap. But hey...if they liked it...."

So, what's my point, right? Am I saying to you all, "Don't give a damn about what you write, just fake your way through and you'll be fine?" NO! What I'm saying is, "Don't walk into the lion cage without your chair and whip." Once you get the lion tamed, you won't need the chair and whip as much, if at all. Just be aware of the beast your dealing with, find moments when you can tame it, and deal with its basic nature the rest of the time. Always care about what you do. Just don't get so hung up if it isn't a masterpiece every time. Everything we do has some degree of worth -- if not to ourselves fully, then to someone else. Not a bad way to go through life, huh?

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