"...And Make It Real Creative!": "It Starts When?" - Part 1

by Andy Capp

This is a test. For the following three issues, this column will conduct a test of the Emergency Broadcast Production System. This is only a test. (And, as always, this article could self-destruct in ten seconds.)

And a Single Word Will Irritate Them: Immediacy. Everyone in radio is taught from day one that it is our most important "unique selling point." But, it took salesfolk to take it to its most annoying extreme. A potent sales tool? No question. The blasting cap that ignites explosions between sales and production? Oh, yeah!

It was while I was nursing powder burns in the aftermath of one such explosion that I said to myself, "Self, I wonder how a really smart Production/Creative Director would deal with last second production orders?" I decided to test a few of the smart ones. Here's how they aced the test.

First, the cast. Craig Rogers/WHO in Des Moines, Holly Buchanan/WMXB in Richmond, John Pellegrini/WKLQ in Grand Rapids. Second, the script. The one salesperson that never puts you in a last minute scramble, does. 4:50 p.m.. Huge order. Starts in the morning. Needs to be real creative. You know the story. A fairly well laid out production order for a place called The Video Deli, a combination video/junk food emporium (no, not a real place, just a fantasy of mine). Oh, and one more complication: this salesperson recently took you out for a nice lunch "just because" (another fantasy of mine). So, I say to the cast, "Cast, what would YOU do?"

They told me. So well, in fact, that I decided that it would be impossible to leave anything out. So, we'll feature all three, in the order that they landed in my mailbox, in this and the next two issues.

Okay. Let's get to work. That spot hits the air at 8 a.m.! It's a beautiful day in Des Moines. Our neighbor in Iowa, Mr. Craig Rogers, took the project from start to a finished commercial (which you can hear on this month's Cassette). He tells us how:

In this scenario, if an AE came crashing through the door waving this production order, it would only be after it had been cleared by traffic. Since this isn't a real spot, we'll assume traffic has said okay (and probably given the AE a good tongue lashing).

John Prigge is our Creative Director. He and I met to discuss a timetable. He let me know about what time he'd have the script done. I arrange my time accordingly. John goes off to write. I head back to work on my other projects. (Just 'cause it's close to five doesn't mean production is packing for home.)

The copy comes back about a half hour later, 5:30 or so. It needs three voices and some SFX. John says he'll do one of the voices. I'm in the middle of a project that can't be put on hold, so I tell John he can take off, and I'll get two of the other jocks to help out. Tim White is the board operator for WHO from 4 to 6 then jumps over to KLYF at 7 to do a music shift. I ask him to do the opening blurb (two sentences) right after 6, between his shifts. Jay Weiss is on KLYF till 7. So I ask if he can help with the third voice right when he finishes. He says sure.

Talent is arranged, so I work on the first project till 6 when Tim comes in and does the open. Two takes and he's done. Back to working on the first project which is finished by 6:30. I review the Video Deli script. Reading through the script shows a couple of rough transitions, so I start to edit. (It seems John's script has a more "cynical" attitude than other commercials. Kind of his humorous little jab at last minute orders.) As I edit, I decide to have the guy thinking to himself instead of talking out loud. More editing to make the script fit that approach. Sorry, John.

At 6:45, the editing is finished, so I start hunting up music, SFX and finding the right reverb on the Harmonizer for the "thinking" part. 7:01, Jay comes in to help with the body of the spot. The third take is the one we use. Jay heads to the other room to finish the rest of his production. I begin to assemble the spot. The spot is done and carted by 7:35, about 2 hours 45 minutes from the time the order came in to the cart being in the studio. 45 minutes of that was spent on my first project, so about two hours total time on the Video Deli.

Analyzing the process, this is pretty quick turnaround time for a "real creative" spot, writing to carting. I'm positive that is partially due to the hour of the day. At 5 p.m., AEs are leaving, so the interruptions are fewer for both John and me. I can get into the mind-set of the spot, the rhythm of the production without stopping repeatedly for questions or emergencies. An hour of studio time is actually an hour of studio time, not 20 minutes with 40 taken for putting out fires.

I also gave this spot a bit more attention than I might give another last minute order for three main reasons: 1) This AE is not an abuser of the system. It's my way of "going the extra mile" for them since they've done the same for me. Since this AE respects the system and understands the reasons it exists, I know this won't be a continuing problem. Rules get bent occasionally for those who play by them. 2) They want creative; they get creative. Even if this spot needs to be done last minute, it still has to be done right. "If there isn't time to do it right the first time, when will there be time to do it over?" 3) Since it is going around town (4 dubs requested), I'd be getting talent fees as would Tim and Jay. When it's money directly in your pocket, you tend to try a little harder.

Since you've painted this scenario with the AE being a "good guy," I know that the extra effort will probably be appreciated. Hey, here's an AE who says he'll buy lunch an actually follows through! Were this the constant abuser of the system, I'd have produced the spot pretty much the same, but I'd have left in a bad mood for having had my time taken advantage of by someone who could care less. Being a team player works both ways: If I go the extra mile for you, you'd better do the same for me on occasion. And when you do, it will be remembered.

Andy's Book Report: So much good stuff here, but the two things that strike me immediately about Craig's approach are organization and teamwork. From beginning to end, there is a game plan to add the offending production order to the mix of other projects that need to get done. Everyone knows what's expected of them and when -- a smart managing plan all the time, but especially when you don't want everyone to feel abused by unexpected work.

"They want creative; they get creative." A creed to live by. Important for the client and the station, of course, but also vital for you. Creative growth comes every time we use it, whether we have two weeks or two hours to finish a project. Sometimes a strict deadline can even give you a kick in the creative butt. I'd never admit it to the boss, but in reviewing my "keeper" reel, I realized that at least 75% of those keepers happened in a "hurry and drop everything" situation. Use these times as a chance to grow.

A final point I'd like to bring up is the great "creativity on tap" writing tip from Craig's partner in pain, John Prigge. Yes, he does take a jab at last minute work in the copy (listen to the finished product on The Cassette), but it points up the technique of taking a real life situation that everyone can relate to and using it in your writing. Plus, when you're in a hurry, grab what's handy!

Hats off to Craig and company. They've got this last minute production thing down to a science. Next month we travel to Richmond and find out how Creative Director Holly Buchanan deals with "no dinner and radio in the 90s."

Oh, one more thing: I've discovered a wonderful organization called "The Humor Project, Inc." that focuses on the positive power of humor and creativity. They publish a great catalog of books and materials on humor and creativity. Sound cool? Put on your rubber nose and glasses and dial (518) 587-8770.

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