by Andy Capp
Who says that movies aren't based on real life?
For instance, it's just another day, you and your Mercenary buddies are storming through some Asian jungle blowing away the enemy de jour, making the world safe to democracy as usual when, out of nowhere, some invisible alien starts blasting, dismembering and, basically, making trophies out of your Steroid-built pals one by one until you're the Lone Ranger. This is uncharted water for you, being the hunted instead of the hunter, being the one with less firepower, being "Mr. Puniverse" who will have sand kicked in his eyes before he gets his liver handed to him. So do you give up and raise the white flag, risking its possible insertion in a very sensitive place in your body? Not in this hero's lifetime! You start looking for new solutions, ways to make the creature visible to you and you invisible to it. You invent traps with what's available and of sufficient lethal force, then lure the beast into them, finally capturing it and forcing it to self-destruct rather than be taken in. As the rescue chopper flies you out, you realize that you don't know it all when it comes to warfare, that you were lucky to survive and live to use what you've learned in this totally new experience. Fade to black, run the credits, pocket ten zillion dollars and go home to Maria.
Real life's not so different, is it? You and your co-workers at the station, blowing through those production orders, making the airwaves safe from mundane spots and promos when some client comes in wanting "something completely different from what you've been producing for me, because it's just not getting the people through my door." He's not sure what he wants, but it's gotta be creative and ear catching. Otherwise the station can kiss his $50,000 annual good-bye because he's going with an ad agency that endorses print. Do you inform him that if the work you've been doing isn't up to his standards, he knows where he can put that fifty Gs? If you said "Yes," you haven't been in the business very long and won't be much longer!
You go back to square one, reviewing what his business is and how he wants to be perceived and what his expectations are. You start exploring new creative approaches, maybe a brainstorming session, maybe listening to random cuts in the production library, maybe buzzing through a few RAP Cassettes or maybe just staring at a blank computer screen for two hours. When the concept is there and the script is written, it's on to the prod room to create the new "voice" of the client, juggling and tweaking and bouncing the voice, music and sound effects in a whole new way, producing a sound that never existed before. In the end you capture the ear of the client who actually ups his annual rather than spend the money with someone else. As the AE pats you on the back and hands you another stack of prod orders, you realize that you didn't know it all when you produced the original work for this client, that you're lucky he feels your new approach will work and that you've got a chance to use what you now know about the client's business to produce better ads in the future. Fade the audio, pocket $1.50 and go home to Maria, though probably in your case, of course, she'll be on the tube (and you thought the only thing you had in common with "Ar-nuld" was that President's Physical Fitness award you almost got in third grade).
I believe these little interruptions, courtesy of the unexpected and unfamiliar, are healthy for the creative mind. It doesn't matter if we choose to admit it or not, even the most inventive of us tends to fall into uninventive patterns, comfort zones of Production that have worked, have become easy from practice and are, frankly, stale as the last donut left in the break room over the weekend!
We need the alien invasion, the unhappy client, the changes that force us to grow and learn if we truly want to be creative. They should not only be welcome intrusions, but sought after.
I've had some small experience in change of late and, although it has sometimes been an uncomfortable time (time spent in the office of an oral surgeon would be delightful by comparison), it's been great for learning new Production skills and stretching my creative outlook. At my new job I'm learning equipment I've never worked with before and new ways to work with the equipment I "knew." I'm learning new ways of "hearing" a piece of copy and how to make it all come together, from working others and myself for the best read, to assembling the audio in new and provocative ways.
So what's been so painful about something so positive? Take a look at the first word in the phrase "comfort zone." Yep, my life before the move felt comfortable, like that old, smelly, ripped up pair of tennis shoes you refuse to replace and toss--not that my life stunk, but you get the idea. Post-change has made me feel awkward and stupid sometimes, like relearning to walk after an accident, Production-wise. The thing I've had to keep in the back of my mind is that it's still all brand new, and those "Air Jordans" will be broken in. It just takes time.
So am I suggesting that you all load up the truck and move to Beverly? Only if Calafornee is the place you otta be. You can force change no matter where you are. Maybe it IS a new job, maybe it's taking a night class in computer music or, perhaps, it's asking the GM to let you throw on a suit and service a few clients. The object is to make yourself do something unfamiliar, learn something new and in the process change the way you think about the old.
A couple of mistakes to avoid, from someone who's made them. If you feel dumb, that's good, you're supposed to when you're learning something new. Don't be so overcome by thoughts of being an idiot that you become one and really don't learn anything. Don't get depressed when it doesn't come easy; that's those dirty old sneakers yelling at you from your comfort zone because they don't want to be replaced. Finally, don't get all upset because someone wants you to revise their copy or maybe their entire creative approach. It's not an indictment of your work; it's just something "the boss" wants that will give you a chance to stretch a little farther creatively.
To create is to make something new. To be creative when we keep using the same process over and over is something of an oxymoron. Embrace the alien. Or better yet, invent a real heavy, sharp trap to squash him with. The creative life you save may be your own.