by Dennis Daniel
My, how time flies. There I was again, for the third time, touching down at Las Vegas airport for yet another NAB convention and foot blister test. This year, there was a lot to be excited about! My book, Tales of the Tape - A Production Director's Odyssey...or...How To Survive And Stay Creative In An Industry That East Its Young was being debuted at the show. Our RAP Editor and his lovely wife were going to be at the show, so I knew we'd be having some fun. And perhaps most exciting of all, I was going to share the stage once again with fellow RAP mate and resident radio psycho John Pellegrini in a little seminar entitled "How to Make Your Production Sizzle." (Well, maybe it wasn't as exciting as the book, but I want to make John feel important.) John and I were joined by another kindred production spirit from the City of Angels, Don Elliot.
Oh boy. Yet another radio seminar about the bloody obvious. I still find it all quite astounding that PDs, GMs and the like need to attend talks about something that should seem as natural as breathing...the importance of the production department. Mind you, I don't mean to knock the chance to speak at the NAB; it's a real honor. It's just that...well...after all these years of writing and speaking, I still find it hard to believe that so many stations still haven't come to realize the Production Department's importance to their bottom line. Of course, bitching about it here in the pages of RAP is not going to necessarily solve anything (talk about preaching to the converted). However, I would like to share with you some of the highlights of the talk so that you all can see we're out there in the battlefield, fighting the good fight, and trying with all our hearts to get the point across. Even the tiniest of victories is worth the battle.
In our initial discussions the three of us wanted to help our fellow radio brethren understand how to make magic in the production studio by combining a clear understanding of the medium and its visually suggestive power with the basic tools that every station should have at its fingertips. We decided to bring examples of promos and commercials that showed our seminar attendees how to: 1) key in on the culture for ideas, 2) use the power of sound effects and imagination, and 3) concentrate on performance to pull it all off.
I brought with me two commercials that have appeared on the RAP Cassette recently. The first, the dentist ad, "Kind To Your Brain" was presented to demonstrate how using sound effects and performance can convey a message. The second, the National Bartenders School Broadway show parody, was presented to demonstrate how you could create your own jingles and goofy music with an in-house library. Here's some of what I said:
"One of the weirdest things about radio production today is that it's treated like the bastard child between sales and programming. It's not looked at with the same reverence. When you think about it, why are we in business? To sell air. What are we putting on that air? Commercials. Who produces the commercials? The Production Department. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. Yet, it's a department where you can really have someone running it who is a genius and knows what they're doing, or you can have somebody there who was a part-timer and was offered the position. 'Look, we can give you production if you want a full-time gig.' I know many Production Directors working in the industry today who absolutely hate what they're doing and have no love for it whatsoever. I can assure you that myself and the two gentlemen up here with me have a very deep, abiding love for radio production and the whole concept of theater of the mind. When you think about it folks, most of the media out there that's stimulating the masses is primary: movies, television, newspapers. You have to look at it. You have to see it in order to absorb it. Whereas radio--wonderful secondary medium that it is--is omnipresent. It's all around us! It's the one thing, thank God, that will never change. You will always need your ears and you will always need your imagination to make it work. So, you will always need people like us. And we're very happy to serve you.
Now, you may have some people working at your radio station who have the potential to do much better work than they're doing right now. Hopefully, what we can do in this seminar is give you an idea of what you can go back and tell them about how to really think about production."
I then proceeded to play my two spots as examples of commercials that use all the elements available to any production person. I tried to make it clear that one does not need a digital workstation and sixteen tracks to get the kinds of results I did. As a matter of fact, both spots were produced on four-track analog equipment.
I was surprised and delighted to receive applause after the work was played. It was then time to yield the floor to Pellegrini, who focused in on the power of keying into the culture for inspiration. He played two Christmas "Raiding Santa's Workshop" promos (the idea being that the station raided Santa's workshop to bring the listeners cool prizes for a contest). One was a parody of Pulp Fiction (which, it so happens, we collaborated on), and the other was a parody of the film Ransom. Here's some of what John had to say when an attendee asked, "Where do you get ideas to stimulate your creativity?"
"Oh, God, anywhere. The thing is...you have to keep your mind open to all kinds of insane ideas. An English comic named Spike Milligan, who was Peter Sellers original partner, used to say 'You gotta go past the ordinary. Look at the molecules that make up the sidewalk. It's not a sidewalk; it's grains of sand. Rain is the way it is because the holes in the cloud are so small.' Look past what things are. Sometimes even stating the obvious helps. Read a lot! Read all the great writers: Robert Benchley, S.J. Perlman. They could craft a phrase of comedy that is just so insane! You'll find that many of the writers and comics working today learned their styles and phrasing from the great masters. Of course, movies and television provide infinite inspiration."
If you'd like to hear more of this seminar, contact the NAB and ask for audio tape #979 from the 1997 Las Vegas Convention.