Friday, August 7, 2009

Jesus was a carpenter. Not a director.

Almost every time an ad agency hires me for the first time, something strange happens. They ask -- sheepishly -- if I might find it within my heart to spare a couple of minutes helping out with post-production.


What makes this strange is that the way I get hired is by telling the ad agency people how I imagine their commercial turning out. I sell them on my "vision", which is actually a big enough subject for its own blog, but for today's purposes let's just say it's the way I promise the commercial is going to look and sound.

The thing is, how a commercial looks and sounds is determined to a huge degree by post-production. That's where you do the editing, color correction, audio mixing, music composing, title treatments, and special effects.

A director who doesn't get involved in post is like a carpenter you hire to build cabinets for your kitchen, only to have him leave you a pile of lumber you have to cut, stain, and assemble yourself. They're doing half the work and expecting all of the credit.

I don't work that way. But a lot of directors do. And I think it explains a couple of things:

1) Why post-production budgets are increasing while production budgets are decreasing;
2) Why American advertising is generally pretty crappy; and
3) Why some agencies think a director deserves to make less than minimum wage. (See my last blog if you don't know what I'm talking about.)


  1. I agree with your philosophy in principal. Yet I have worked with some world class directors that showed me cuts of the spot we just shot that were just plain awful. In fact, it's happened a lot. Then we cut the film and we have magic. Same film, so they did their job in giving us what we need. That said, I always prefer to have all creative parties involved the whole way. Sometimes, though, you have to go your own way.

    Eric Walker

  2. I guess it depends on how locked down the spot is. If it's extremely FX-heavy, I can more easily understand why a director would not be as essential to the final piece in terms of actual cutting (trimming/shot swapping).

    Foremost, I consider my first job is to get great performances and coverage. Ultimately, it is the agency's cut. I'm serving them.

    Of course, I may have a preferred cut, but that preferred cut is not necessarily the best one for showcasing the product/brand.

    Coming from features, I do resist being told "Thanks and goodbye" at the end of a shoot because it is in cutting where you truly shape the piece. It does happen sometimes, though.

    Commercials are different because the end result is much more determined than a feature. It's easier to envisage how a thirty second spot will cut than a ninety minute action drama. It could be 25 cuts versus 1200.

    Perhaps the issue is finding the right "fit" for director/agency/client in the first place. Different agencies have different ways of achieving their aims, anyway. One size never fits all.

    I came to accept that, in commercials, my job is often to shoot the boards (well, and with energy) and provide plenty of alternatives for the editor and agency.

    Thanks for another great piece, whoever you are.