Saturday, August 15, 2009

I'm not really taking back what I said.

Eric makes a good point about my penultimate blog. Some ad agency people actually prefer not to have a director muck up their commercials by being involved in post-production.

I get it. (Disclosure from the Department of Credibility: Before I started directing, I worked in ad agencies myself, moving my way up from copywriter to creative director. My last staff job was as Senior Vice President/Creative Director at BBDO/New York, creating huge ad campaigns for the likes of Pepsi, Pizza Hut, Visa, and Skippy.)

One of the reasons I got into directing was because I was fed up with watching in horror as one director after another shot his "vision" instead of my spot. (Which, by the way, is being generous. Many of the directors I worked with had barely a wisp of vision, which they thought was enough to justify their utter contempt for advertising in general and total lack of respect for the time and effort my teams and I put into creating work on behalf of our clients.)

The harsh reality of this business is that there are a few people at the top who get to spend other people's money to make "art". Their foibles are not just tolerated, but encouraged –– whether it's gratuitously putting hot women in latex in all their spots, dropping pitchers of milk in slow motion, or shooting everybody with extreme wide-angle lenses while a tuba plays an oompah in the background.

The rest of us directors would love to "exorcise our demons" (really, that's how a lot of those guys describe what they do –– with a straight face no less) on somebody else's dime, but are not. We're like architects who dream of being Frank Gehry, but have to content ourselves designing strip malls and prisons.

And to Eric's point, when you're creating the equivalent of a new museum on an unlimited budget, dealing with a prima dona is not only accepted, but expected. What's the point of hiring a famous artist, after all, if you don't get to regale the fetching young intern with tales of your epic struggle to create a masterpiece with him?

My problem isn't with the Pytkas, Tarsems, and Kays. I may not be crazy about some of work they do, but I'm glad they get to do it.

The ones who mess it up for the rest of us are the directors who don't know their place. They cop the petulant artist pose without realizing they're being hired to renovate a six-unit apartment building on a limited budget. They act as if they're doing the agencies a favor by showing up at all. As a result, a lot of agency people feel their spots turn out better when the director hands off the film and disappears instead of working on post.

And they're right.

By the way, back when I worked at the ad agencies, not all the directors I worked with sucked. Some were thoughtful, creative people who both understood the limitations of the assignment they were taking on and the possibilities it presented. It might seem strange, but those were usually the guys I had to work with when either money or time precluded hiring the A-list director.

But it makes sense when you think about it. If you're willing to shovel stupid amounts of money at a sub-par director to indulge his gratuitous whims, you can afford to hire an editor with the skill to turn his raw sewage –– I mean,footage –– into something worthwhile in post.