Friday, July 30, 2010

Aw, Mom! Squid again?

After having spent the last three days in Galicia, I can tell you with absolute confidence that the people there aren't like you or me.

We ate squid at every meal. Until the last lunch before we hit the road, when we had pizza. Pizza with tuna.

Seems to me, if people in another part of the world have totally different tastes in what they eat, they might have similarly different tastes in what they watch.

I know, check me out. I said similarly different. 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

How to write better than I do.

I just finished the first leg of my epic flight to Portugal and even though I got off to an inauspicious start, what with my flight being delayed for ten hours, so far things have actually been quite good. Mostly because I used the little extra time I had to find a good book and discovered a writer who creates the kind of imagery I wish I could.

The book is 'Pipsqueak' by Brian M. Wiprud. 

Here's a sentence from page 82, describing a room: "There was enough headroom to bone up on your model rocketry, though they'd opted to use the extra space to keep the velvet industry solvent via curtains billowing down from the apex to the floor."

Do you see what he did there? Not simile. Not metaphor. Description. Description with personality and a sense of humor. 

For that sentence alone, Brian M. Wiprud gets to hang out with Michael Chabon –– whose books are full of stuff like that –– preferably in my back yard, with me pouring wine and listening and I mean that as an open invitation to the both of them. 

Any time, guys. I'll be back from Portugal on the 2nd. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why most advertising sucks. (Part 4)

One of the greatest tragedies of the advertising business is that there's very little training. People with raw talent are generally indulged, exploited, and eventually promoted into positions of managing the next round of talented people, with no consideration given to how they'll lead. 
I know. I was one of them.
Some of the guys I came up with are now running the creative departments of the largest and most powerful ad agencies in the world, and I guarantee you that it's not because a single one of them had management training. Whatever any of these people know about leadership, it's what they learned from books or developed on their own. 
Some of them –– and I speak from experience –– didn't think it was important to read any management books or develop management skills.
As a result, lots of ad agencies are populated top to bottom by people who might be brilliant at coming up with ads, but crappy at bringing along people, developing others' ideas, or interacting with clients or others in the agency. Not all of them, mind you. Just way too many of them.

It's a shame, really, because good ideas –– like talented people –– don't spring fully formed into the world. They need to be, well, managed. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Old Spice guy reminds me of an elderly, female comedienne


Back when I used to do stand up comedy, one of the things I learned that was really effective was what's called a topper. That's when you follow up a strong punch line with another thought that's related and funnier.
Are you familiar with Mrs. Hughes? She's a stand up comedian –– a really good one –– who happens to be a grandmother. She has a joke that goes something like this: “People ask me all the time what's the secret to a long, happy marriage. Well, I can tell you the secret to a long one.”
(That's the punch line.)
“It's children.”
(That's the topper.)
She follows this formula over and over throughout her act and it's what makes her so damn funny.
Which brings me to 'The Man Your Man Could Smell Like'.
As I've mentioned before, the initial spot was brilliant. With its unconventional structure, dead-perfect delivery, and beautifully choreographed effects, it was the advertising equivalent of a really great joke. And kudos to Wieden + Kennedy, they came up with a topper that makes it even better.
The topper uses Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, where people can send messages to the Old Spice guy, hundreds of which are "replied to" in individual "spots".
It's not only a brilliant extension of an advertising campaign into social media, but it also happens to be perfectly consistent with the brand personality the ad agency established.
And up to this point, I'm not saying anything that thousands of reporters and bloggers haven't already said. There is an important conclusion to be drawn, though, that most of the rabid fans of social media seem not to have noticed: The phenomenon was created using conventional broadcast advertising and the role of social media was to extend it.
Could 'The Man Your Man Could Smell Like' have been created using anything other than broadcast advertising? No. And that's important.
Advertising isn't going away. Social media isn't going away, either. And while the two camps often like to cast this as a war between two competing paradigms, the reality –– proved by Wieden + Kennedy, is that they are actually two parts to the same, emerging paradigm.
What Wieden + Kennedy did with this campaign was execute in both realms flawlessly. For that, they have my vote as Company Most Likely To Move Marketing Communications Into The Future.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A story about a fish. Let it be a lesson to you.

A couple of years ago my parents, like a lot of elderly people, suddenly took to cruises. And in order to share their new-found love, they insisted that my wife and I join them on one.

My wife and I, just so you know, are more accustomed to kayaking the headwaters of the Amazon than standing in line at the floating buffet, so when we got an opportunity to take part in one of the "activities", we jumped.

We went snorkeling.

It's not that I'm bragging, but I've done my share of SCUBA diving. So the buoys they put up to mark the edge of the 12-foot-deep "safe zone" didn't keep us in. Before you knew it, we were free diving out past the jetty.

It must have been about 35 feet deep, but I have pretty good lungs so I had no trouble making it to the bottom and spending some time there. And that's where I saw the fish.

The fish was huge. About six and a half feet long, just hanging out above a depression in the sand. And he was beautiful.

So beautiful that I couldn't help but swim up at him, taunting him with silly "fishy fishy fishy!" grippy motions I made with my fingers as I came at him.

After the second time, I made my wife come down and take a look.

And this, among other reasons, is why I love my wife. She came. And not just as an observer, either. She came at the fish as enthusiastically as I did. Both of us coming at him broadside, our arms out in front of us, crunching up our little fingers over and over like we were aiming to tickle a two-year-old.

When we got about five feet of Mr. Fish, I had a sudden realization. I recognized him. I'd seen his kin, although they'd never been quite that monstrous.


I gasped, grabbed my wife by the hand –– being sure to cover the engagement ring that –– even at that depth –– sparkled in a way that only a really expensive, flawless, colorless, perfect cut diamond could, and hauled her to the surface.

The barracuda never moved.

It could have. It could have taken off my wife's hand in an instant. It could have reamed me for having dared to enter its world. I think it was stunned by our –– my –– utter, complete ignorance of its power.

You're probably wondering what my point is. Well, I'll tell you.

This is my story. It's typical of the stories I tell, which often involve my doing something completely boneheaded but somehow managing to survive, whether it's hunting for an ATM in the slums of Buenos Aires or hiking up Half Dome with nothing more than a biscuit and a camera or climbing over the 20-foot fence at the Italian embassy in Tel Aviv to play tennis on their court.

We all have our stories. My father's stories all come down to how clever he is. My wife's stories are all about how people turn out to be surprisingly good.

I can't tell my wife's stories –– at least not with the authenticity that she can. And I don't want to tell my father's stories because I'd feel like an asshole for trying.

And here comes the part where this is relevant to film: You tell the stories you tell because they have meaning for you. And film is nothing more than pre-planned, structured, extraordinarily expensive storytelling.

What has meaning for me is the intersection of naive belief and responsibility. And if you look closely, everything I do –– every screenplay I write, every film I shoot, every story I tell –– is about that. Even my little tale about my exploits with the fish.

You don't need a dozen film credits to find out what turns you on, story wise. Think of your stories, the ones you tell the girl you're hoping to sleep with, the boss you want to let you off the hook for being late.

I'll bet that once you think of a half-dozen, you'll see a pattern.