Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Wondering why you're not seeing posts from The 60 Second Director lately?

Same snappy logo, new snappy URL.
I've been publishing posts as The 60 Second Director for well over six years and if you've been using an RSA feed to stay on top of my advice and opinions, thank you.

Thank you and I'm sorry.

Thank you for reading. I'm sorry I didn't mention earlier that I'm consolidating my internet footprint as a way to manage all the links and stuff. As part of that process, I've moved my blog. You can now read all my snarky, boring, and even occasionally helpful blog posts at http://belefant.tv/category/60-second-director.

So now would be a good time to update your RSA feed if you're using one.

Thank you. I said that already, I know, but I mean it. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Moving Post. And By That I Mean It's Hosted Elsewhere

I've been publishing posts as The 60 Second Director for well over six years and if you've been reading my stuff since then, thank you.

I'm consolidating my internet footprint as a way to manage all the links and stuff. As part of that process, I'm moving my blog. You can now read all my snarky, boring, and even occasionally helpful blog posts at http://belefant.tv/category/60-second-director.

If you want to be sure not to miss a single word, why not add your name to my mailing list when you click over there? That way I can sell your contact information to Google and make like .00000000000004¢.

Which I'm not going to do, by the way.

That was supposed to be funny.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My two cents about Zooppa –– which is less than what my opinion is worth.

The actual email. Thanks,
Mark, for saying such nice
things about my work.
I recently got an email from someone at Zooppa, offering me a "filmmaking opportunity.” The opportunity is for me to create a commercial for a stapler company and if my finished piece is determined to be one of the ten best, I’ll get to share $25,000.

I’m not going to do it. And I suggest you don’t, either. Here's why:

Let’s say I’m the best of the best. And that each of the nine other submissions considered to be one of the ten best “wins" $50.00. That leaves me “winning” $24,550. 

There’s a reason that word “winning” is in quotes. Because it isn’t winning. It’s earning. 

To earn that money, I have to first work as a copywriter. I’d study the brief so I could get to know the marketing strategy, advertising strategy, and brand voice. I’d familiarize myself with the target market, understanding their perception of the brand and its competitors. I’d also evaluate the product and its competitive set to determine opportunities to communicate the benefits of a feature that would be relevant to the audience. 

Only then would I be able to come up with a script.

Me having an idea.
What it looks like. Really.
Once the script is prepared, I’d have to work as a producer. I’d break down the script in order to create a budget to shoot the piece and put together all the necessary resources. I’d arrange for casting and location scouting, procure equipment and the people to operate it, secure insurance to cover something happening to a piece of equipment or a person. If anything costs money I’d have to pay for it. 

By this point I would have already worked for about a week and spent something, even if it isn’t much. 

If you’ve been reading my blog at all you know that working as a director involves a lot more than showing up and calling “action!” Before I can even dream of calling “action!" I'd have to cast actors, find locations, and create the world I want to create through art direction, lighting, and props. 

When it finally comes time to shoot the piece, I'd get to be the director, but I'd never stop being the producer, the person to deals with the inevitable problems –– equipment that breaks or doesn’t show up, people who flake, actors who are happy to work for free, but simply MUST have fresh dahlias in their dressing rooms...

I wouldn't get to stop being a producer once the footage was all shot because there’d be equipment to return, a location to clean up, and crew members to pay. But I might also get to be an editor. Somebody’s got to digitize the footage, sync the sound, pull the selects, edit the piece, do a color-correct, and mix the audio. 

Oh, and then there’s music. We might want music. And a voice over. 

Is there a title that comes up with the logo? Yeah, someone would need to create that, too.

The deadline for submitting to Zooppa is September 22nd, which means I'd have three weeks to write, produce, direct, and finish this thing. Pretty tight, but yeah, I could do it if I worked every day.

Twenty years ago, I was bringing in $1,000 a day as a freelance copywriter, but let’s forget that I’d just come off a job as Senior Vice President/Creative Director at BBDO Worldwide and let’s also forget that you'd need $1,568 today to buy something that cost $1,000 in 1995. Instead, let’s say a copywriter is worth $350 a day. 

Let’s also say a producer is worth $350 a day. And because we’re being all egalitarian and stuff, director/editors get to make $350 a day, too. 

That means I’d be paying myself $22,050 to make this thing, which leaves a whopping $2,500 to pay the crew and actors, rent the location, props, and equipment, and buy the insurance.

And that’s if I win. Which I decided way up there at the top of this rant that I would. 

You losers? All you other people who go to the same trouble that I do and who come in second? You'd get to spend $22,050 worth of your cut rate time and $2,500 of your money in order to collect $50. Plus you wouldn't get to say you made a real commercial. 

Zooppa has come up with a business model that is predicated on people like me being willing to invest their time and money –– plus assume all the risk –– in order to create advertising on behalf of its clients. It's like a lottery, where the potential payout doesn't even cover the cost of the ticket.

So no, Zooppa, I won't be taking you up on this "opportunity", thank you very much. Even if it were my first time looking into the eyepiece of a camera –– and it isn't –– if I'm creating something a legitimate business values as part of its marketing communication, I deserve to be treated as a professional. And the people I hire to work with me do, too. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm more than willing to cut my rate or work for free –– just like most everybody I know in this business –– but when I do it's because I either believe in the project, love the people, or see an opportunity to go to France. 

Zooppa, you're asking me to invest both my time and money to further the marketing goals of a legitimate, profit-seeking enterprise. The only remuneration I'm guaranteed is two staplers, which I can keep as long as I promise to submit a commercial.

It's not a stapler. It's a paycheck.
Three weeks' work for two staplers? Wow. What an "opportunity."

Brian Belefant is a diretor who is not shooting a stapler commercial this week and just happens to be available to work on something more legitimate, more worthy, or more likely to involve travel. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Difference Between A Good Guy And A Protagonist

I’ve always thought that the most realistic antagonists are convinced they’re not being bad. They honestly believe that what they’re doing is right. 

How else can you explain the despicable shit my ex-wife pulled during our divorce?

So when it comes to a story where a protagonist confronts an antagonist, it only makes sense that a legitimate argument can be made to root for either character. 

The trick is in the telling. And just the other day I stumbled onto a wonderful example. It’s by J. Matthew Turner and wow, is it a lesson in perspective. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Adventures in Script Meetings

Corporate shill.
I was recently hired by an ad agency to write a 22-minute television show –– an animated family story that takes place in Pre-Colonial Hawaii and involves a young prince and his pet chicken. (Imagine 'Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer' with a corporate agenda.)

Because my kids love stories (and because we were waiting for the pizza we ordered to be ready), I took them through the entire script. 

Walter the Chicken. The one the
character in the story is based on.
They sat, rapt, for the whole 22-minutes. I know this because when I was done, I quizzed them on what happened. I asked them to let me know if anything about the story didn’t make sense. Nope, they replied. Although it could have been clearer that the bad spirits turned into nice spirits at the end. 

Note taken.

Then I asked if they liked it.

“Loved it,” they both said.

But then there was a little hesitation from Dashiell, my seven-year-old.

“You know what, Dad?”

“What?”

“Maybe instead of a raft, it could be a rocket that goes into a black hole and that’s how he gets to the Dark Island.”


And just like that, I’m back in Hollywood, having a story meeting with a studio exec.

Brian Belefant is a director who also works as a writer, but is mostly looking for directing gigs these days and if you happen to need a director you could do a lot worse than hiring him. Try calling (503) 715 2852 or emailing belefant (at) me (dot) com.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What to look for in a line producer (part 3)

I can't see the forest.
Wow. Has it really been a month? I've been so busy with post production on a film project I'm working on that I haven't had time to write up a post. 

Guess I probably ought to start with a recap.

In What To Look For In A Producer (Part 1) I said that the most important thing to look for in a line producer is ethicalness. And then after I hit Publish I realized there’s a better word for that: Integrity. 

Whatever. 

A couple of weeks later I put up What To Look For In A Producer (Part 2), in which I said that the second most important thing to look for in a line producer is a commitment to seeing the project through. Finishitoffness.

There. All caught up.

Now for the third most important thing to look for in a line producer, which is related to both of those, but different enough that it deserves to have its own number. Number 3.

Ready? The third most important thing to look for in a line producer is the ability to see the big picture. 

Let me give you an example.

Not that kind of Dolly.
I was shooting a commercial project that turned out to be a bit more intricate than the producer had initially anticipated. So after the bid was accepted and the job awarded, we discovered that we needed four days to do what he had initially thought we could accomplish in three. As you can imagine, a fourth day makes a pretty significant difference to a budget, what with the additional crew hours and equipment and stage rental. Needless to say, the producer was concerned –– as was I –– about making it work for the money.  

But we’d committed (integrity) and we were determined to see it through (finishitoffness). So we plowed ahead, keeping an extra eye on expenses. 

I’m one of those directors that’s pretty good at scheduling out my days and when I did, I worked it out that our first shot on the first day required a dolly. Which is only important because of what happened. We all showed up on the first day to find... no dolly. 

Not that kind of Dolly, either.
Which means we couldn't get the shot. 

The producer had decided that since money was tight, he’d book the dolly to show up at noon. 

He saved a couple hundred bucks, tops. And ended up having to pay thirty crew members to stand around while the rest of us scrambled to get ready for what turned out to be our first shot, which of course we didn’t actually shoot until almost when we were scheduled to shoot it in the first place. When the dolly finally showed up, we interrupted the flow of what we’d already planned to follow the first shot in order to take advantage of the light that was quickly becoming crap in order to get the dolly shot. 

That was a producer who didn’t see the big picture. And the thing about producing is that there are so many aspects to a production that there’s a lot of big picture to see. The job is seriously like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, only there’s no one right way to do it. You have to take into consideration equipment and crew and cast members and light and locations and preferences and availabilities and all that. A lot of the time, it’s a matter of figuring out the least worst solution to the problem, but in order to do that, a producer needs to keep sight of what is important –– not just to the director, but to everybody. 

There. That's the Dolly I'm talking about.
In the case of this example, the big picture wasn't all that big. The guy wanted to save money, which is one of the things producers are supposed to do. But he ended up wasting a ton more. Plus he put us behind schedule from the very beginning and put the crew into a panic because we had to scramble to move on to what would have been the second shot of the day. Worst of all, he caused incalculable harm to my relationship with the ad agency, who rightfully wondered if I'd ever actually directed a commercial before. 

All that stuff is the big picture. Plus more. And before you haul off and hire a line producer, it’s a good idea to be sure you’re on the same page with regard to just what the big picture is. 

And this, of course, brings up the obvious follow-up question: Brian, just how do I find a producer who sees the big picture? 

No guarantees, but I’ll tell you something I do that helps. I talk about food. 

Seriously.

As someone who has (and still does) work for free, I sincerely believe that a well-fed crew is s happier and more productive crew. So no matter how much we ask people to compromise on their rates, I never want to cut corners on lunch. The difference between a crappy lunch and a good lunch is sometimes less than $5 a person. So it’s really a small concession to make when we’re asking someone to cut their rate by $100 a day. 

This isn’t something I declare when I’m talking to a producer I’ve never worked with before. It’s a discussion I open, to see where they go. 

And no, it’s not the only thing I do, but I find that how a producer feels about feeding a crew is usually a pretty good indicator of the way he or she feels about how all the myriad factors of a production are interrelated. 

That producer? The one who booked the dolly to show up at noon? He thought it would be a good idea to cap off a long day of hard work by having Taco Bell cater the crew’s dinner. This came up before we found out we were going to have to shoot four days for the price of three. I didn’t realize at the time, but that was a sign. 

Brian Belefant is a director who's so busy finishing up the project he's working on that he doesn't have time to be out looking for the next one. Think you might be able to use him? If so, give him a call at (503) 715 2852 or email him at belefant at me dot com.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

What to look for in a line producer (part 2)

You know what sucks about working as a director? You really don’t get to see how other people do what you do. 

I figured out a way around that. What I did was sign up with an extra casting service. I’d get booked as an extra on other people's sets and get to see how different directors work. 

Remember that movie ‘The Wild, Wild West’? I was in that.

Don’t bother looking for my name in the credits. They hired hundreds of us, put us in genuine wool Confederate army uniforms, had makeup people apply facial hair, and then told us to sit in a non-air-conditioned soundstage all day in sweltering Burbank, waiting to be called to the set. 

Fun.

I had been booked for four days. When I got home at the end of the third day I got a phone call. A directing job I'd been hoping to get had come through. 

Of course I came in for the fourth day –– I’d put off starting the directing job because I’d committed to the extra work –– but since the scenes I was supposed to be in hadn’t been finished, the Assistant Director made an announcement to the bunch of us that they’d be needing us to come back for a few more days. 

I took the AD aside and told him that I was sorry, but that I couldn’t make it back. And this guy? He tried everything. He appealed to my greed. (“I’ll see if I can swing you more money.”) He appealed to my sense of duty. (“You committed to this project. You can’t just leave us in the lurch like this.”) He even tried to threaten me. (“With an attitude like that, you’re not going to go very far in this business.”)

Finally, out of ammo, he asked. “What could you possibly be doing that’s more important than helping make this film come together?” 

I didn’t want to do it, but I had to tell him. “I booked a job directing a commercial for American Express.”

“Oh.” 

There are two points to this story and they both aim square at the second most important thing you need to look for in a producer: 

The second most important thing to look for in a line producer is someone who’s committed to seeing your project through.

Point one was that I was not that. Not to Barry Sonnenfeld, anyway, or the rest of the people on ‘The Wild, Wild West’ and maybe that’s why the movie turned out to be such a turd. Point two was that the AD was. He did his very best to get me to come back, but no matter how hard he tried I gave him something he simply couldn’t trump. 

Granted, I wasn’t the producer and neither was he. But here’s the thing. There will always be reasons. People get sick. People’s kids get sick. Relatives die. Those and many more are legitimate reasons to not come into work and if you don’t understand those you shouldn’t be in a position of authority.

It’s the illegitimate reasons that can never ever ever get in the way. Like the producer who disappeared on me because the surf was really good. Or the one who went incommunicado for hours at a time as soon as the bars opened. 

When you hire a producer, make sure you hire one who wants not only to be a producer, but wants to be your producer. As uncool as it is, people will ditch one job for a better one and let’s be honest, your masterpiece might not be the best job a producer is in contention for.

Remember the first most important thing to look for in a producer? Ethics? This is a another reason that’s Thing Number One. An ethical producer will finish out his or her commitment to you and if Spielberg calls, he or she will ask him to wait until this project is finished. 

I don’t know Steven Spielberg, but I’d be willing to bet you he’d respect that. After all, he’s not looking for someone who’s going to disappear in the middle of his production, either. 

As for Barry Sonnenfeld, if you’re reading this? Dude, I’m sorry.

Brian Belefant is a copywriter turned director still finishing up post production on a corporate video that you'll never get to see because of all the non-disclosure agreements and stuff. But hey, if you're looking to put together your next project, maybe he'll be done by the time you pull the trigger. Call (503) 715 2852 or email belefant@me.com.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What to look for in a line producer (part 1)

I recently heard from an aspiring filmmaker. He managed to put the money together for a short he wants to shoot (hooray!) and he asked me to help him find a line producer to make it. 

Seems simple enough. But you know me. Rather than simply giving him a couple of names, I sat down and thought about what I look for in a producer. Then I wrote all those things down in a list and put them in order of priority. 

And then, rather than actually getting back to the aspiring filmmaker, I decided to put it all together and post each characteristic, one blog post at a time. 

Kidding. 

Here's what I told him: 
  1. The most important quality to look for in a line producer: Someone who’s ethical.
The single most important quality to look for in a line producer is someone who not only knows the difference between right and wrong, but who always, always does what’s right. 

Right for the production, for the crew, for the actors, for the community, and for you.

I’m going to get into budgeting basics in another blog post, but for now take me at my word when I say that budgets are fuzzy things in that there are thousands of places to bury a body. What’s the rate for a gaffer? Well, there’s a range, but on each and every production it’s up to the producer to negotiate the rate with the gaffer. 

You don’t want a gaffer who resents being paid less than what he or she feels is fair, but at the same time, you don’t want to just throw money at the gaffer, either. 

An ethical producer takes all the relevant factors into consideration: The size of your budget, the number of days you’ll be shooting, the circumstances  (it’s a lot easier to ask for flexibility when you’re shooting on a tropical beach than when you’re shooting in a garbage dump), the team being put together, the kind of piece you’re working on, the number of favors you’ve already asked from the gaffer, and perhaps most important, your reputation. Yours. 

I’ve had crews drop everything for a chance to get paid half their normal rate when they heard it was a chance to work with me and oh by the way, we were going to be shooting at night. In winter. Outside. Why? Because from the day I started directing almost 20 years ago I’ve made it a point not to be an asshole. I take care of my crews, I treat my actors with respect, and I bust my own butt. 

(To be fair, I've had crews drop everything for a chance to get paid half their normal rate when they heard it was a spot for a Swiss bank and there'd be a topless girl in it, but that's another story.)

If you’re a newcomer, you don’t have a reputation yet and frankly, that can work against you. First timers are often indecisive, which ends up wasting a lot of time. Or they can try to overcompensate for their lack of experience by being too decisive, which ends up pissing off a lot of people who really are just trying to make things go better.

If you’re a newcomer, go ahead and try to assuage your producer. If he or she is any good, it won’t make a difference because, well, you’re a newcomer and there’s no value in making promises to a crew about what you’re going to be like to work with that he or she can’t keep. 

But let’s go back to that gaffer. The one whose rate was being negotiated. I’ve heard of producers negotiating one rate with the gaffer, but then putting another number into the budget. One that's a touch higher. What happens to the difference? Well, producers need to drive nice cars, right?

At this point you've been reading along, hoping I would get around to answering that question: “But, Brian, where can I actually find an ethical producer?” Here comes. 

Let's go back to what I said before, about how you want to find someone who always does what's right for the production, for the crew, for the actors, for the community, and for you. The thing about ethical people is that they'll have a reputation. And people with reputations are pretty easy to find. 

All you have to do is do what that aspiring filmmaker did: Ask. Not me, obviously, because I'll probably just turn it into a blog post instead of giving you an answer. 

Okay, ask me. But also ask anybody who might have crossed paths with a line producer they'd recommend. Ask actors, directors, crew members, people who let some aspiring filmmaker shoot in their barn. Ask specifically for people who are ethical.

See? Pretty easy. 

But there's more. And I'll get to each and every one of those in future blog posts, which if you want to make sure you don't miss, why don't you sign up for my email list? The only spam you'll get is from me, and it's only spam if you're not interested in what I have to say. Which you are. 

Brian Belefant is a copywriter turned director currently finishing up post production on a corporate video that you'll never get to see because of all the non-disclosure agreements and stuff. But hey, if you're looking to put together your next project, please call (503) 715 2852 or email belefant@me.com. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

How to watch your own film

If you think this is Nice, you're close.
It's Cannes.
I was super lucky. I learned this lesson at Cannes, where a public service announcement I’d directed was chosen to screen. Major venue. Sophisticated audience. Sold out theatre. (Did you notice I spelled it with the R before the E? Yeah. All French and everything.)

So anyway, sold out theatre, which meant that by the time I got there I ended up having to stand and I guess the French fire marshall isn’t as particular as the ones we have here because even after all the seats were taken, people kept piling in. And all of them were going to see the tiny thing we managed to pull together for less than $6,000 –– and that included what we spent to fix the scratch on the negative, which by the way wasn’t David Claessen’s fault. He did an amazing job as the cinematographer on this and I have yet to thank him appropriately.

Where was I?

David Claessen –– extraordinary cinematographer
By the time the lights went down, the aisles were full and I’d been shoved all the way to the front of the theatre, almost underneath the screen, which meant I didn’t get a very good view of anything that was being projected. But I got an incredible view of the audience. 

I got to see people engaged, bored, interested, fidgeting…

When my little gem came on, I wanted to see it. I mean, I WAS SCREENING IN CANNES! 

But I couldn’t, really. And besides, it’s not like I hadn’t seen it before. So I watched the people watching it. 

The whole spot happens in one take –– that’s the way I designed it –– and there’s an instant where I want you the viewer to realize what’s going on and just how horrific it is. It’s one thing for a director to intend that; quite another for a director to make it happen. And I made it happen. The entire theatre gasped at exactly the same moment.

(If this video doesn't play,
try this link: https://vimeo.com/75154837)

“Damn,” I thought to myself. “I am very talented."

And this is why I was lucky. It happened early in my career. 

So early in my career that I figured, hey, I’m going to watch people watch my stuff every chance I get because that way I’ll get to see for real just how talented I am. 

What I came to find out pretty quickly was that while everything worked exactly the way I planned for it to in this one piece, other times stuff didn’t go quite the way I thought it would. A joke I thought would get a huge laugh would only get an appreciative nod. Or a narrowing of the eyes. One time I happened to be in a bar when a commercial I’d just finished working on, one that I was super proud of, came on the TV. Nobody even looked up. 

The thing is, I wouldn’t have known about those reactions –– or non-reactions –– if I hadn’t been watching for them. 

And I wouldn’t have been able to fix the problems if I hadn’t seen for myself where they were. 

I’ve been to a lot of Hollywood screenings where the directors sit in the back. When the film is over they nod and smile and graciously accept the praise of the people filing out. People who almost without exception tell them how wonderful they thought it was. 

Sure, if you’re sitting in the back it’s easier to duck out so you can take a call from your agent or Martin Scorcese. But the directors I respect most don’t sit in the back and wait to hear people tell them what they want to hear. They turn off their phones, stand in the front, and see for themselves.

Brian Belefant is a copywriter turned director totally excité for his next assignment. Please call (503) 715 2852 or email belefant@me.com.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Let's be careful out there.

One of my first projects as a baby director was a spot I offered to finance and shoot for a friend of a friend. It was a pretty ambitious production –– a post-apocalyptic story involving a golfer in a gyrocopter. 

At one point, I wanted to give some notes to the actor, so I walked from where I’d been standing by the camera toward the flying contraption he was sitting in. 

I didn’t notice that the blades were spinning. 

Okay, I did, but I was concentrating on my shots and the stuff I wanted to talk about with the actor. Between the angle of the blades and the speed they were turning, I was about to be decapitated. 

If you think walking into the spinning blades
is scary, imagine flying the damn thing.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t die. I got about ten feet before I was tackled to the ground by my Assistant Director. Among other things, the AD is the person who keeps the set safe. 

I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been reading a bit about Randall Miller, the director of ‘Midnight Rider’, and how he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for the death of Sarah Jones, the camera assistant who was killed when a train unexpectedly plowed into the set they’d built on a train track. A lot of what's being written makes it sound as if filmmakers are cynical taskmasters who will put people’s lives at stake in order to get a shot.

I don’t know Randall Miller or any of the other people involved in making that film, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t want Sarah Jones to die. And no, not just because they had more filming to do. 

But here’s what happens. 

'Burning Passion', a pretty ambitious
(and kind of dangerous) short film I directed.
A film is a project. A gloriously fun and exciting project, full of potential and fraught with unexpected complications. 

If you hire well, everybody on the project –– even the people who really only stand to benefit financially, like the guy who drives the motor home and the people who put up the lights –– everybody gets excited about this thing you’re making. We all pull together. 

And so when it comes to making a shot a little better, heck yes we want to do that. 

"Should we shoot the dream sequence on the bridge?" Yes. "There’s a train coming. Can we get one more take?" Yes. If we take the rig down and put it back up, we’ll lose the light or fall behind. 

My brother hates flying. He once explained to me why he was more afraid of take offs than landings. “When you’re landing,” he says, "the pilot wants to be on the ground. So he’s less likely to pull up if something goes sideways.”

It’s the AD’s responsibility to not only be aware of the safety issues, but to make them clear to every single person on the set. We have what's called a Safety Meeting every time we’re doing anything that might put anyone in harm’s way, whether it’s working with a cat that might scratch an actor or a candle on a mantel that might fall over and set fire to the chair. 

Yeah, when you're not shooting real bikers wielding real knives or creating a gag to look like flaming ejaculate (both of which I'm proud to say I've done) the safety meetings can be pretty annoying. We’re excited to make this thing. We don’t want to freak out because we’re filming a five-year-old holding a sparkler, but you know what? Somebody needs to. 

I wanted real bikers. I got real bikers.
That’s why when you hire an AD, yes, you want the person who’s going to be excited to work on your masterpiece and do everything possible to make it better. But if your plane is headed for the ground, you want the pilot who’s going to get it onto the ground, quickly and safely. Even better, you want an AD who does the things that keep the plane from going out of control in the first place.

I suppose I was fortunate to have learned that lesson early on when my AD quite literally saved my life. I hope my writing is dramatic enough to make you think seriously about it.

Brian Belefant is a copywriter turned director currently rooting around for his next assignment. Please call (503) 715 2852 or email belefant@me.com. 

Post Script: I sent a draft of this blog post to Laura Nisbet Peters, one of the finest (and funniest) Assistant Directors I know. She offered the following thought: 

"I’ve been in situations like that. The weirdness of it all is that the guy who hires you, and who may or may not hire you later, is the guy to whom you have to say no. Yes, the AD is the safety rep, but the director and the producers are his/her bosses. Accidents that shouldn’t have happened serve as the ammo you need for when you are alone standing your ground with only your tiny sling shot.”

Are you listening?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A magnificent commercial. Read this before you try to do something like it.


A beautiful piece of video showed up in my Facebook feed the other day. But before I share it with you, I feel it’s my duty to give you a little background.

Any piece of communication has two components –– the rational and the emotional. The rational component is the message. What you want people to believe. The reason why.

But what makes a piece of communication amazing is always –– always –– the emotional bit. Not the message, but the way it’s delivered.

Remember Apple’s ‘1984’ commercial? (Probably not. You weren’t even born in 1984, were you?) Created by Chiat/Day (where I used to work as a copywriter, by the way), it’s still held up as one of the –– if not the –– greatest television spots ever made. What was the message? Apple’s new computer is going to change the world.

Yawn.

It’s exactly the same strategy that every single computer manufacturer has used for every single new product introduction ever.

There are tons of really forgettable ways that message could have been –– and has been –– delivered. Microsoft’s Surface introduction comes to mind. Samsung’s ‘Next Big Thing’ campaign, too. I’m sure there are other good examples, but, well, like I said they’re mostly forgettable.

The way Apple chose to do it in 1983 –– having a blonde chick heave a sledge hammer at a TV screen –– that was the amazing part. (It also helped that the Macintosh happened to be truly revolutionary, but that’s the subject of a different post.)

Every once in a while, somebody who realizes the truth of what I just said will go, “Well, if the  emotional component is the part that really matters, why should I even bother with the rational bit? I mean, who needs a strategy, anyway?”

You do.

Little reason: Because your competitors are staking claims and not to do so would be stupid. 

Medium reason: Because knowing what you’re trying to communicate rationally will liberate your creative teams to come up with an amazing way to do it.

Big reason: Because nobody knows. Seriously. Nobody can consistently and reliably create amazing emotional bits, especially in the absence of rational bits. 

Sure, there are a few geniuses who are pretty good at it. And they have a better record at making amazing stuff than most. But in spite of what every single ad agency tells every single client, it’s impossible to control for all the variables or to know what’s going to resonate. 

Don’t believe me? Then explain to me why the video for Gangnam Style managed to accumulate more than two billion views on YouTube while the follow up video for the same artist, directed by the same director, and benefitting from the all the press and fame and confidence and revenue of the first, couldn’t come close?

Please. Whatever you do, don’t abandon strategy and attempt to make a spot for your version of baked beans like this exquisite little piece of perfection: 




Because biggest reason: It’s not a commercial for beans. It was written and directed by Animator Alvise Avati and produced by Animation Director Eamonn Butler as a commercial for Cinesite, demonstrating their creature animation skills. 

Oh look. A strategy: “We do really good creature animation.”

Now that you know what this video was actually created to do, go back and read through my list of reasons. Suddenly, strategy makes a whole lot more sense, doesn’t it?

Brian Belefant is a copywriter and director currently looking for his next assignment. Please call (503) 715 2852 or email belefant@me.com.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Why simple is not so simple.

It's one of the basic tenets of advertising: simple messages communicate more powerfully than complicated ones. 

And yet.

Back when I was a baby copywriter, we used to bitch about how the creative briefs we were given kept getting bigger and bigger. Yes, even at a storied ad agency like Chiat/Day, a place famous for creating simple, powerful advertising. Sometimes the brief for a single ad or commercial would run to four pages.

Whenever we were given a brief, the first thing most of us in the creative department would do is flip through it, skipping over all the background and demographic stuff to the one important line item: What’s the single most compelling thing we want readers/viewers to take away? A simple answer there would mean we’d been given a good assignment. Not because the solution would necessarily be easy, but because even an idiot would be able to determine whether we’d met the criteria. 

It’s hard to keep an assignment simple. Clients who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an ad feel as if they’re being asked to pony up for a Ferrari, but not being told whether it will even turn left.

(I once had to work on a billboard that had –- and I’m not making this up –– a list of eight things that the brief said needed to be communicated. There’s a general rule with billboards that you don’t want to go over nine words. Which, as the account person nervously joked, gave us the freedom to throw in a gratuitous “the” or “and.” My partner and I actually nailed it, but unfortunately the headline we wrote had twelve words, so our solution was killed before it ever got shown to the client.)

That was years ago. Since then, media has become lots more expensive. And the vast majority of clients have become accustomed to being regularly deferred to by agencies who are so terrified to lose the business that they refuse to have an opinion, much less take a stand. 

All of which adds up to an advertising landscape that’s fetid.

And then there’s this. 

Forget how dazzlingly funny this is. That’s bonus. The genius is that the very structure requires the spot to say only one thing. The single most compelling message. 

I look at this spot and I see not just a brilliant creative solution, but also a healthy agency/client relationship. I know. That's two things. 

See? Even I can’t help but want to make two points.

Way to go, Martin Agency.

Brian Belefant is a copywriter turned director currently looking for his next assignment. Please call (503) 715 2852 or email belefant@me.com

Friday, February 20, 2015

Just when I was beginning to think there was no hope for advertising.

I’ve been pretty cranky about the advertising business lately. So much crap; so little good stuff. It’s gotten to the point that I was seriously considering changing careers, but I’m not sure if the Nobel Prize committee is hiring right now.

Lucky for Sweden, I saw this spot for Organic Valley.




You don’t need me to tell you it’s brilliant –– wonderful idea, super well executed. But you might appreciate me telling you why.

To do that, think about the assignment: Sell the benefits of an organic protein drink.

The obvious solution would have been to draw a connection between what consumers want (to improve their health) and what the product offers ( the perceived healthful advantages of being organic).

The ad agency probably presented some work that did just that. And it was probably good. 

But someone (David Littlejohn, Mike Cessario, Stephanie Gelabert, and Sean Davis) came up with this gem of an idea. Someone (the uncredited account executives) convinced the client it was a good idea. And someone (the uncredited agency producer) found the right team (Fancy Rhino) to put it all together. 

Then they came up with the ancillary stuff: The website (http://savethebros.com), the merch, the Buy One/Bro One offer. 

This. This is what an ad agency should do every single time. Sadly, few do anymore. 

My hat is off to you, Humanaut, and all the people who pulled together to make this spot happen. I hope this portends well for the entire business. 

In case it doesn’t, I’m going to brush up on my Swedish.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Leave it to a kindergartener to come up with the perfect Valentine's Day gift

Ophelia, at her first art show (2013)
Two years ago, when my daughter Ophelia was in kindergarten, she heard about kids who needed pediatric cardiology. She wanted to help, so like any six-year-old with an oversized sense of the possible, she started an art show. 


The idea was to get each of her classmates to paint a heart on a 5” x 7” canvas and sell them to raise money for the hospital she was born in.

She and her classmates raised $370.

This year is the third year of the show and we’re hoping it’ll be even better. The Splendorporium Gallery has generously offered to display the work in conjunction with their February Pink Show. 

The silent auction will be held during the gallery’s art opening on February 6th, from 7:00 pm until 8:00 pm. It’s a super kid-friendly gallery, which means that instead of scowling people in black, you’re more likely to encounter a llama and no, I’m not making that up. Rojo the therapy llama will be there for kids to play with while you bid on a masterpiece to give to your beloved.

For the past two years, savvy art connoisseurs have been able to pick up a priceless gift for as little as $5.

And when you think about it, that’s a three-way gift. Not only does it show how much you love the person you’re giving it to, but it also encourages a young artist and supports the Randall Children’s Hospital Foundation –– an incredibly worthy cause. 

Please come. And bring your checkbook.

The Splenderporium Gallery is at 3421 Se 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97202 · (503) 953-2885.