Oh, the humanity! Super 8

While I enjoyed parts of it, Super 8 bugged the crap out of me. The same way a lot of movies do, particularly big budget sci/fi and horror pictures. There’s too much melodrama. Why on earth does a movie about an alien life form trapped by the air force and freed by a rogue scientist have to have a subplot about a motherless kid and his struggle with dad? I get that this links to the alien’s desire to “go home” but do the filmmakers have to pummel us over the head with it? Besides, producer Steven Spielberg already turned this trick with ET. His remake of War of the Worlds got bogged down over a father and son relationship as well. It’s shameless in Super 8.

Yet, you keep on responding to it. All three films are blockbusters. Would they not be big hits without treacle-laden lessons in paternity? It’s a good question. I concede that ET was a game-changing masterpiece. But a nastier War of the Worlds and a scarier Super 8 would have made me happier.

That’s right: happier. I firmly believe forcing modern family dysfunction into horror movies to make them contemporary is a cheap trick gone way too far. The original War of the Worlds was scarier precisely because we were not distracted by a father trying to hold his family together, let alone Tom Cruise.

Night of the Living Dead, arguably the scariest movie ever made (and most certainly a game-changer) created a completely dysfunctional family out of disparate characters trying to survive. The bonds made and severed (literally) while trying to survive an undead outbreak were far more contemporary than if we were worrying about, and in turn, fairly certain about the family unit remaining intact in the end. Spoiler alert: Most everyone dies. Some are lucky and they don’t get back up again.


The family unit, Night of the Living Dead

I’m not railing against happy endings…or am I? I’m just weary of treacle where it isn’t needed. A father and son against all odds is great fodder for a story (pun intended). It can even work in horror. Anyone read or see The Road?

In Children of Men when the world’s lone baby is revealed I choked up too. It’s a great and necessary scene. The key is that it served the story, slamming home the horror. Not the other way around. In my opinion, putting an alien in a movie about a father and son (Super 8) is ass-backwards.

And don’t tell me filmmakers need the hugs and kisses to attract women. In Alien (another masterpiece), Sigourney Weaver’s character is not validated by the love of a good man or child. Her Momness does not require a crying, scared child. The female Alien “bitch” was ample stimulus.

Sometimes I think it’s me. Product of an early divorce, fiercely independent, I am repelled by melodrama. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate good drama. The Shawshank Redemption, Terms of Endearment, Heartburn, Ordinary People…all excellent dramas. And that’s where you find them: under “drama.” When it’s crammed into a good thriller I get sad for all the wrong reasons.


It only ran once, for Hallmark

In terms of advertising, I adore good drama because it usually means there’s actually a story attached. Hallmark Cards typically excels at delivering drama. United Airlines used to. Certainly there are others. But like most of you, I bristle at smarmy vignettes that attempt to capture drama with cliches. Fortunately, for us, the vignette is very passe. Right now, the It Gets Better Project is a fine example of appropriate use of drama.


Dreaming in long copy…

When addicts stop using drugs and alcohol they are commonly beset by drinking and drugging dreams. Usually occurring within the first year of abstinence these dreams can be strikingly vivid. The addict often wakes up highly agitated, believing completely he or she has fallen off the wagon. Even upon realizing it’s only a dream, the phenomenon can be highly disturbing. Addicts and alcoholics feel as though they have betrayed their sobriety, almost like a relapse.

Not to connect the dots but…

Having left Adland 5 months ago, I had my first (recollected) advertising dream the other night. I was younger (a man can dream!) and working on a luxury car account. The crux of the dream had me pitching concepts to one of my first bosses and mentors, Ted Bell. (Ted is now retired from advertising and a best-selling author of thrillers like Warlord and Assassin.)

If he was my boss that means the place was likely Leo Burnett and the account Oldsmobile… even if the car in my dream was a snazzy convertible, unlike anything Olds used to make.

Regardless, I remember trying to make wordplay about drivers having an “open mind” for the open top vehicle. I can’t recall the exact copy but either way Ted wasn’t buying it. “People don’t need an open mind to want one of these cars,” he kept repeating. Why I kept fighting him on the point I don’t know; but I was. Needless to say, the boss is always right. Even in your dreams. Upon waking, I realized my idea was silly and sophomoric. Very “spec book.”

Yet, what disturbed me most about the dream wasn’t the mediocre concept but rather my dogged determination to prevail. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I kept trying to make a case for my silly open minds concept.

Sound familiar? Who among us doesn’t remember pushing way too hard our first concepts? The relentless young creative is so commonplace it’s basically a cliché. In a recent AdAge interview, famed adman and now teacher, Luke Sullivan stated his biggest regret was “having an insane amount of certainty” as a young copywriter.

And there I was trying to force my boss to have an open mind!


Admiral’s Club, O’Hare Field, Chicago

Picture perfect day in Chicago but once again I’m at the Admiral’s Club in O’Hare airport. Here the sunshine is more of a nuisance than anything else. Right now it’s pouring in through the windows causing numerous guests to uproot and move. Twenty miles east the city’s annual Gay Pride Parade is probably breaking all records for attendance. It truly is a perfect day for being “out.”


“Admiral’s Club” Halsted Street, Chicago

Anyway, once again, I’m flying to Los Angeles. Trust me I’m not complaining. This is exactly what I want and need to be doing. Talking with companies interested in producing my movie scripts is an avocation I will pursue to my grave, and, given my latest script is about the undead , maybe even after that!

Meeting with entities interested in my services as creative director and/or copywriter is even more important. That’s my vocation. My forays into freelancing have been a great experience for me and hopefully to the agencies I’ve helped. I’d like to do more of it. As I wrote on Twitter the other day, “Hire me and you get ECD talent at CD prices!” What’s not to like? Don’t answer that.

By the way, I intend to write about my experience on the other side of the desk from a creative director. It’s been surprisingly fun and satisfying NOT being the boss. Creating and presenting ideas more than makes up for any loss of credentials.

Still, Chief Creative Officer was my last job. This particular trip west has me visiting the CEO of a pretty terrific company who just might be looking for a creative leader. The more I read about his company the more I like the opportunity. I’m thrilled to meet him.

I’m telling you all this because I don’t have another essay prepared. Frankly, if my flight wasn’t delayed for mechanical difficulties I couldn’t have even written this. Who’d ‘a thunk being unemployed would be so damn time consuming?

Too bad I can’t make a living writing Gods of Advertising. But like fishing, it’s a labor of love. Even so, I beg your pardon for its ‘Dear Diary’ like content. I’ll be back at my desk soon enough. And for those of you coming back from the Advertising Festival in Cannes: Welcome back to yours!


The adoration of art history!

Something wonderful happened to me the other day while I was working on a freelance project: I was able to use my modest knowledge of art history in the formation of a creative idea! Yes sir, those classes I took long ago at the University of Wisconsin actually came in handy for work. As a matter of fact, we’ll be using examples from the Renaissance and other important periods in art history not only to inform the execution of our idea but also to help sell it. It isn’t everyday you see Raphael or Tintoretto in a PowerPoint presentation. But you will in ours. We even use the word chiaroscuro…correctly!

Why does that make me giddy? Because for the entire new century we’ve all obsessed about new media ad nausea, especially those of us in advertising, or whatever the hell we’re calling it. And I’m as guilty as anyone. Maybe more so.

My point is we’re so amped on whatever the new, new thing is we often forget how brilliant certain old things are and how vital. For centuries, paintings and illustrations were the primary visual media available to Man. Instead of clicking through myriad links and cable channels, man sought inspiration or entertainment from still images, the best of which were generally paintings. Earlier generations gazed upon frescoes in their church and if they were lucky got to see masterworks at a salon or museum. Granted, lewd and crude drawing pervaded popular culture but the high road was pretty damn high for those who elected to take it.

Pause here for a second…what we make is so ephemeral, isn’t it? The best marketing campaigns in the world quickly fade into trivia. Whatever wins at Cannes this year will be entirely forgotten in 3 to 5 years. Probably sooner. Our masterpieces might be game changers for our industry and even popular culture but they have no value or meaning beyond a few ad classes and even those are fleeting. Few things are more irrelevant than the 2003 Gunn Report.

Yet, I don’t want to lecture about art versus commerce or the dumbing down of society or anything like that. For one thing I’d be a hypocrite. I haven’t been to the Art Institute of Chicago in several years, and it’s 5 miles from my house. I stay up late to watch horror movies from Europe. I blog about advertising! For all my alleged culture you’ll find me on the low road often enough. I guess all I’m saying is that it felt pretty good knowing the old masters were still relevant to the creative process, mine anyway.

The other day I heard that the word “awesome” has been declared the official replacement for the word “cool.” I believe by the Wall Street Journal. In other words, “awesome” is the new “cool.”

Duh, or should I say, “no shit,” which I think replaced “duh” a long time ago. Awesome might be the single most overused word in the English language, and has been for some time. As such, “Awesome” has lost much of its awesomeness. Where once it stood for once-in-a-lifetime, amazing occurrences it now meekly replaces “how about that?” or plain old “good.”

Ever since an old friend and work partner, Mike Coffin pointed out the overuse of “awesome” in a blog several years ago I’ve noticed the word used everywhere by everyone detailing everything from a good hamburger to a client meeting that didn’t suck.

How the mighty have fallen. Awesome used to mean and should still mean extra innings in game 7 of the World Series. Awesome is a Force 5 tornado or devastating hurricane. Awesome was when Man walked on the moon for the first time and only the first time. Now “awesome” has been stepped on more times than Tijuana heroin.

I try not to be guilty of overusing and misusing this word. But I do. It’s become like a nervous tick, in much the same way words like “basically” and “like” are. We can’t help it. Everything not awful is awesome. At least we’ve removed the exclamation point, which used to be appropriate. We had to. “My salad is awesome!” just doesn’t work.

Though similar, this regrettable phenomenon is not quite the same as words or phrases turning into cliché’s. There are infinitely more of those polluting our conversations. Can you say “close the loop,” “touch base” or my current peeve, the ubiquitous “really?” Actually, “really” might be entering into awesome territory. We’re using it to mean everything from “wow” and “no kidding” to a sarcastic alternative to “shut the f–k up.”

By way of example:

“This blog post was awesome.”

“Really.”

You know words have jumped the shark when they start appearing in commercials. Listen for them. Copywriters default to these words, arguing it’s how people talk. I suppose but I still think it’s lazy.

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