“Bad connection” at Silver Lake

I wrote this on location, at Sunset & Hyperion in Silver Lake, California, which is sort of like being on the corner of Hipster and Skiddly. Silver Lake is the epicenter of cool, LA’s version of the Village in New York. We’re filming a spot on behalf of the University of Southern California. You know the commercials you see during half time of college football games? It’s one of those. Chris Anthony is directing out of Dark Light Pictures.

While I won’t get into the campaign concept, I can tell you it’s pretty unorthodox for the genre. In other words, no leaping football players or lab-coated professors holding up test tubes. We wanted to provide real reasons for young people to come to USC. Given the school’s location and pedigree there are plenty of them. This will not be your father’s University commercial…


The cast, far from preppy…

Midday and it’s hotter than the proverbial match head. But I’m under a makeshift tent and there’s a nice breeze. The crew and cast broke for lunch and are forming a line in front of the Dogzilla food truck (“Not your typical wiener”). We are using the food truck in some of our scenes, killing two birds (and a bunch of diets) at one time…


Lovely cast member goes for Dogzilla…

Production is a hierarchal community, sort of like an ant colony or beehive. At the center of it all is the director. Next to him is the director of photography (DP), a producer and key crew. Radiating out from that nucleus you’ll find assistant producers on the phone and production assistants getting shit done. Like social insects, none of them question their role or position.


The directer and his crew…

Clients are curious members of this traveling circus. No matter how agreeable and pleasant (or not) a client is, they are still outsiders looking in. Yes, they are underwriting the entire production. But that does not translate to anything useful on a live set. Therefore, clients are “handled” by someone who will give them food and drink, show them location photos and wardrobe and all the rest. In other words they are kept out of the director’s way. If a client has issues, he or she presents them to a producer who then presents them to the director. A client may go to the agency suit or a member of the creative team instead. Either way, there is a chain.

On day 1 we had no clients. It’s just Noel, the Dark Light team and yours truly. Yet, in a very real way, Noel and I are the clients…whether we like it or not. Over the years I’ve seen countless agency creatives try to assimilate into the director’s hip orbit. Hey, we’re artists, too! Look at our tats! It seldom works. To the crew we are clients. I learned to just go with it. Besides, sometimes it’s fun being handled!


Silver Lake bling but I still ain’t crew.

To end on a surreal note, the last shot of the day featured most of USC’s marching band performing on Venice Beach. Now that’s something you don’t see everyday…even at a place like Venice Beach, which has seen it all.


“Someone make a wrong turn?”

When the spot is finished, and with USC’s blessing, I’ll upload it to this blog. As usual, I thank you for your readership!


Been there, done that…

My entire career, I’ve been a full time employee of three agencies. Before now, my only work stoppage (six months) was on account of a separation agreement.

This time I have no such covenants. Therefore, in addition to copious amounts of personal writing, I’ve also taken my first foray into freelance copywriting. To my pleasant surprise, I enjoyed it. A lot. Not only did I not miss being the boss I actually relished being inconspicuous. Why? Well, that’s the subject of this post. I think I have a fairly unique perspective. Hopefully, most of you will find it interesting and maybe even enlightening, especially if you’ve got designs on creative leadership.

Freelancing put me back in the creative trenches: conceptualizing and writing. Two things I deeply missed. Fact is, unless a Chief Creative Officer actively fights against it most of us end up being curators and choreographers. Those are important tasks but it’s just not the same as coming up with ideas and writing. Whether my peers admit it or not, the longer they stay out of the trenches the more likely their creative muscles atrophy. It’s the same as anything else: use it or lose it. Remaining a player/coach isn’t easy, especially if various members of the agency are driving you in different directions. In addition, you have to want to do the work. Think about it. If no one at the agency expects you to write copy or compose layouts then would you? Lots of ECD’s and CCO’s (the most famous ones included) don’t create anything anymore. Regarding global creative directors, a colleague once told me the only “books” those guys care about are their passports.

Freelancing, I no longer have to suffer fools the way most creative directors must. A CCO is expected to work with senior people across his or her network as well as for clients. While many in the C-suite are brilliant and pleasant plenty are also tools. Paid only to write they are no longer my concern. A blessing.

Finally, I don’t miss power. As a matter of fact, I’m here to tell you power is overrated. For one thing, it separates you from the people and places and things that make advertising so damn fun. While separation from the troops is endemic to any leadership position I missed the camaraderie. You know who scares me? The ECD or CCO who doesn’t. Those guys are trouble.

As a freelancer, I get to create work with the other people who create work. That “flow” trumps pomp and circumstance. Plus, whether or not I become a CCO again, it’s nice to know I’m comfortable working the skill sets that got me there in the first place.

Full disclosure: As a CCO, I was never a big fan of hiring freelancers. I thought perhaps they wouldn’t try as hard as FTE’s. Or be as vested in outcomes as FTE’s. I was dead wrong on the first point. (Freelancers won’t get hired back if they don’t go full out.) And while the second point is usually true it’s also a moot point. If a company demands loyalty from a freelancer offer him or her a damn job!

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