Happy Accidents

I don’t usually post my own work on this site. But this one comes with a point, and a good cause.

About a year ago, I began doing work for Volunteers of America. They’re a 117-year-old national charity that had never advertised before.

We ended up producing print, online, outdoor, and TV for them. But my favorite spot was never scripted, never presented, never even concepted. It was just a happy accident.

While we were shooting in Los Angeles, our director wanted to get some extra footage. So he rolled down Skid Row with his camera hanging out of the van door. Then his producer ran back down the street and gave some cash to have the people he filmed sign release waivers, just in case. Some of this footage made it into our final spots.

But when we were in the editing studio we were looking at that shot, and thought it was kind of amazing. We wondered how could we share it?  So we started playing around with it. We slowed it down. Wrote some copy to serve as supers. And sampled a few demo tracks. (We ended up recording Jennifer Perryman to sing an original track.) We showed it to the client, and were lucky enough to have them approve it. Here’s the finished piece:

Gold Lion at Cannes? Nah. But does it help the client get their name out there? Yep. Am I proud to have it on my reel? Absolutely.

So be open to happy accidents. Find a way to make them work. Play with them. Get them in front or your clients and champion them. And everyone will be a little better off.

(If you’d like to donate anything to Volunteers of America, please click here. They’re amazing people who do amazing work.)

The Importance of Editing

In “A Note to Student Art Directors” by Hal Curtis (originally published in CA), he gives this piece of advice:

Become a closet editor. Other than music, it’s the single most effective way to impact a piece of film.
Last month, Variety published “Why Editing Nominations Predict the Best Picture Oscar” with some of these interesting factoids:
Only 9 films have won best picture without at least a nomination for editing.
Of the 61 films that have won Best Picture, 32 have won Best Editing.
Jay Cassidy who co-edited American Hustle says, “There’s no such thing as a good scene in a bad movie…If filmgoers are moved by the story and emotion in the film then it’s probably well-edited.”
If you’re not familiar with how editing works, or why it’s important, start learning. Here’s one of my favorite scenes from The Social Network, for which Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall won the Oscar. Notice how the edits begin to match the pace of the athletes. The cuts almost become their heartbeats. That’s not just a happy accident.

//player.vimeo.com/video/42434097
The Social Network “Henley Sequence” from a52 on Vimeo.

Of the 10 movies nominated for Best Picture, here are the trailers for the five Best Editing Nominees (but don’t confuse film editing with trailer editing – they’re done by different people):

Simplify Your Copy

Recently, I wrote a TV script. While writing it, I asked if a certain phrase needed to be included. The simplest answers would have been:

a) Yes.
b) No.
c) If it fits, great. But it’s not mandatory.

Here is the emailed answer I received:

“I think we’ve committed to do our best to include, where it makes sense, but without compromising what we need to deliver to make [the] value message most compelling to our audience. And there’s probably a lot more impt [sic] info that needs to be voiced…that said, if we think we can easily fit it in, we should (I just don’t think that’s likely here…which would mean that we WOULD only cover in signage).”

No matter the medium, if you can use fewer words to convey the same meaning, do it.

Chipping Away to Find Your Voice With Moshe Kasher

All creative people know the importance of generating lots of ideas to get to the good stuff. I think the same is true with writing, whether it’s a script or a setup or some copy. I’ve always found it easier to write the first draft long, then edit it down.

I was listening to the podcast Bullseye with Jesse Thorn today, and he was interviewing comedian Moshe Kasher. This is what Kasher had to say as he was describing how he honed his voice:

“There’s this story of Michelangelo, that somebody came up to Michelangelo and said, ‘How do you make something as beautiful as David?’ and he goes ‘Well, I took this piece of marble and I chipped away everything that wasn’t David, and that’s what was left.’ I sort of feel like that’s what you do on stage, to find your voice on stage. That’s what you do as a writer, to find your voice as a writer. And that’s what you do as a human being to find your voice as a person. You start chipping away things that aren’t useful and aren’t you.”

The next time you sit down to write a script, think of it as a block of marble. It doesn’t have to be perfect. The shape doesn’t have to be defined yet. Just give yourself enough to work with. Get it all out there on the page. Don’t chip until you have a big, nice block. Then take out your chisel and go to work.