Actors vs Announcers vs Ghosts


The other day, I directed via remote patch an 8-year-old actor who was lending his voice to our spot. Every time I work with kids, I end up shaking my head and saying, “I will never work with kids again.” They’re notoriously flaky, they can’t follow exact direction, they have short attention spans, and their range is often limited. Most of them act like children half the time.

When you’re directing any person, you have to figure out what works for them. With voice-overs, they tend to break down into two groups–actors and announcers. An actor is someone who likes to be directed with motivation and emotion–a little sadder, say it with more empathy, see if you can do something more cowboy. An announcer, on the other hand, likes specifics–emphasize this word, go up instead of down on that word, use an accent. It’s important to understand what direction works better for the talent you’re working with.

For the 8-year-old, we realized pretty quickly that he wasn’t responding to announcer direction. No surprise there, really. I’d tell him to emphasize a word more, and he’d give me the exact same read. I’d tell him to do it with more energy–exact same read. But then we started playing around a little. In the spot, we have a little boy ghost. So we told him “Pretend you’re a ghost telling a secret to another ghost.” His read changed. Instead of telling him to be louder, we said, “Now tell the same secret to another ghost, but it’s very windy out and he can barely hear you.” For more energy, we asked him to “Tell the secret to another ghost, but you’re being chased by a dinosaur through the jungle.”

It was a blast. And we got an awesome range of reads from him. He ripped off over 70 reads in a short amount of time because he had a great imagination–most kids do.

We always talk about how this business requires creativity at every phase of the process. This was the first time I had to be so creative while giving direction to talent. But it was also the most fun I’ve ever had at the studio. And maybe the first time I didn’t say, “I’ll never work with kids again.”

Perks

Here are a few of the perks to working in advertising:

  • Staying in great hotels like Shutters when you’re on production
  • Being taken to fancy restaurants like Mr. Chow and Kittichai by producers and directors
  • Spending down-days on production in fun places like Santa Monica or New York
  • Going to foreign countries on production
  • Free lunches from great restaurants at editing studios
  • Swag from production companies that range from flash drives to iPods to baseball tickets

If you’re ever considering leaving one agency for another, here are a few things that should in no way affect your decision:

  • Staying in great hotels like Shutters when you’re on production
  • Being taken to fancy restaurants like Mr. Chow and Kittichai by producers and directors
  • Spending down-days on production in fun places like Santa Monica or New York
  • Going to foreign countries on production
  • Free lunches from great restaurants at editing studios
  • Swag from production companies that range from flash drives to iPods to baseball tickets

Advertising perks are great. But in the end, it’s all about the work. When you want to move up, move on, ask for a raise, start your own shop, win a pitch or court a client, no one’s going to ask you how many times you’ve stayed at Shutters.

You can get all of those perks by producing some very awful and embarrassing commercials, too.

Use What You Have To Work With


It’s great to take a client an idea that wasn’t a part of an assignment. You just have an idea that would help their business–they always appreciate this. But unfortunately, these bonus ideas are often met with a response of, “Great thinking. Thank you for bringing it to us. We just don’t have the money for that.”

But rather than pitch a completely different “bonus” idea, sometimes it helps to start with what you already have. If you’re already working on an assignment for a client, is there something extra you can do with it? Are there assets you can leverage?

Recently, I had a team who had sold an Armor All spot they were going to shoot with NASCAR driver Tony Stewart. In the spot, Tony’s pit crew is helping him around the house. They swap out the wheels on his desk chair, make his breakfast and, in one scene, are using their impact wrenches to bolt a painting to the wall.


This was all “bonus” for the client, but it cost them nothing extra. We weren’t bringing them a completely different project–we were just leveraging assets from the TV shoot. As such, it was hard for them not to say yes.

When you’re working on your next project, ask yourself if there’s something extra that can be done. Can you use one of your props? The out-takes? The set? How can you go beyond the assignment?

You can bid on the painting through June 14th here.

Don’t Discount the Laugh


I’m in a radio session today, working on a funny* spot. The script was funny when I wrote it, but by the time I get to the studio, I’ve rewritten it dozens of times. I’ve read it dozens of times and presented it maybe a half dozen. Then the talent reads it a few dozen more. And after awhile, I often find myself in that place where I’m going “Wait, is this really funny?”

Unless you’re in a joke-writing class, analyzing humor can be counterproductive. If you have to explain why something’s funny, it’s not. Funny just is. Humor is based on surprise, so after the surprise has worn off, it’s hard to keep that sense of what’s funny. Because of that, the best gauge of whether or not something is funny is usually your first gut reaction.** Trust your gut. And when you present it and people laugh, point that out to them if they come back later and say it’s not funny. When you hear 50 takes and one of them makes you snort in laughter, note that.

Humor can be structured and built up, and a script might go through months of painstaking crafting and revision. But you’ll know if it’s funny in about a half second.

*Yes, funny is subjective. For the sake of this post, though, pretend I’m talking about an idea that is indeed “funny.”

**This is different from late-night slap-happiness funny–if it’s not still funny in the morning, it’s probably truly not funny).