“You make a film to learn a little bit about life and to have an adventure of your own. But little do you ever realize what’s actually in store for you.”
That’s but one of many sentiments and insights shared by my good friend and cycling partner Chris Szwedo in the above film, The Making of Eye on the Sixties, about the documentary he recently wrote and directed examining the work and career of photographer Roland Scherman.
This short captures Chris talking about the experience of crafting the full-length film. It’s a 12-minute narrative on photography, filmmaking, storytelling, creativity, fund raising and shoe-string budgets. But perhaps more importantly it’s a story about determination and a passion to create.
Two summers ago, Chris, an independent filmmaker, a lover of photography, and a child of the 60s himself, met the legendary Life photographer Roland Scherman (Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Woodstock, the March on Washington, etc.) after discovering his work in a tiny gallery in Orleans, MA.
As I recall him telling me, the images were remarkable. Arthur Ashe before his US Open wins. Bobby Kennedy on the campaign trail. Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell in a tree house strumming guitar and singing a duet. Bob Dylan, back lit and silhouetted, playing the harmonica.
Chris didn’t know Roland, but instantly understood that there had to be a story behind the man who’d created such iconic images. He decided then and there he’d make a film about the aging photographer. He tracked Roland down, introduced himself, convinced (not easy) the cantankerous photographer to cooperate and then endured, and grew to enjoy, their many road trips back in time – to the Washington Mall, to Woodstock, to Newport. He funded the film with a little bit of help from Kickstarter and good hunk of his own money. Then spend the better part of two years writing, filming, editing and narrating the production. He even composed and performed the music.
Though audiences welcome the film with both praise and enthusiasm when it plays in theaters, Eye on the Sixties may never be a mainstream documentary. It may never get to HBO or win big at the festivals. But that’s not why Chris made it. He made it because he had to make it. Because the story needed telling. Because the subject captured his imagination. Because it’s always more rewarding to make something for yourself than for a paying client.
Hope you enjoy this clip – it’s wonderfully written and reveals the director’s feelings and motivations. And if you get the chance, keep an eye open for the full length film.
Today in a class I teach at BU, we talked about “ideas that do” as opposed to message-based ads that talk to you. A few years ago, ideas that do were far less common than they are today. For one thing, brands weren’t yet sure what to do with consumers who were starting to make noise in social media. Agencies were still stuck in the mindset that the answer to everything was a TV commercial. True, on the digital side the Razorfish’s and R/GA’s set examples with platforms. And in the more traditional world Crispin Porter Bogusky led the way with ideas like Whopper Sacrifice. But they were in the minority when it came to creative ideas getting produced.
Now, however, everyone has caught on. And so we have smartphone apps, Facebook experiences, crowdfunding, staged events in search of virality, customized digital experiences, transmedia product launches, participatory television, you name it.
But it’s just as hard, maybe harder, to do great creative in the new space. You may be able to do 10 E-Trade baby spots and still have them be clever. But once you’ve sacrificed friends on Facebook it’s over. Once you’ve tagged furniture on an Ikea manager’s Facebook page as a way to win furniture, it’s an old idea. Once you’ve placed messages on the road with a chalk-writing robot the thrill of a chalk-writing robot may be gone. Once you’ve dropped someone out of a spaceship 24 miles high, what are you going to do? Drop someone from 25 miles high?
In the old days of advertising you could find creatives sitting in their offices flipping through award show annuals in hopes of finding an idea they might be able to modify. Today you see people searching on YouTube for ideas. But those ideas have now been done.
The trick, of course, is to conceive completely original ideas. That has never been easy no matter what kind of advertising you were creating. But it may be even harder now.
George Lois once said that he was a voracious consumer of photography, art exhibits, and movies, seeking words and pictures that would inspire ideas made from new combinations of words and pictures.
But in months and years to come, many of our ideas have to be actual inventions, made out of technology rather than words and pictures. The’ll have to factor in cultural trends and consumer behaviors, even those that are only beginning to emerge. And they’ll need to be more about place and context than about time and target.
So perhaps we need to move beyond last year’s award show annual, or whatever’s trending on YouTube, or even a weekend of theatre and galleries to find inspiration.
Maybe we should find entirely new sources to snap us out of our familiar patterns.
Mosey over to D&AD and look at the “concept” briefs that brands are posting in student competitions. That might get you thinking about how trends like urban density and hyper-connectedness will inevitably affect marketing.
And if you want to think more about space and context, get out of the app store and familiarize yourself with the architecture of Snøhetta. Who knows, maybe learning how their buildings gather and migrate people through open space might give you an idea for moving people around the web.
You may have better ideas for where to go. If so, please share them.
One of the cool things about academia — believe me there is no shortage of frustrations, too — is the amazing amount of freedom you have. Not only in the classroom but also in programs you want to initiate. So I’m pretty excited that in my first full semester at BU’s College of Communication, I’ve been able to launch new speaker series called Doers Makers Innovators.
Last Friday, Gareth Kay, Goodby Silverstein and Partners’ chief strategy officer, kicked off the series with a brilliant talk on how the advertising industry needs to get radical. He probably induced a little bit of panic during the first part of his talk by declaring one out of four clients don’t think their agencies contribute to profitability; three out of five clients don’t think they get good value from their agency; and only one in 10 have any confidence that their agency is evolving to stay relevant in the digital age. Yikes.
Nevertheless, as you’d expect from Gareth, he offered genuine advice on what to do about it. (Note this is an older deck, but includes content similar to Gareth’s BU talk.) Nearly 100 students and faculty attended a session that took place mid-day on the Friday before Thanksgiving. If you’ve been on a campus in recent years, you know that most students manage to avoid classes, never mind extra curricular sessions, on Fridays. So clearly there’s an interest in the topic.
The modest plan for Doers Makers Innovators calls for inviting four to six creative change agents to the college each year. They’ll speak, but ideally challenge, provoke and inspire students to think about their role in the industry’s continued transformation in light of all things digital. However, on a more ambitious scale, I’m joined by my faculty colleagues and some ex-BDW speakers in hoping the series will eventually evolve into a new annual workshop, open not only to students but people outside the BU community as well. In fact we had a fair number of folks from local agencies show up for this talk just from the word-of-mouth buzz it generated.
I’ll share any news should the workshop concept develop, but in the meantime know that your enthusiasm and support would help it along.
I have a wish list that includes people from Red Bull, Deep Local, and the New York and Boston startup communities, but nothing confirmed quite yet. Should things go according to plan, we might convince Google Creative Lab’s Ben Malbon to make an appearance in early 2013 and bring his bag of brilliance that represents the Lab’s output. But if you have other ideas and or influence please share.
Lastly, a huge thanks to Mullen for helping to underwrite the series. Love the fact that the agency is open minded enough to support a program that takes a long-term view by investing in the next generation. Also a shoutout to my new colleagues at COM, Professors Tom Fauls, Tobe Berkovitz and Carolyn Clark who helped make this happen.
I suppose one could argue that given the current economy, the diminished value of most homes, miserably low interest rates and an unreliable stock market, the American Dream is on life support at best.
Add to that the high price of college education, the lack of jobs awaiting recent graduates, and the nagging sense that health care will probably eat up all of our retirement savings forcing those same grads to nix any expectation that an inheritance might help them dig out of their debt, and the old version of the dream — home ownership, two cars in the garage, a better economic situation than the previous generation, lives on only in TV shows and movies from the 1950s. And, perhaps, in Silicon Valley.
Then again, that could be too pessimistic a perspective. After all, hope dies last.
Maybe there’s no longer a collective American Dream. But perhaps there are thousands of individual ones to replace it. Maybe they’re simpler. Less materialistic. Perhaps they’re about downsizing, having more control, working for oneself, consuming less, giving more. It would certainly be useful to know.
A planner goes on the road
Which is why I am so excited for (and jealous of ) my friend Heidi Hackemer, planner extraordinaire (until today at Droga5 and previously at BBH NY) who is about to embark on a mostly solo cross country trip in her pick-up truck to find out. She plans on meeting and interviewing folks she’d never run into in a Manhattan restaurant or art gallery in quest of an answer.
She has a route — west from Florida to California then north to Alaska; a plan — she’ll stop in diners at lunch, sit at the counter and open a road atlas, “works every time” she informs me; and a slew of social media connections willing to help from afar with tips and suggestions for where to go and who to seek out.
After that it’s just Heidi, a digital video camera, her iPhone, her charm and her curiosity.
As Heidi says, “I hope to understand this country in ways that living in my NYC bubble makes difficult.”
We should probably all do a little bit of what Heidi’s doing: get out of our bubble; seek reactions from people different from us; observe someone else’s world from her perspective.
Heeding advice from Jerry Della Femina
It was probably 20 plus years ago when Jerry Della Femina, quoted in a WSJ legends ad, warned us about becoming isolated.
“Young creative people start out hungry. They’re off the street; they know how to think, And their work is great. Then they get successful. They make more money, spend time in restaurants they never dreamed of, fly back and forth between New York and Los Angeles. Pretty soon, the real world isn’t people. It’s just a bunch of lights off the right side of the plane. You have to stay in touch if you’re going to write advertising that works.”
He concludes with this suggestion:
“Ride a subway. Stand up on a bus. Buy a hot dog on the corner. Stay in touch.”
Twitter and Facebook and Instagram may all work pretty well, but Heidi’s approach, following in the footsteps of Alexis De Toqueville or Studs Terkel, past chroniclers who made similar journeys, seems a far better way to heed Jerry’s advice.
I’ll be following Heidi’s journey closely. Sadly, it will be via her blog and Twitter feed, rather than from the road. Perhaps you should do the same.
And now, an added bonus for reading this far:
Excerpt from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, written in 1840
In America I saw the freest and most enlightened men placed in the happiest condition that exists in the world; it seemed to me that a sort of cloud habitually covered their features; they appeared to me grave and almost sad even in their pleasures.
The principal reason for this is that the first do not think of the evils they endure, whereas the others dream constantly of the goods they do not have.
It is a strange thing to see with what sort of feverish ardor Americans pursue well-being and how they show themselves constantly tormented by a vague fear of not having chosen the shortest route that can lead to it.
The inhabitant of the United States attaches himself to the goods of this world as if he were assured of not dying, and he rushes so precipitately to grasp those that pass within his reach that one would say he fears at each instant he will cease to live before he has enjoyed them. He grasps them all but without clutching them, and he soon allows them to escape from his hands so as to run after new enjoyments.