By Trent Rentsch
“But we’re never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy.”
It’s quite frustrating, the way the minutes race when I only have a limited amount of them. They really like to motor along when I don’t want them to, taking the wheel and putting the pedal to the floor. “Look out, dead-end, I mean, deadline ahead!” Minutes don’t care, they just keep spinning away, ignoring the fact that the faster they go, the more apt I am to lose the race. This might sound crazy, but it’s at times like that, when I know that I might not make it to the finish line with a finished commercial, all I want to do is jump in a hole and fall down, down, down…
Sanity is over-rated. There are so many things we have to fight to keep it, but what does it give us in return? A clean desk, matching socks and rotated tires, that’s what! As far as I’m concerned, sanity is a party pooper that insists on napkins, coasters and unspiked punch. I’m looking for a real party animal, one that throws the rules, convention, and cans of creamed corn out the window, one that’s going to bring the nutcase out in me. Which is why I decided to follow the white rabbit down that hole.
I think we’re long over-due to get loopy. Deregulation, consolidation, lay-offs, dwindling benefits, 9/11, and the continued success of boy bands have all made us so sober, so grimly determined. While we can’t and shouldn’t forget what’s happening in our world, there comes a time when dwelling on it is a drag on the creative process. So, since March is the month for Madness anyway, why not join the tea party? It could take you down a creative short cut that will put you ahead in the race against time. The least it could do is remind everyone that you’re one of those “Crazy Creatives.”
Jump Right In
If it’s been awhile since you teetered on the brink, you may need a shove. The first thing you need to do is throw logic out the window; it will only keep you on the straight and narrow and make you think about things like car payments and straight voice-overs. When you feel logic creeping into your work, chase it off; get medieval on it if you have to. For instance—and this is just a warm-up—you are writing a script for a client that has always used two voices, a man and a woman—no music, just two people talking about the business, basically the same copy points over and over. Because they’ve always been done that way, logic says you should… Pow! Splat! Boom! Who cares what logic says? Maybe the client has always done the spots that way because nobody has ever given her a fresh idea. Put the two talking heads in the atmosphere of the store with some sound effects, or add another character, or write a catchy little lyric for one person to sing solo, or over a music bed in the production library. Yes, there’s still that pesky being on target and focused for the audience and product stuff, but it’s that extra effort to ignore what has been that will jump-start your illogical side. See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Now that you’re halfway there, it’s not that much farther to tip totally off your rocker…
Everything Smells Loud
You might remember that some paragraphs ago I followed the white rabbit down a hole. Some people might call that crazy talk; what rabbit hole would be large enough to squeeze my big old gut through, and where could it lead but to more dirt and rabbit marbles? Yet, for Lewis Carroll’s Alice, the result was a trip that turned her perception of the world she lived in upside down. We need to take some risks, defy basic logic and wisdom sometimes, to expand and grow creatively. Here are a few rabbit holes you might try:
Grab a random CD, either music or sound effects. Put it in the player, close your eyes, and choose a random cut. Find a way to use the music or sound in whatever you’re working on. If you absolutely can’t use it, tap on the CD case for background percussion on the spot, or point to a random word in the liner notes and use it in the script. Or, turn the volume up painfully high and describe how it smells… maybe that description can be adapted for your script.
Backwards play it. Every computer audio program has a reverse command, so use it. Music, sound effects, voice-overs. Try running your old chestnut sweeper effects backwards and see if they have a new life. While you’re turned around, add some other effects—reverb, flanger—then flip it again and see how that sounds. Other effects that get daily use are totally new animals when taken to extremes, like pitch control and time compression. When an effect seems the obvious choice, use another one, or none at all.
Endeavor to originate singular expressions. Every word processor has a Thesaurus. Mine led me to the first sentence in this paragraph after starting with, “use new words.” Now, I might not use what developed in a script, but I might. I might also randomly shuffle through a dictionary and try to use the word my finger lands on in a script. Maybe that one word was “dog” and I’m doing a furniture store ad, and perhaps the dog is a Basset Hound, concerned that Bassett furniture is getting better press than he is. Or maybe the customer is looking for a dog and ended up in the Bassett Furniture Gallery by mistake. Or the competition’s business has gone to the dogs since your furniture store came to town… whatever. The point is, take the dog, or whatever other word you land on, and run with it.
Look Ma, No Straitjacket!
I bet you thought that I was nuts at the beginning, suggesting that you take a break from sanity, but by now you’ve probably noticed that what I’m saying is not totally crazy, but actually a useful creative tool. There is method to the madness, and that, simply put, is that madness can be the method. It doesn’t take high-fiving imaginary friends in the hallway or quacking like a duck during a staff meeting. All it really takes is leaving all those nasty old preconceived notions and judgmental opinions at the door when you get to work. Celebrate the month of madness by trying it, if for only a day, and be amazed at the new, fresh ideas you come up with, and how easily you’ll leave time in the dust in the race to the deadline. Oh, and for the record, you wouldn’t be the first person to think I’m nuts. But enough about my Mother…