Production 212: You’re Either Creative… Or You’re Not! (NOT!)

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

Well… it’s finally happened. I’ve run out of ideas. Gas tank is empty! Gone. Goodbye. I can’t do this anymore. My career is finished. This time next month, I’ll be selling shoes at a discount store. My name badge will say “Doofus,” and all the hard work and…. FREEZE.

You’ve probably been there before. The boss walks in and hands me some bullet points on a new promotion and then stands there, tapping his foot, waiting for me to have a magnificent idea for a new way to promote giving T-shirts away this weekend. Boss! It don’t work like that. It’s hard being creative on-demand!

As you’ve probably read in this column before, I get several audio files every month from producers all over the world, seeking advice on how to make their work better. (Like I’m some kind of expert!) Most of the time, the work is pretty good. I generally will tell them what I would do differently, and they seem pretty happy. In the meantime, I’m cribbing as much of their idea as I can.

Sometimes the work is truly awful. I never quite know what to say in these cases, without being terribly cruel. I try to give them solid advice on one or two items, maybe suggest some reading material or other learning resource, all the while wondering if Dante ever envisioned this particular ring of hell. Finally, I’ll find the nugget of an idea that’s almost always there, and praise the heck out of that.

And that brings me to the topic for this month. The idea. The one truly universal aspect of every piece of production is the idea. No matter how bad or good a piece is, there is always that little kernel you can take and tuck away for the day the boss walks in with another T-shirt promotion.

Where does the idea come from? More directly, where does the word “creative” come into the mix? Many of the emails I get say something like, “I’m not a very creative person,” or “I always have a hard time coming up with ideas for promos or commercials.” To which I now respond to with a great big, “Baloney.”

There’s a myth that says creativity is either there or it’s not. You’re either born with it, or you’re not. The sad thing is, WAY too many people believe it. This is a LIE, my dear readers. I used to believe it myself. When I had interns come in to learn how to do the voodoo that I do, I would listen to their ideas and think to myself, “Great. Here’s another creative dud.” One intern (who shall remain nameless) that I had judged to be particularly dull proved me wrong. Quite accidentally, I showed her how to be creative. From one week to the next, she went from being one of the most obtuse, dumb-as-a-post people I’d ever met, to being one of the absolute brightest and most creative people I’ve ever known.

When I looked back on what we’d been discussing in the previous session, I had an epiphany. I suddenly knew where “creative” comes from in an individual. And for just 495 dollars, I’ll send you my 5–cassette package that will explain my secret! Wait. I forgot. That’s why I write this column. {sigh}

Here’s the deelio. Your creativity comes from your past. Think about that for a minute while I zone out on some history.

When Michelangelo was draped under the scaffolding in the square there in Florence, feverishly carving his statue of David from the cast off marble from the Cathedral, he didn’t use a model. He did the entire thing from memory. (Not the actual David. Duh!) Every detail, every nuanced curve and mass, came directly from his brain. However he attained the knowledge of anatomy, he pieced it together in his mind’s eye before he ever touched chisel to stone.

When Dan Brown created The Da Vinci Code, he did a ton of research, reading every book he could get his hands on about the ancient church, its rites and dogma, but when he sat at his laptop, pecking out the story, line by line, he didn’t have those old texts sitting open by his side. He wrote the story directly from the brain.

When Russell Crowe prepared for the role of Jim Braddock in Cinderella Man, he studied everything he could find about the man and the times he lived in. When Ron Howard said, “Action,” on the set, Russell became Jim Braddock. Nobody stood off camera and said, “Braddock would never have gotten that soft look in his eyes….” Every move and every line (although scripted) came from Russell Crowe’s brain.

So. Get the picture? Each of these men are (or were) unbelievably creative. Where do they get all that creativity? It’s simple; it came from their past. In each of these examples, they studied the topic they would be dealing with intensively, integrating it into their minds, so that when it came time to chisel or write or act… it was second nature. It came from their (now) past.

Draw a direct line from your past to the present. Think about situations you’ve seen or heard that resonate with the subject, they can be funny or serious; it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they be true to life, and the only way you can gauge that is to know that the situation really existed, or very nearly so.

So, when I hear or read someone saying, “I’m not very creative,” I think to myself, “Well wait… did you just pop into existence 10 minutes ago?”

And like the examples I cited above, you need to do a certain amount of research to really open the floodgates and be truly creative. If you’re producing for a CHR station, you’d better make sure you read every issue of Elle Girl, Teen People or at least People Magazine. You’d better watch Inside Edition or Entertainment Tonight religiously. You need to see a movie every week, read at least one book every month and you positively have to read a newspaper every day. You have to integrate this stuff into your brain because this is where pop–culture lives. Pop–culture is the life-blood of CHR radio. And don’t think you’re off the hook if you work at an all talk outlet. Your reading/viewing list might be different, but it’s every bit as long. Same deal for every format. Country? Well, yeah! Jack? Yes. Oldies? WOW, do you have a long list. Rock? It’s all the same.

For this month’s Production 212 audio selection, we have a promo that, in its original form, just kind of lay there. The premise was right, the promotion was definitely right, but for some reason it came off sounding stilted. Here’s the scoop: Z100 is entering a float in the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York. I brought in Carolina Bermudez, our Z-Morning Zoo News Mommy to do some of the promo in Spanish. (She’s originally Nicaraguan and speaks fluently.) However – dot–dot–dot – Nicaraguan AIN’T Puerto Rican. (Anyone who thinks Spanish is Spanish goes to the BACK of the class.) On top of that, Z100 is not exactly known for catering to the Hispanic audience, although we do pretty well. SO… I changed it a little. I added three (English) words and it changed everything. You’ll hear the difference right away.

What made this work is my knowledge of myself. I don’t speak more than a dozen words of Spanish and most of those are food related. So I jumped into the middle of what she says at the end in Spanish with “Uh… what she said.” I acknowledged that I’m probably the whitest man in America, but that doesn’t lessen my interest in the Hispanic community. By extension, Z100 is saying, we love our Latin listeners, even though we’re not Latin.

Creative, huh? Yeah, well at least it’s not another t-shirt promotion.

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