by Dennis Daniel
As a person who is professionally paid to be creative, I'm often asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" The answer is, of course, from everything! From life itself! The creative process is merely the rehashing of ideas and concepts that have gone before. Now, I'm not saying it's impossible to come up with an original idea; it's just that in most cases the inspiration has a root in the creators past/ present.
For this month's column, I've decided to attempt a little experiment. I'm going to try to describe the creative process that went on in my head and led to the creation of a commercial for Dentist Dr. Charles Ross. I've been doing commercials for Charlie for about eight years now. (In fact, his ads won me a Clio Award, An International Radio Festival Award and a TAD award!) He is a very hip guy; not your typical dentist. No white coats. No antiseptic looking surroundings. He's in his early forties, wears jeans to work, and has lots of beautiful assistants! The information in his spots is always the same: Dr. Charles Ross, 1031 Little East Neck Road, West Babylon. First examination and consultation is free, including x-rays. Call 669-3772. That's it! With this little bit of information, I can create whatever I want.
Charlie runs his commercials five times on Monday and five times on Tuesday. His ad needs to be changed about once every six months! Recently, I decided to create a new spot.
THE IDEA: One day, I was at home skipping through the TV Guide. I noticed the film "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask" was going to be on. When I thought of the film, the scene that flashed in my mind was when Woody Allen plays a sperm about to be ejaculated. The brain is portrayed as a large computer center where many technicians take various signals from the body and implement its functions. Since my own brain was on "Dr. Ross mode," the idea of doing something similar for his spot clicked on. (Mind you, I don't consider this stealing Woody Allen's idea. I would not do it the way Allen did. I just liked the idea of the brain being controlled by little men in lab coats telling the body what to do. This idea has been done before and since Allen's film.)
THE METHOD: Now that I had my concept, I had to think about how to put it together as it would relate to dentistry. One of Dr. Ross' strong points is that he tries to be as painless as possible. As a matter of fact, for many years we used to call him the "master of painless dentistry." A ruling has since come down from the local dental board that the word "painless" cannot be used in advertising. So, I have a new objective: To get across the painless concept without actually saying it. To do this, I decided to have the brain technicians tell the body how to react to having a drill heading towards the mouth. With this set up, I could show how the body is told to react to impending doom. The "fear" element in human thought is a learned process. If we can teach the brain not to fear something, the body can relax. Therefore, if the brain does not fear Dr. Ross because it has already learned that he is painless, it will not tell the body to react to fear. This would be the overall concept and objective of my spot.
So, through the magic of theatre of the mind, I knew I could create a scenario that would implement all of these concepts into the final product.
THE WRITING: When it came time to sit down and write the spot, my main concern was not letting the introduction seem contrived. I wanted the set up to intrigue the listener without immediately giving away what the commercial was about. I also wanted the dialogue to have a sense of humor (although it didn't have to be hilarious). The idea itself was funny and bizarre to begin with, so I didn't want to belabor the issue by trying to be hysterically funny.
I envisioned these little brain technicians sending orders to the body. As I wrote the dialogue, I imagined where and when the special effects would come in to help create the imagery and wrote them down in the appropriate places:
ANN: Dr. Charles Ross presents, "How The Brain Works." (I wanted to get his name in quickly since it wasn't going to be heard again for the next 30 seconds.)
ANN: (Professor type voice) The human brain. It's functions are complex. Especially when the fear mechanism is triggered...
Man 1: Fear mechanism engaged. Frontal lobe distress.
Man 2: Check the readout. (Ticker)
Man 1: Fear is dentist related.
Man 2: Explanation?
Man 3: The body has just sat down in a dentist chair.
Man 1: Release the sweat. (Water/Steam)
Man 2: Sweat released.
Man 1: Raise anxiety level to 8.94. (Knob pushing)
Man 3: 8.94.
Man 1: Start the palpitations. (Heartbeat)
Man 2: (Very worried) Sir, the eyes report that a drill is heading towards the mouth!
Man 1: (Frantic) God God! Tense the muscles! (Door squeak)
Man 3: The eyes say it's heading right for us! (Drill)
Man 1: Brace the body for impact! (Drill loud!)
After writing this first section of dialogue, I made notes to myself as to how I wanted Man 1, Man 2, and Man 3 to sound. Since I was doing all the voices, I didn't want to get confused. Man 1 would sound sort of George Bush like. Man 2 would be gruff sounding and Man 3 would sound like Larry of the Three stooges. On track 1, I read every other line. On track 2, I filled in the gaps. This left me six tracks to put all my effects on.
The second section of copy was designed to put the concept all together:
ANN: (Professor like) One of the wonders of the human brain is: we can teach it to react differently. Take going to the dentist, for example. If your dentist is Dr. Charles Ross, your fear mechanism would learn to relax. Dr. Ross will be kind and gentle, plus he'll give you your first exam and consultation free, including x-rays. Just call 669-3772. 669-3772 for Dr. Charles Ross, the dentist who's kind to your brain.
As you can see, I didn't even leave enough time to give the address or location. But, since this is really a phone number business (people have to call to make an appointment) I just made sure the number was in there twice.
The FX for the spot were from the Sound Ideas CD library and the Star Trek TV Series effects CD. The music was from the FirstCom music library, using the "Brainspeak" CD.
Mind you, when I was conceiving this whole idea, I never thought I'd be writing it all down. I hope it wasn't confusing and gave you some idea of how you can get the creative process to work. All it takes is that first initial spark! (If you'd like to hear the completed spot, it's on this month's Cassette.)