by Dennis Daniel
Did you ever notice how hard it is to be objective about just about anything in the entertainment industry when you work in radio? And I mean anything that's entertainment oriented. For example, I had to go to a wedding recently. (Notice how I said "had to go." Yeah, it was one of THOSE kind.) The thing I despise most about weddings is the DJ. I can't sit still and keep my mouth shut about him. I've got to make caustic commentary about everything he says. They're just so predictable! The same schpeel, the same music, the same rituals! Sing with me now, "The bride stabs the groom...the bride stabs the groom...." Yeesh. They all have that, "HEY! HOW ARE YA?" thing going for them. And who in hell invented the "Chicken Dance?" The DJ at this wedding actually SANG ALONG WITH RECORDS! Can you imagine this? In his off key and awful voice, he spewed along with David Lee Roth's Just A Gigolo, The Righteous Brothers' You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling, Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman. I was dying, ya hear...DYING!
What does all this have to do with production? Believe it or not...everything.
It has to do with our perception of things -- what we pick up from everyday life and how we can take our lack of objectivity and put it to good use.
No matter how hard I try, I just can't seem to turn off my brain and what it picks up from the generic entertainment that's pumped out to the great unwashed masses every day. Whether it's TV, radio, movies, magazines...I always have to open my big mouth about it. I drive my wife crazy sometimes when we're watching TV together and I start commenting about all the commercials. I can see what buttons they're pushing.
It's the manipulation factor that gets me!
We deal with manipulation everyday. It's what we're all about, really. We sooth the savage beast with what our formats have to offer (music, news, whatever), then, when we've got them where we want them, we zing them with commercials! BUY THIS! YOU NEED IT! We dictate their needs as we (and our clients) see them. When you live with this all the time, it's hard not to be super aware of it whenever it comes at YOU!
While all this can be quite annoying, it also can be helpful. In the end, it all helps feed the Creative Ideas Monster within us. Like it or not, we must maintain our edge. We've got to be aware of what people are listening to and being influenced by if we intend to do the same. If a lame ass wedding DJ goes unnoticed by the guests, and in fact comes across as entertaining to them (as far as I know, no one but me had any complaints and everyone was dancing and having a ball at that wedding reception from hell I was at), then it's obvious that, as bad as I may think he is, he's someone who's getting through to people. He's a persona, a generic given personality that's tied to a specific event. That, I can do something with! I can do a parody wedding reception commercial or a straight forward deal (depending on the client and the format of the station it's being done for). As I've pointed out in the past it doesn't matter what kind of product you're selling as long as you have an idea. Just take the concept and plug the product into it. I can use that wedding DJ idea to sell ANYTHING! If it was car stereos, I could base it on this: "Which would you rather hear...a wedding DJ who sings with records (drop in of an awful singer, singing on top of a popular song) or a new car stereo from (fill in the blank)." I could use it for a bank like so: "So you think there's nothing worse than standing in line at the bank, huh? How about a wedding DJ who sings with the records? (Drop in of singing dork). Well, at (fill in the bank name) you don't have to put up with either!" Then, take it from there. It's the idea and the idea alone that matters!
Here are some of the creative rules I go by when I've been influenced by something I've seen or heard: First and foremost, I try to think of an original way of using it based on my own perception of things (i.e. the wedding DJ). If I've seen the idea used or done before, I try to avoid repeating it. If I can't avoid repeating it, I parody it. If I can't parody it, I rework it so that it seems like the same thing, but isn't a direct rip off.
One of the most important things you can do is: keep a list! I have a whole slew of phrases and words that trigger ideas in my mind. Sometimes a phrase strikes me as something I can use in a spot or promo. For example: "Tickle My Butt With An Ostrich Feather" or "I Am a Whore for Money." Other words that I have on my list are: Bad Comedians, Channeling, Man in a Glass Booth, L'Avventura, Phone Dating Lines, Personal Injury Commercials, Jim Jones on Kool Aid, Lee J. Cobb, Buddy Beer Commercials, David Lynch, Wrestling Yell matches, Truck Falling, Road Warrior, Woman in Prison Films, Kafka. Now these words and phrases may not spark anything in you, but they trigger ideas in MY head.
As always, you've got to keep those eyes and ears open to all that's around you. We see the world through a very strange looking glass. Production Directors are on 24-hour creative patrol. Even dreams can be a source of inspiration! I once had a dream that heaven was a series of escalators. Near the bottom of each floor was a list of who was on what floor. Groucho Marx was on the 10th floor, Buster Keaton was on the 12th floor and so on. Sitting to the right of the escalator, behind a desk, was a man dressed like a security guard. As I stared at him, he looked up at me and said, "Burt Lancaster is on the 13th Floor." Then, I woke up. At the time, I could have sworn that this was a sign that Burt Lancaster was going to die soon! So, I looked at the obituaries for weeks. Of course, he's still alive, so my dream certainly wasn't prophetic...but what a cool idea, huh? And yes, I did use it in a spot.
Of course, the trick to all of this is walking that fine line between being cynical about it all and being a hypocrite. I mean, after all, I do DO this kind of stuff that I'm knocking for a living. I know I'm not God's gift. Ah well....