Monday, December 23, 2013

I'm a Jew for Jesus

Twas the day before Christmas…

Oh you didn't think I was going to write this post, the last of the year, in limerick style did you?

That would require waaaay too much effort. I know because my friend Toby wrote a whole book in limerick style and that is just not in the cards for me. In street vernacular, I just don't have that kind of flow. My rhymes are whack.

Did Siegel just say his "rhymes are whack?"

The other night on the Sundance Channel I caught Welcome to Death Row Records, a two hour documentary that hyped the wisdom, courage, and artistry of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls.

I may be an old fart but if musical misogyny and the glorification of crime and street violence is what passes for cultural insight we are all in trouble. I think Chris Rock best summed up my feelings about those fellows.

Let me get back to being a Jew for Jesus.

Recently there's been a lot of hubbub about the remarks made by Duck Dynasty patriarch and self-admitted white trash, Phil Robertson. You know it's juicy hubbub when Sarah Palin injects herself into the fray.

No one would deny Mr. Robertson has the right to say whatever kind of hateful things he wants to say. I happen to be a 1st amendment absolutist. And I have a problem with European countries restricting what neo-Nazis have to say about the Holohoax. Let them air out their ignorant garbage.

Those type of people do the best possible job of discrediting those kind of backward ideas.

I have a bigger problem squaring away Mr. Robertson's racist, homophobic beliefs with what he calls a literal translation of the Bible. I wonder, for instance, if he, his clan, Sarah Palin and every snake handler from here to the panhandle of Oklahoma have ever eaten a cheeseburger. Or dined at Red Lobster. Or even worn a leather jacket over a woolen plaid shirt.

All sins, laid out in the Old Testament and proselytized by the disciples of Jesus.

It seems, at least to this agnostic Jew, that a man or messiah, as kindhearted, compassionate and loving as Jesus would be less concerned with the supposed technicalities of the Bible and infinitely happier if folks lived up to the spirit of his teachings.

You know, The Golden Ruledo unto others, turn the other cheek, all that good stuff.

Those are the kind of values I can get on board with. In fact, most members of the Tribe do. I don't want to offend anybody on either side of the pew, but Jews are some of the most Christian people I know.

And so in 2014, I'm resolving to be more Christ-like.
More empathetic.

Except for that love thy neighbor crap.

My neighbor, his monster trucks, his vicious pit bulls and the illegal welding business from his garage, can go straight to hell.

Merry Christmas everybody.
And Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Photo opportunities

File today's posting under: It's Thursday. It's the end of the year. And I'm tired.

Proper Parenting 101.

September 11th weirdness.

From the Bing Crosby Room at Gonzaga University.

My next job?


From the campus of Cal State San Luis Obispo.

The Restroom at the Department of the Redundancy Department.

And finally, who doesn't like a good Jew joke?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A timely prediction

There's this trope that is popular among life coaches, marital therapists and people given to unprincipled wishy-washiness.

Something to the effect of, "Would you rather be right? Or would you rather be happy?"

Clearly this is a red herring.
Clearly I've already telegraphed my answer.

"I'd rather be happy. By being right."

Case in point.

Three weeks ago, on this very blog, I predicted a major client would throw a turd in the holiday punchbowl and announce an agency review. I didn't say who that client was or the exact date it would happen, I only knew from past experience, that it would.

And it did.

On December 6th, Infiniti, a division of Nissan Motor Company, announced that after a two-decade long relationship with TBWA Chiat/Day (my alma mater), management thought it would be wise to seek out alternative options.

Having worked on Infiniti many times in the past and having hopes of working at TBWA Chiat/Day again, perhaps even in the near future, I cannot and will not make any commentary about the decision.

However for purely selfish purposes, I do hope that whatever transpires they will continue to maintain a marketing presence here in Los Angeles.

To that end, I'm also hoping the local contenders for this premier luxury automotive account will take note of my availability. There's nothing I'd like more than to book the next two months solid helping the incumbent, or a new contender, take home this valued account.

Particularly if it's one of those agencies that pays overtime.

Why am I available you may be asking.
Because I just finished a successful gig with Sapient Nitro.

Wait, you may be saying again, isn't Sapient Nitro a digital agency?
Wouldn't they want the best freelance digital copywriter money could buy?

Yes, yes they would.

Being right makes me so happy.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I'm such a tool

It's typical for a man my age, 43, to look back on his life and start wondering about some of the choices that have been made or the roads that have been followed.

I've been doing a little bit of soul searching lately and come to the undeniable conclusion that I am a Grade A Douchebag.

Particularly when it comes to the particulars of my career.

For years, I thought the proper -- the only -- way to go about making a TV commercial for our high paying clients was to dig into their business, understand their position in the marketplace, rethink their approach and then create and devise a strategic piece of communication that would alter their public perception and drive consumers to their products or services.

What the fuck was I smoking?

When I watch a commercial today it becomes painfully obvious that I wasted so much time and energy trying to bring some silly high-minded concept to the small screen.

I can feel my kidneys clench when I mull over all those scripts, all those hours, all those heated discussions with planners, account people and clients, just trying to will my way to something worthwhile.

Now, in retrospect, it's all clear to me, 'ideas' are so 1990's.

If I were a junior copywriter coming up through the ranks today, I'd do it all different. I'd put down the acrimony and pick up The Formula. Oh you know The Formula. It may not have been formally committed to paper, but it is the How-To Manual for almost everything that shows up on TV today.

1. Get a Top Ten Song. Thanks to the advent of iTunes, these are easy to find. No need for expensive scoring or laborious searches for just the right soundtrack. Pick a song people know, preferably sung or arranged by an alternative indie band. Ideally, a photogenic alternative indie band. When in doubt, look for beanie caps, full sleeve tats and Amish beards. This way you'll have some youthful eye candy for the obligatory behind-the-scenes making of the commercial video that people flock to on youtube.

2. Hire yourself a B list director. These are typically former A list directors who have grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Now, no longer in feverish demand, they have dropped a rung or two on the ladder but still enjoy hob-knobbing in Cannes. To do so, they will do what they do, with much less opinionating and much more accommodating. Oh and they're a lot cheaper.

3. The Abercrombie & Fitch approach to casting. It goes without saying that every spot should be a Rainbow Coalition of people. Three white males must always be accompanied by an African American. And two white females must always have a sassy sister. And all of them must be pretty damn hot or cute, preferably both. No one wants to see ugly people. Ugly people shop at Walmart. So you must cast impossibly attractive actors. Even if you're shooting a spot for Walmart.

4. Change the world, at least pretend to. In case you hadn't noticed people like companies that like people. Companies that want to enrich our planet while enriching their bank accounts. Anybody can sell drain cleaners or paper towels or melted cheese in a squeezable bottle, but the buying public wants to conduct commerce with companies who care. Being attached to a cause is the cost of doing business these days. That applies to everyone, including manufacturers of pourable cheddar-like substances.

5. Say everything but say nothing. Or Platitudes not Attitudes. Planners know exactly what it is consumers want to see and hear. That's why they're planners. Take their supernatural wisdom for the pure gold that it is and pour it all into a celebrity-read announcer read. It matters little, whether you are selling planes, trains, automobiles or even soft drinks. A good spot will include references to innovation, commitment, technology, caring, design for people's sake, sustainability, and excellence.

There you have it. I've done everything but regurgitate the brief...uhhhh, write the script for you.

Which I'll be happy to do in 2014 with the new adjusted-for-inflation-and-my-daughter's-college-tuition 2014 Day Rates. Did I mention that a portion of every day rate earned will be donated to the St. Jude's Research Hospital.

One postscript - don't forget those hashtags.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Your move, Boris

Recently, I started playing chess online with my friend Mohammed, that's right I have a friend named Mohammed. This, despite all my heated rhetoric about Islamic fascism and the threat it poses to western civilization.

I need to thank Mohammed for getting me back into the game.

I had forgotten how much I love playing.

In college, friends and I would whittle away the hours in front of a chessboard. It was a delusional procrastination technique.

Sure, I wasn't studying Structured Matrices 398 or Nihilism and The Collective Works of Frank Capra, but at least I was engaged in some kind of intellectual pursuit. If you're willing to buy into the notion that moving 16 pieces in a board game constitutes an intellectual pursuit.

Playing chess online is so much better.

Games can go as long as a week online. Because they are played out by correspondence. I'll make a move this morning. And my opponent can respond sometime later in the day. There is no need for us to sit eye to eye, rook to rook in the same room.

It's a little impersonal. And it doesn't share the camaraderie of a fellow student coming back from a Chemistry exam and saying, "Hey, I just got some great Acapulco Gold, let's break out the chessboard and fire up the bong."

In addition to going toe-to-toe with Mo, I've found myself locking horns with players from around the globe. It really is a world wide web.

Right now I'm in a pitched battle with a guy from the Ukraine. He couldn't have a more Russian name. I believe it's Stalinyov Trotleninsky. He is good. He is damned good. And you'd expect noting less, after all Russia is to chess what Canada is to hockey.

His official chess ranking is significantly higher than my 1338. And it is clear that he knows his Sicilian Gambits from his Tarrasch Variations. Nevertheless, I am holding my own against him. In fact, on a pure score count I'm even ahead of him, capturing one of his knights in a classic pinning maneuver.

But Stalinyovski is crafty. And has escaped my clutches in the past. It's clear from his manner of play that he doesn't panic and has a certain Soviet style mental fortitude.

Should I go on to victory it will qualify, at least in my mind, as The Miracle on the Internet.

And you can be sure I'll punctuate that with six finely-chosen letters in the chat box.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

"Did the mailman come?"

I am about to embark on a 4 month roller coaster ride.

Two weeks ago, my oldest daughter completed her college application process. There were panicked nights of essay writing. Frenzied gathering of my financial data. As well as some valuable lessons in resume inflation.

Apparently my daughter is peaceful, loving, and actively engaged in her community, not to mention brilliant, charming and given to scholarly excellence. If I'm reading her credentials correctly, she makes Mother Theresa look like a stupid French whore.

I guess all the kids do it.
Entrance to college is that competitive.

A lot different from when I was a kid. Syracuse University only wanted to know that my father's check would clear. They were more than happy to take his money and let me sit in an auditorium with 500 equally disinterested stoned students.

After four years they dispatched me a sheepskin and said, "good luck out there." And then they replaced me with the some other poor schmuck.

Well, last night, the first letter came back from one of her chosen 19 colleges. There was a lot of drama opening that envelope. The kind of mailbox drama I'm going to have to endure in the weeks that follow.

The good news is, she got accepted. First letter, first acceptance. 1 for 1.

They don't have a big time football team or basketball team, so it's not my first choice. After all, sending my kid to college is all about getting the t-shirts and the sports gear. Nevertheless, it was a great way to start and sent her confidence into the stratosphere.

Of course, there's some bad news too. Like trying not to dwell on thoughts of my own mortality, there's a certain inevitability to all this.

Soon, she will be packing her stuff in boxes.
Soon, she will be leaving the house.
Soon, she will be gone and I will finally get the peace and quiet I've been screaming about for all these years.

And I will be sad.

Heartbreakingly sad.

Knock-me-to-the-ground sad.

Then, when I think it can't get any worse, the first tuition bill will come in the mail.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I'm not all that interesting. And neither are you.

I'm the Mayor of Who-Gives-A-Shitsville.

Which is my way of saying that if I didn't accept your connection to FourSquare, the social media that tracks your every location, I won't be doing so in the near future.

I'll be the first to admit that when this new FourSquare phenomena hit, I signed up for it. Not sure why I did, as my wife postulates…

"you never go anywhere interesting, why would people want to know you're at the pool or getting an overpriced fruit cup from Bristol Farms?"

However, I work in an industry where there is this ungodly fascination with trends, particularly anything remotely related to digital.

Application blah blah blah.
Mobile blah blah blah.
Hashtag blah blah blah.

So I get roped into these meaningless digital flash mobs. The fear is if I don't stay current and know what the kids are doing I'll be pegged as some kind of industry dinosaur.

From what I can see, the kids aren't doing much of anything.

They're tweeting and instagramming and snapchatting about stuff, but they're not actually doing stuff. And yes, I'm aware of the irony that I am currently blogging about what other people aren't doing.

But, and this is a big butt, I'm honing my skills, putting one word in front of another.

Colleagues, who call themselves writers, or the more diminutive copywriters, aren't even doing that. I know, I've looked. I've seen the portfolios without any print, without any radio, without any demonstrable evidence of that thing we used to call craft.

I do see a lot of page takeovers. Clients love page takeovers. I'm guessing consumers do, too. I was at a dinner party the other night -- sorry, I didn't check in on Foursquare -- and heard this guy regalling others with a tale about page takeover.

"The other day I was checking out Did anybody see how Capitol One took over their page? It was incredible!"

OK, nobody is talking about page takeovers. Nobody should.

When these copywriters aren't doing page takeovers, they're coming up with cool new ways to showcase their client's products and services on Jizbo, Yeeha, Purple Box, Gaglet, FuzzBucket,  or some other media platform known only to 23 people on the planet.

My credentials can be damned.
I'm no longer on Foursquare.
And from this point on, I'm downsizing my digital thumbprint.

I look forward to the day when corporations do the same.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A seat at the table

2013 has been a very odd year.

Upon retuning from Europe way back in January, I was thrown headfirst into a billion dollar pitch that had me working for 9 consecutive weeks.

I went 67 days without a day off.
And was even paid for 57 of those days.

During the summer I was offered a long term gig with Apple. Not just with Apple, at Apple. The plan was to move into a nice hotel in Cupertino (an oxymoron, I might add) and toil in secret, deep within the belly of the beast.

But things didn't go exactly as planned.

Their idea of a creative work environment and my idea of a creative work environment were not compatible. I couldn't see myself working three hours at a communal work table, much less three months. Nor am I a big fan of constant video surveillance and CIA-like security measures.

I completely understand it and see how it works for Apple.
It just wasn't working for me.

So I did what I rarely do and self-aborted the gig. I emailed whatever progress I had made on the assignment to the Creative Director, who proceeded to chew me out for sending anything to him that wasn't encrypted.  I guess I hadn't got that far in the rule book yet.

But I can tell you this. Nothing I have ever written in my entire life, and I mean nothing, has ever been worthy of being encrypted.

On top of all that, my mother-in-law was ill and my daughter is in her last year of high school and getting ready to go away to college. The truth is, and I should have thought of all this before accepting the assignment, I wanted to spend more time in Culver City and no time in Cupertino.

I left.

Of course, the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn't close one door without opening a window.

Even as I was driving south on the 101, my phone started ringing. New assignments came in from Costa Mesa, Detroit, NY and even Australia. The significant money I left on the table in Cupertino was quickly recouped. Not sure my reputation will heal as quickly.

Who knows what 2014 will bring.

But I did learn things have a way of working out. And if a job comes up this year where I am required to sit at a communal table, I will politely say, "thanks, but no thanks."

Your staff may be fine churning out the creativity while being poked, prodded and crammed together like keyboard clacking veal, but I am not.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Some Christmas Joy

It isn't often that I tread over the same material here on Round Seventeen, but it is Christmas time. And once again, you crazy goyim are breaking out the lights, the trees, the wreaths, the carols, the sweaters, the stockings, and the yule time 'knick knacks'  -- an all-inclusive name for shit I don't know about it.

You're repeating yourself. So, I'm giving myself that same liberty.

I've gone deep into the mothballs and found an old spot I did for Acura, when it was at the RP& Agency.

I apologize for the clarity of the film. Shooting at night presents many challenges. Not the least of which, is shooting at night. I've done it a few times in my career. And hated it every time.

We once shot a Lexus spot in an airplane hangar. It wasn't intended to be an all-nighter, but the production crew kept screwing up the set and a 12-hour day turned into a 24-hour nightmare.

Also shot an ABC promo in a warehouse in downtown LA, long before the hipsters and the douchebags with their beanie caps arrived with their overpriced PBR and ear gauges.

For this Elf spot, we hauled our asses up to the Angeles Crest Forest. I made it until 3:30 AM before I fell asleep in the production van with one of the Key Grips. This man's intestines should be posthumously donated to the Smithsonian. Or the Pentagon.

Because he produced a digestive aroma that could, in George Carlin's words, "knock a buzzard off a shitwagon."

I awoke, and bolted from the van in time for the filming of the most crucial scene in the spot.

The car has already stopped. Santa is in his sleigh waiting. There is a moment of tense silence. And then the elf emerges from the trees having successfully irrigated the dry land.

That's when we all enjoyed the biggest laugh of the night. Not because of anything I had written in the script. That rarely produces a chortle. No, after blocking the scene and conducting a few rehearsals, the director, Rick LeMoine, called for action. At which point the elf zips up his elf pants and delivers his one word line, "Sorry."

Apparently, the line was delivered too broadly.

It was too theatrical.

Needed to be a little more subtle.

That's when Director Rick turned to the actor, who stood all of 3 foot seven, and said, "try not to play it so big."

Merry Christmas everybody.

Drive safe.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

My Dumb Rumba

Last week I caved.

I dropped some major coin on a Roomba, one of those robotic vacuums that effortlessly glides about the house picking up dust, dirt and errant dog hair. I justified the purchase to my wife by noting the Roomba's stated ability to help asthmatics.

I am not asthmatic.

But thanks to last year's $1000 visit to a Beverly Hills allergist, I discovered I am allergic to dust. And  my yearly bout with bronchitis is now going into its third month. My prescription for Hydrocod is running low and my GP thinks I'm selling the codeine-nectar on the black market.

Something had to be done.

Besides, my buddy Clark has a new Roomba. And he is already killing me on the Newly Acquired Gadget Scoreboard. He has the 60 inch flatscreen, mine is only 50. He has two Nest Thermostats, I only have one. And though he has two daughters like me, he also has X Box One, Wii and a PlayStation 3. I don't even play those damn video games but I have burning desire to get one of those confounded boxes.

Of course, I know it would only gather dust, and as I mentioned earlier, that's not good.

The Roomba was incredibly easy to set up. And within minutes it was tooling around my house and rendering the floor hospital clean. That is until it found itself trapped between the armoire in the mudroom and the couch in the living room.

It bounced off one and hit the other. It bounced off that and returned the favor. It whirred. It spinned. But for the life of it could not tap into its "smart-sensing" technology to extricate itself and return to the docking station.

My Roomba was not as intelligent as other Roombas.

I had come home from Best Buy with a 'special needs' robot.

My wife thought I was crazy, which by the way is an ongoing concern. So I decided I would capture the less-than-stellar performance on video. For her enjoyment as well as yours.

I placed the Roomba in the exact same spot. Set up my iPhone on a handy little tripod. And pushed the Go button. Naturally, I couldn't replicate the experience. Roomba snook up on the armoire, didn't even touch it, then went scurrying across the floor into the family room.

I repeated the procedure over and over again. And time after time, like a crafty chess player, Roomba found an escape route.

I was locked into a battle of wits with a Chinese-made robot.

And I lost.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The check is in the mail

Six months ago, P&G, the world's biggest advertiser announced a new payment structure for their ad agencies.

They had been paying their bills in 45 days and were now going take up to 75 days. If my math is correct, and these days that's becoming less frequent, that's an increase of nearly 66%.

Or nearly double.

Or as one accounts receivable clerk put it, "Holy Shit!"

As Ad Age reported, the move threatens to send shock waves throughout the ad world. And the many commenters on the article have made it abundantly clear that the situation is, in laymen's terms, "going to suck!"

That was six months ago and the rippling effect has already reached my personal finances, which can be argued, are the most outermost circles of the ad pond.

As a freelancer I work for many different agencies, large and small. And have had to navigate a plethora of  confounding corporate commensuration customs. I am always been happy to do so. Because the result was always a paycheck. Sometimes produced within days, a week, or tops, two weeks, after starting a job.

That is no longer the case.

Today, checks don't take a month, or two months or even three months to land in my mailbox. I currently have an outstanding invoice for work I did at the end of the summer. I'm not going to name names because I want to Be Big and Don't Omit myself from future assignments, but as my wife so succinctly put it, "that's bullshit!"

But hardly an isolated case. Another unnamed agency, part of a WaPPer of a holding company, is also a bit tardy with the payments and quickly approaching over 100 days late.

The irony couldn't be clearer.

Because while agencies and clients are taking longer to pay, they are simultaneously giving myself and everyone else on the idea end of the process, less time to create the thing they're paying for.

Campaigns that used to have a three week turnaround are now regularly cranked out in three hours. With three full revisions, no less.

It's all part of the movement towards greater efficiency.

And it explains why so much of the work you see today can't hold a candle to something like this:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Feliz Navidoodoo

With Thanksgiving over and the fattening part -- the latkes -- of Hanukkah done, we are now officially into the homestretch of the holidays.

Of course, the big one is still coming up.
And by big one, I mean the holiday with the Caganers.

You remember Caganers, don't you?

It's an old Christmas custom born in Catalonia, in Northern Spain. To celebrate Christmas and the Winter Solice, Catalan farmers erected beautiful nativity scenes. They also included a Caganer, who heralded the birth of the Savior by giving birth to his own divine fudge dragon.

It sounds crazy, but I shit you not.

Catholic clergy claim it has to do with fertilizing the land for a great Spring planting season. 

I like to believe they did it because because it's just so damn funny.

In any case, the sight of a Caganer launching a lifeboat off the SS Assitania was so captivating and glorious, the custom quickly spread to Southern France. 

And Northern Italy. 

If you've been reading Round Seventeen for the past 5 years or so, you know that I have appointed myself the official ambassador of this time-honored tradition. I've thrown down the gauntlet and made it my own personal mission to dot this great land with a new Yuletide Log. 

You may scoff, but I believe this Caganer thing is about to, as the kids would say, pop off. 

Last week, my friend and former boss David M., sent me the address for a website where you can purchase the Lady Gaga Caganer, aka Lady Caganer. Which says to me that the public display of Christmastime defecation has gone mainstream.

Sadly, I married a Jewish woman and have no excuse to put a nativity scene on my property. And as much as I'd like to parade a statue or even Lady Gaga "conducting an exit interview with Mr. Brown" on my lawn, I can't. 

Not only would it seem disrespectful but if you know anything about my neighbors, the sight of a small man or woman or diva pooping on my yard could be taken as permission for their damn dog to do the same.