Creative X Takes on One of the Industry's Biggest Cliches

For Those Inquiring Minds, Here's the Answer to Your Obligatory Question

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I'm going to share a secret with you. It's one of the most insidious, diabolical techniques ever devised to annoy an agency creative.

First, you creep up to his cubicle (preferably just before lunch), and start some inane conversation about the weather, maybe a movie you watched over the weekend. And when the moment feels right you drop the question: Ask him if he's ever wanted to write a screenplay.

Ugh. If I had a nickel for every time I've been asked this, or every time one on my fellow creative pals told me they've been asked this, I could have tied up those nickels in a sock and given the inquirer a pretty good knot on the head.

Would I like to write a screenplay? I guess. I'd also like to man a lunar lander or discover a new element. I can't figure out what it is that makes people assume that a 30-second story designed to convince consumers of a deodorant's superiority is a precursor to 100 pages designed to convince you of the indomitability of the human spirit.

Yes, I know it seems like I'm being touchy about this. And that the question might somehow be intended to be flattering. It's just that screenplay writing isn't part of most creatives' training or backgrounds, any more than a gardener has the qualifications to engineer wheat. And while some in my shoes have had success making the leap to the big screen, in my experience, the percentages are no greater than in any other industry.

There's no shame in this. Those that seek more supposedly glamorous fields have to realize they're going up against legions of trained fictionalists shut up someplace damp and cavelike working feverishly as they eat characterization and breathe plot points. Hey, even F. Scott Fitzgerald left Hollywood with his typewriter ribbon between his legs.

The problem is that the question comes with a set of assumptions, and not all of them nice. For one, it implies not just a level of dissatisfaction, but of dubious qualifications to do our job as creatives. Because from what I've seen, most of the ones that leave the business weren't always that heralded in it in the first place. This makes sense: The less advertising is your niche, the more likely you're going to give it everything to get out.

So it's no surprise that the ones who succeed in our industry are the ones that are focused most intently on this business. You don't hear of many top guys taking their talents to Pixar. Even those of us who find their way behind a camera start by directing their own spots, which implies a pretty high level of commitment to their day job, if only because it means you're actually selling spots. More likely, this business is a self-fulfilling spiral: the more you're into it, the more success you have, the more you're into it.

Most of us are in advertising because we like to solve problems, we like to do it creatively, and hopefully, we're marginally good at it. (At least better than our Hollywood "counterparts.") When we do it in a way that is elegant, that hasn't been seen before, that's where our hit comes from. Heck, I suspect if a sure-hit screenplay fell on me from the sky, I might still come back to freelance every now and then.

So to answer this question once and for all: Are creatives frustrated screenwriters, novelists and artists? Possibly. But only in the same way that everyone out there is a frustrated something else. So when you ask, don't think you're flattering us. Not because it doesn't suggest an inherent talent most would dream of realizing, but because it implies we don't have the desire to be where we are at this moment, to do our best wherever we are.

Creatives, have your projects. Maybe they'll take you to that romantic bungalow in the Hills, taking meetings with the immortals. But until that novella is published, buckle down. Eat consumer data and breathe arguments for and against social media. The better we get at arguing our case to clients, the better work you'll sell, the more glamorous our business will become.

And for the rest of you, I bet now you're more curious than ever to ask one of us if we've ever written a screenplay. But before you pose the "why aren't you married yet" of the creative world, just make sure the person you're asking isn't me. Because I'm telling you now: I kind of enjoy what I do. And I happen to wield a pretty mean sock of nickels.

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