ART FOR AD'S SAKE

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LAST MONTH NICK COHEN SUGGESTED IN THESE PAGES THAT IF YOU'VE GOT A screenplay in your drawer you can get your ass out the door at his shop. Well, Paul Spencer finds that to be unrealistically cheeky:

EXT. DAY.

Open on STUPID CLIENT with knife in back.

I'm always a little embarrassed to admit I'm working on a screenplay.

Probably because I'm afraid whoever I'm admitting it to will turn around and say "Hey, me too!" We creative types have a neurotic need to feel unique-normalcy is an affliction just too embarrassing to admit to. But let's face it, everyone in the world is working on a script. (I suspect this includes my cleaning woman, as every other Wednesday my Syd Field books reek of Pledge.)

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the creative department of an ad agency, where the concentration of would-be screenwriters is about one in three. (I guess the other two are working on paintings and tone poems.) Which is why it seems to me a little silly to debate whether advertising people should be working on scripts or putting their creative energies entirely into advertising. The fact is they are writing scripts, and they'll continue to do so no matter what any of us write in Creativity or the One Club newsletter. A more apt question is, why aren't they happy just writing ads?

Well, one answer might be that it's hard to stay enthusiastic about advertising when everyday it gets more and more difficult to get anything good produced. This is an old argument, I know, but it's one that we should get used to hearing as agencies get bigger, their clients get bigger and their advertising gets created, not by individuals but by committees whose sole aim is to reach 200 million people and offend not a one of them. Advertising's woes aren't due to a shortage of talent or commitment, as Mad Dog's Nick Cohen argues, but to a shortage of patience.

The irony is that all the things creatives complain about as fucking up advertising are just as surely fucking up Hollywood. Paramount relies as much on the focus group as Procter & Gamble does. Studios routinely shoot different endings for big-budget movies, slapping on the "appropriate" ones after the research results have been tabulated. And if you think clients and account people are a pain in the ass, brother, you ain't never met a Hollywood producer.

But we're not talking about reality here. Or even advertising. We're talking about creative people and how they think and feel. Of course, a desire to write screenplays doesn't necessarily signal a decline in one's interest in advertising. Often it's due simply to a broadening of interests, something that comes with age and maturity. Many of us who used to live, breath, eat, and sleep advertising (a necessary phase of learning the craft) got a life somewhere along the line. As a result, our work (and our lives) gained an added dimension. It's called growing up, and it's not so much about escaping your present situation as it is about expanding your horizons.

The other thing is that most creatives were interested in Hollywood long before they got into advertising. You think we wasted our childhoods sitting in front of the TV set in order to hone our copywriting skills? Finally, advertising people often dream of Hollywood out of a need for new and greater challenges. The pursuit of that illusive "it" causes many of us to search endlessly for greener pastures. (OK, that One Show pencil wasn't it, that D&AD award wasn't it .*.*. Hmm, how about an Oscar?) Whatever "it" is, it's never it. (I guarantee you that if they ever give me an Academy Award, before I even get back to my seat I'll be wondering, Yeah, but what have I done for world hunger?) That mix of arrogance and insecurity can be tiresome, but it's also what makes peo- ple work till midnight on a coupon ad. So if you're a CD, don't get too upset when those guys you put on Tidy Bowl start thinking of things other than sparkling porcelain. It's in the nature of creative people to experiment with the unknown. That's probably why you hired them.

I once proposed to a well-known CD/screenwriter that we start an agency that would produce not ads but film and TV scripts. Our industry is filled with people who are dying to write something-anything -that's longer than 30 seconds. (A motivated work force.) People who are used to making endless revisions for unreasonable clients. (A skilled and motivated work force.) And, best of all, their file cabinets are chock full of first drafts and partially completed scripts. (A skilled and motivated work force with product in the pipeline.) All we've got to do is push them around like their CDs do and they'll crank out polished scripts that we can sell for profit.

Well, this CD took a couple of weeks to think about my proposal, but he ended up turning me down. "I pay my creatives a lot of money so they won't write screenplays," he said.

"I'm sure they appreciate the money," I said. "But what makes you think they've stopped writing screenplays?"

Paul Spencer recently quit his job as creative director at Hill Holliday/New

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