How many ways are there to tell a story? Countless, you’d say. And you are absolutely right. But I’d answer three:
2. Correctly (the worst of all)
3. The way that stays forever (or for a very long time) in others’ memories.
And I’d linger on the third, since the theme here is inspiration.
I envy the capacity of the few mad ones that stick to the same project or work for months, years, sometimes decades (an envy that has turned into inspiration). It might be a painting, a book, a song (did Caetano Veloso write ‘O Quereres’ in one go?) or something more ordinary and temporary like an advertising piece. Unlike many advertising folks, I am nothing else but an advertising person.
I’ve always done this in my life and probably, unless I start playing the lottery (is there a way of winning without playing?), I’ll still be doing it for a long time. I am not temporarily an ad woman, I am an ad woman all the time. What I mean is that I see poetry in our profession. Even in the age of worn-out social experiments, the easier path of true advertising, the big case films that make up for the lack of an idea, the self-referencing syndrome and the self-feeding of what we did in the past, what really counts is a great story that is well told.
Advertising is still about storytelling. And that’s where number three from the list at the beginning is relevant. How can we do it in an unforgettable way? It is almost never the easier way, the first-thought solution. The best idea might even be the first. But the execution entails lots of sweat. And in terms of execution, the details sometimes are even more interesting than the whole. I believe that in all my life I’ve never watched an Oscar ceremony until the end. Usually I fall asleep and find out who won Best Actor or Best Actress the following day. But that doesn’t bother me in the least because what I really like is to watch the technical categories. I love knowing that there are crazy people that spent months just to come up with Bill Turner’s face, knowing who’s behind any Tim Burton’s film’s costume design or the poor soul that adapted classics like War and Peace for the screen (have you thought about that level of responsibility?).
It’s impossible not to admire the Mad Max editor [Margaret Sixel] that had to transform a 480-hour-reel into a two-hour-film
. The woman took three years to finish the project. Not one, not two, but three long years. She used to get up to 20 hours of material to edit a day. She didn’t give up, possibly went a little bonkers, but won an Oscar.
Rumor has it, for instance, that to shoot a banal scene of a handshake between Tom Cruise and his doctor in Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick shot the scene 16 times. Two hours and 16 takes to say “Hello, good evening”. Or 95 takes of the same actor crossing a door. Unnecessary? Absolutely, unless you were Kubrick. It’s also worth remembering that in our profession as well, God is in the details.
Alejandro Iñárritu, for instance, could have not woken a family with his camera. But he would not have got on film the bloated eyes of a child waking up for real in the impeccable P&G film for the Olympics. Advertising productions do not intend to become art, but they almost get there when there is obsessive dedication. Certainly, who is to doubt, inspiration can be anywhere.
It can be in an anecdote you’ve heard recently, in the apparent illogical logic of your child’s mind, in the new flavor of a dish you had never tried before, in the words of a recent lover, in the song you’ve been listening to looping for years or in the one you’ve just discovered.
But for me, inspiration comes from watching the work of others. When they don’t surrender of make concessions to the current tricks and speed of the day. Inspirations, in my opinion, are the Don Quixotes that fight for a good idea. Those that have daily battles with the mediocre grinding machines. Being able to spot the impeccable work of others and feeling jealous is what still pushes me beyond.
Sophie Schonburg is Executive Creative Director at Africa.