Saturday, December 15, 2007

how not to be a producer

I'm lucky, I guess. Unlike Jane Sample's unfortunate experience, most of the people I work with are team players pretty good at executing whichever piece of the business they're responsible for. (If you're not in advertising you might be startled to hear how many job titles it takes to get out one commercial: not only writer and art director, but planner and creative director and creative director's assistant and management supe and a slew of ae's (account executives) and assistant ae's, traffic coordinator and agency producer and editors and music producer and proofreader (supers) and I'm not counting the services of numerous outside suppliers. (A director, for starters.)

So, I wasn't expecting a young producer I was assigned this week to turn out to be the producer from hell. (OK, not hell. But certainly limbo.) At first, she seemed only mildly distracted, a state I chalked up to multitasking. (Oh, for the days you were assigned to only one client.) She'd sent out a 6 PM email advising of a 9 AM edit session the next day. That wasn't the problem: I was still in the office, so I got the email. The problem was, she had neglected to list the address or phone number of the edit house, a detail I didn't notice until I printed out the email, just before leaving my apartment the next morning. It was annoying to have to take off my coat and search for it on the (slow) home DSL, only to discover that, unbelievably, this big name edit house doesn't have a url. I called 411 (for a hefty $1.49 plus airtime; later, I found out about 1-800-FREE411). Even more annoying was to have to call 411 again because the edit house's first listing (don't you love Verizon) was the number of their (screaming) fax machine.

I wasn't in a great mood when I got to the editor's, but I wasn't pissed off, either--not until the producer sallied in forty five minutes late, having forgotten the storyboards she was supposed to bring. "No prob," she said. "I can get them online." She went out of the room, I thought, in search of a computer, but no, she was only looking for breakfast. Edit houses generally set out meals and/or snacks for their clients and she returned to the room not with the storyboard, but with a bowl brimming with grapenuts and white raisins and bananas she'd taken the time to slice thinly.

"Boards?" I asked. "Hangover," she said. She took the bowl to the computer (there was one in the room!) and what with the alien desktop and browser and missed printer connection (not to mention the simultaneous carb-loading) it took another half hour to get the boards. I didn't chew her out--that wasn't my place; as a freelancer, I don't even show up on the org chart. But when, during a difficult spot in the edit, she began applying eyeliner while staring at the back of her phone , I took over her job, directing the editor, freezing her out of the conversation.

Here's the thing: people in this business might go to great lengths to look like they don't care about the crap they work on. The editor, in fact, wore a blue wig as he worked. But don't let that fool you. It doesn't mean we're not OCD about details. Even when the spot we're working on is shit (which, depressingly these days, happens all too often) there's an unspoken agreement that what we're trying to do is to make the spot as unshitty as possible, to salvage some shred of creative integrity. Otherwise, as Jane muses, we might as well be in a higher-paying profession.

When noon came and the edit house took our orders for lunch (fancy take-out at their expense), the producer-from-limbo ordered two meals instead of one. "Dinner," she grinned. It's like her only previous exposure to the business was watching Truth in Advertising, a spoof that came out during the SAG strike a few years ago. (I'll post it for you.)

Rumor has it the agency is doing massive layoffs in January. I'm mentally aiming a pink slip at her.

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