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April 23, 2014
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Ads, hotels and old friends


Living out of a hotel room makes time stand still. After a week, the days really start to blend together. I establish a routine; my computer rests on the desk for emails; I sit on the couch to watch TV and Netflix. Over time a few random personal effects scatter throughout the room.

Upon entry, the room always looks the same, the bed magically remade as if a reset button has been pushed.

I’m working on a commercial in LA for two weeks and the production put me up at the Inn at Marina Del Rey. It’s a nice enough place—breakfast in the morning, pool, big room. I eat takeout and drink wine, bought across the street, out of plastic cups that you have to unwrap. It stains the bottom of them and each day they are replaced and usually unwrapped again.

I’m here cutting a commercial for a big tech company (who for now shall remain nameless) with Henry and Rel. It’s the first time we have worked together since “Catfish,” so it’s been a couple of years. We fall right back into the swing of things; it’s good to be working together again.

We are cutting out of a fancy post house on Abbot Kinney in Venice. It’s basically walking distance from my hotel, but I drive most days since the hours are long. The post house is a pretty sweet spot to work; the edit room makes mine in New York City feel like a closet. There’s an always-stocked fridge and meals show up like magic. If I worked at a place like this all the time I’d gain 50 pounds.

It hasn’t been that long since I’ve worked on a commercial, but the process always surprises me. It’s a totally different vibe than working on a documentary. Commercials are all about getting ideas approved. And the notes you get usually come from people who are not in the room. Not to say that there aren’t a lot of people in the room.

In addition to me, Henry, Rel and an assistant editor, there are three agency creatives that help mold the spot. They have funny ways of saying things. They never use words like “bad” or “I don’t like this,” but instead they say “push on this a little,” “jam on it,” and “that’s not working hard enough for us.”

The original idea—a “rip” they call the video mock ups that they do for the original pitch—had a voiceover in rhyme. This is the spot that Henry and Rel signed on to direct. It was a cute little Seussian kind of poem that had images cut to match. They call this technique see/say and it’s extremely satisfying. Basically, we were to take the rip and replace some clips, shoot some stuff, do some screen capture; simply, make it better.

On the first day of editing, the agency told us that the spot was going to be a song instead, an old fashioned jingle, albeit with a lot of the same images and the see/say images matching the lyrics.

We work on that version for a day or two and then the next morning they kill the song.

Now the idea is to choose a popular song and cut a montage to that. First we were chasing clarity and now we are chasing emotion.

The great song search begins with different companies all doing searches for the perfect song with lyrics that match a feel-good attitude and also a significant build. We listen to options. Henry and Rel, sitting on the couch behind me, shake their heads after a few moments.

The agency loves different versions, and one night we post two different edits with four different song options for a total of eight versions. Eventually, we start focusing on a cool old rock and roll song and we get it working pretty well. The idea changes again the next day.

Reset. Back to the rhyming voiceover. Rel shakes his head and smiles, “I always liked that version.”

The bed remade and the stained plastic cup thrown away. A new one unwrapped in its place.