Saturday, April 17, 2010

Day 9: This Shirt Is Not For Sale

Friends of The Hungry Screenwriter know that my other great passion in life is football (soccer)/ the jogo benito (the beautiful game) and today I would like to weave a little tale around the mighty Spanish football club of Barcelona.

For the unfamiliar or great unwashed of you, Barça, play in a deep red and navy blue, broad-striped shirt, are the pride of Catalonia and the envy of the footballing world. Everything that comes to mind about this fabulous city (boasts he, having never been there) off the pitch, is reflected in their spirit, style and flair on the pitch. But it's for another reason that I draw Barça to your attention today.

Up until 2006, that red and blue shirt of theirs never boasted the branding of a sponsor; no paid-for advertisement by an IT company, beer manufacturer or mobile phone carrier. Why? Simple, my friends: the great Barcelona shirt was not for sale. Now, I don't know about you, but when I learnt this, some years ago, it was just about one of the most refreshing things that I'd ever heard in my life, suddenly the day and my existence took on a new, refreshing meaning. I mean, even the part-timers running around after a ball down the park on a Sunday morning are sponsored by some local electrical firm or taxi company (not that I'm saying they shouldn't be). Barça now impressed me as much in the business of football as they did in the actual football itself.

But wait, there's more. In 2006, Barça finally gave in and added a logo to the front of their shirt: UNICEF (the United Nations Children's Fund), but the only money that exchanged hands was the Club's pledge to donate over $1m every year to UNICEF's humanitarian aid as well as the shirt exposure.

I have a checkered history with the world of advertising, in that it didn't work out for me and the five agencies that I worked for: the first one "let me go", as did the second, third and fourth. I left the fifth before they got me. Do you think there was something wrong with the five different agencies or something wrong with me? Whilst you're working that one out, I might add that I learnt plenty of valuable stuff in my time in the world's second oldest profession.

Day #9 Tip: Restriction Provides Freedom
Ogilvy & Mather was one of the original Madison Avenue, old-school, advertising agencies and well-known as a "training hospital" for those entering the industry. I worked at O&M and learnt tons ( I recommend to you, the book Ogilvy On Advertising as a definitive tome). But the jewel I most polish since picking it up in that faraway world was this quote from O&M's founder and forefather David Ogilvy:

"Give me the creative freedom of a tightly-defined brief".

Tell me to go away and write a film and my first response would be to ask you "a film about what?" Whilst I have plenty of ideas of my own, I'm seasoned and salted enough to know that a commission is never just an open slather to write anything I want. You, the patron commissioning me might say "oh, I dunno...what about a love story?" And I would then ask "what sort of love story? A romantic comedy, period piece, one that ends in tragedy (actually, they all end in tragedy)?" And you, my employer, might say something like "I love those, 18th and 19th century BBC type stories on Sunday nights". Now I have a brief of sorts, I've narrowed my options down and, ironically, at the same time opened my world up. I read Zola, Dickens, Dumas and the like and I've squirreled away one or two favourite little-known gems by those guys that I would kill to adapt. Suddenly I can feel the creative stuff coursing through my veins and I'm ready to go, even as I write this piece to you.

Rules, restrictions, rules-of-the road...they actually free up the imagination and the creative spirit; that's why sport and games are so endlessly popular and why people guard the format of these pastimes so zealously (what are the manufacturers of Scrabble about??!!).

So, if my tips so far (and in the future) appear prescriptive , that's why. I'm following the age-old principles of Aristotle (read the first guide to dramatic writing ever: The Poetics) and leading your horse to drink at the water of a beginning, a middle and an end: three-act structure (maybe five and seven too). That's where we're headed people with our plotting and the Index Cards.

When the location of the 1994 World Cup of football was confirmed to be the USA, all manner of shenanigans were afoot. Football is till a relatively new game to North American and, compared with their traditional sports of gridiron, basketball, ice hockey and baseball, football is a low scoring game (0-0 can be a beautiful spectacle over 90 mins, believe me). The American football federation wanted to change the rules to "sex it up" a little. How about this for one of their ideas: if the game's a tied score at the end of 90 mins (0-0, 1-1, 2-2 or the like) let the two teams play on and each side has a couple of players removed every few minutes until...WOW...there's only one player left on each side on the pitch!!

FIFA (the world governing body) actually thought this idea through, but - thank the footballing God's - decided to stick with the way things have worked best for years and years and years.......just like storytelling.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Via con Dios

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