TRUST ME, IT’LL BE FUNNY…

…is one sentence you’ll never hear Funnyman, Director and Twitter-Guru David Schneider say.

 

He came to BMB recently to give us a talk about Comedy, Tweeting, and the time he almost killed Steve Coogan.

It was ruddy brilliant. The only let down (as a planner pointed out afterwards) was that we didn’t nip across the road for a wheel of Neal’s Yard Cheese to wave at his olfactory organ. Because, as it turns out, David Schneider gets at least five ‘SMELL MY CHEESE’S a day.

FIVE! Not just on Twitter but in the REAL WORLD too.

Other interesting facts and tips we learned at Schneider School:

– Alan Partridge was very nearly a DJ in Milton Keynes, until Mr. Iannucci pointed out that this wasn’t quite silly enough. So Alan ended up in Norwich. Now, Schneider’s way of describing when something isn’t quite amusing enough is: ‘It’s a bit Milton Keynes’.  Which makes for a good yardstick whatever you’re writing. Is it a bit pedestrian? Can you push it further? As far as… Norwich?

– When you’re directing an actor, the worst thing you can do is ‘perform’ how you want a line to be read. Then all they’ll do is mimic it. Better to try and get them into the moment, so they get there authentically.

– Even if its a crazy idea, be as REAL with it as possible.

– In the infamous ‘Smell my cheese’ sketch, the fork was so close to Schneider’s face he almost drew blood.

– Schneider once very nearly stabbed Coogan to death. In a manner of speaking. In this scene where he plays Tony Le Mezma,during filming, he accidentally sent one of the knives flying towards him. As if by magic, the knife missed him by a milimetre.

– He’s obsessive about detail. He reckons us advert people are too. That’s one of the reasons he’s keen to direct some more of them.

– His ultimate rule: When you’re directing, always be able to explain your creative choices. Saying them out loud to someone gives you one last chance to check you’re not bullshitting. Never, ever, just say ‘trust me, it’ll be funny.’

After entertaining us with a veritable cheese-board of Alandotes, Prof. Schneider moved on to a crash-course in Hashtaggery:

– In his view, the ‘direct sell’ approach always bombs on twitter. It’s all about being tangential, like these lot. 

– Timing is everything. Being the first to react gives you instant purchase. A mediocre joke pays double if the timing is bang on.

– Twitter is a fertile testing ground for jokes. Tim Vine and Betfair Poker being two of his favourites.

– With the right ghost-tweeter, the dullest of dullard brands can have a personality. Bolts are pretty boring creatures, but there’s something amusingly incongruous about the idea of a bolt being funny isn’t there?

– 98% of Schneider’s Twitter followers think he is Ross off of Friends*.

But it wasn’t until the final lesson at Schneider School that my life-long commitment to not joining Twitter was finally smashed into little pieces.He pointed out the obvious – that 140 characters is a great way of training to be  pithier, punchier and preciser in your writing (never been my strong-point, I won’t lie). And in that sense, he argued, all copywriters worth their salt should be on Twitter.

That was me told. So, I’ve given up being a luddite and started Twittering, as has Nat. See you there over there! Brevity is the soul of wit, and all that.

 

Advertisements

I SAW FIVE RED CARS GO BY, AND I KNEW IT WAS GOING TO BE A SUPER GOOD PLAY


Last Summer I saw The Curious Incident of the dog in the night-time at The National. It was utterly incredible.

(Disclaimer: There are a LOT of superlatives in this blog. The word Super alone gets over four thousand mentions).

I was going to rave on and on about the show when I saw it, but since it was only on for another day, that would’ve been inconsiderate. But now it’s coming to the West End and there’s a chance you can all go and see it, I am going to bang on about it to my heart’s content.

Now, the book is astounding, OBVIOUSLY, but the play brings it to life in ways I never thought possible. And with the Warhorse dreamteam of Marianne Elliot and Luke Treadaway it is hardly surprising.

But aside from the exceptional direction and acting, what really stood out for me were the projections, the lighting, the music and sound design. You are literally transported to the chaos and hubbub of Paddington station, and the mental torment in Christopher’s mind. Oh and the ending – the ending is SO wonderful we actually cried.

Suffice to say – when the show opens on the West End on 1st March, I recommend going to see it, for what will definitely be a super good evening.

Anyway, I couldn’t do a blog about this without quickly mentioning why this story is so close to my heart. In what I refer to sometimes as The Dark Ages* (life before I met Nat), I worked as in-house Creative/copywriter for Random House Publishers. One of my first and best briefs was to launch of the paperback of ‘Curious Incident’.

If you’ve read the book, you’ll know that the book’s hero, 15 year old Christopher Boone, has a very unique way of seeing the world – one aspect of which is that, if he sees five red cars go by, he decides it will be a super good day. (Yellow cars, by contrast, mean the opposite.) You’ll also remember that in the book, the illustrations look just like little VW Beetles.

So I had a slightly mental idea to turn central London into a Super Good Day. It was a logistical nightmare and my boss told me I was indeed mad. But through the medium of a really quite cheeky six page letter, I somehow persuaded Volkswagen it would be a good idea to lend us ten red beetles. We then got them decked out with book-jacket livery and Curious flags, filled them with a team of thirty Random House employees, Walkie Talkies etc. We then drove round London in convoys of five for the whole day, handing out flyers and books to startled passers by. I nearly died from the organisation and planning, but the result was an awful lot of curious fun on April Fool’s Day 2004…

This was in the olden days – you know, before people documented things online like it was going out of fashion, and the only way to write about things was in a newspaper (see above). Luckily a friend nearly killed himself by following on a motorbike the whole way and filming it, and made a short film of it here! And a longer (slightly shaky) one here

But back to the play – my only quibble was that it gives no mention of the super good day/counting cars thing, which was an aspect of the book that I really loved. Perhaps they’ll rectify that in the West End version… Either way, if anyone can tell me just how many superlatives there are in this blog, I have ONE SPARE COPY TO GIVE AWAY of the novel.

 

* Actually that’s a lie, I just thought of it now. And they really weren’t dark days, I loved it there! I was just craving being in a creative team. Incidentally, it is mine and Nat’s five year anniversary this week. Happy Anniversary, Honey Pie Chops.

 

MAYBE WE SHOULD ALL HAVE BEEN THERE THEN

Last week Andrew Cracknell took all of us here at BMB to New York and back.

Well, 1960s New York to be precise, with a very inspiring talk about his book The Real Mad Men.

His yellow cab took us through New York’s cultural history since the fifities – from the changing relationship between art directors and copywriters, to the ads that changed the world – from Think Small to ‘Chick’.

Overall, the message he impressed on half the agency was this: just because Mad Men is about events fifty years ago, its lessons – persuasion, power of narrative, simplicity, creative responsibility – are just important today, if not more so.

If you’ve not read the book already, it’s a wonderful read which takes you back to the alleged ‘golden age’ of advertising. I have to confess that we read it a year ago and have been meaning to write about it ever since – oops – sorry Andrew! I do remember very much liking his sentimental scribble in the front of my copy though – the words, ‘Maybe we should all have been there then’. Which in fairness, probably rings true more for the blokes among us than for Nat and I – who would have no doubt ended up as overweight housewives or bored secretaries.

Incidentally, Andrew is mad keen to do his talk again, and is currently available for agency lunchtime lectures, weddings and barmitzvahs, as they say.