Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Mirage

Some jobs seem just over the horizon and that is where they will always be – tantalizingly out of reach for a director or production company.

Most directors have worked on concepting some job that seems to be within their grasp. They talk to the label. They might talk to the artist. The re-work the idea based on the input and then – the job goes to someone else. As frustrating as that can be, I am NOT talking about that.

The “mirage” is a job that doesn’t really exist from the very beginning. It looks real, but your eyes are deceiving you. It will never happen and anyone with enough perspective can spot the mirage for the time-vampire it is. Unfortunately, a director eager to get the job, almost always lacks that perspective.

So why do mirages happen?

Make the label happy
The commissioner might know that they have no money in their budget for a video for the mirage job, but if they admit they have no commissioning to do, their job could easily go away. So the commissioner types up the spec sheet and creates a brief for a job that they know will never go anywhere. And this is assuming the commissioner doesn't have ulterior motives.

There is also the “third bid” phenomenon – a phrase stolen from the commercial world. It is telling that ad-types are civilized enough to have three, and only three, bids on any job while us MV-ers run around by the kajillions chasing the same gig. The label might already know what director they want but policy/tradition dictates they have a certain number of directors writing on a job – even though they may already have a contract drawn up with someone else.

Make the artist/manager happy
The artist might want some crazy big concept that requires a huge budget (space ships ain’t cheap) so the label puts out the addled suggestions of the artist to prospective directors. Perhaps, the manager is trying to appease the artist and reassure him of his status, and gets prod cos and directors to bid on the wild concept. Directors try to make it work and come back with an idea and a budget that is more than the label wanted to spend (shocking!). The label tells the artist “sorry’ and they start over with a do-able concept and budget. Now the production company looks like the bad guy and the label can insist that they tried to get Paul Hunter for the job. This kind of mirage might actually end up happening, but never in the state the gig originally goes out in.

Make the director happy
Yes, sometimes your production company will lie to you. If a director wants write on the job for U2 and the label has never heard of the director, the rep just might tell the director to write up a treatment. The label won’t be looking for it and they will probably ignore it like the “Lost” producers ignore all my emails about how they should make the island into a Mortal Combat style fight-off. The prod co wants to keep their directors happy so why not tell them they just missed out to the biggest name directors in the business. (Hint: if you never get to speak to the commissioner, this could be happening to you.)

The tournament
Let’s say the label has money in this quarter/year’s budget for one more video, but they have tracks coming out for three artists. One track could be a pop-diva and another a rapper and the third a hard rock group. The label is not sure which artist they should make the video for so they send out all three tracks to three different groups of directors.

They know only one video is getting made and they want to see which concept can catch their eye and win the tournament. That’s right, a director might be pitching his idea against directors writing on other songs in completely different musical genres. Of course, at the last minute some label president steps in to say that one of the videos is getting made – based on a completely different criteria (he just golfed with the rock band’s lawyer, sorry pop-diva).

The realization
Directors are sending in treatments for this big-time artist and the battle over the budget has begun. It is the third or fourth video off the artist’s CD so it is not a sure thing the job will ever get made, especially if the budget is too high. Director A’s concept is more popular with the folks in the boardroom, but his budget is 50k higher than Director B’s. Now everyone likes A better, but $50k better?

And then the manager demands that they go out to a big name director who everyone knows is probably not available and will definitely come back with an even higher budget number, but the process stalls while everyone waits for the new guy’s treatment. A and B have no idea what the hold up is and they deluge the commissioner with phone calls that she cannot really answer.

During all this, the prod cos working on the budgets discover that the cost of the artist's glam squad and posse travel will be higher than they thought so their budgets climb even higher. Now what about if we bring in a guest rapper and shoot the remix at the same time as the original song? (Wait, there’s a remix?) If we spend a few dollars more, everyone can save money.

Now, after all this tsuris, the label executives have a “life’s too short” moment and they pull the plug and the job goes away. As one quasi-celebrity said “[Why am I] spending tons of money and going through lots of hassle that adds nothing to the underlying product. Can't we shoot near L.A. for a fraction of the money?

The directors (and heads of productions) that worked so hard are left with nothing but the memory of the sand they gnawed on when they dove into that cold pool of “water” that turned out to be just a mirage.

The director swears that “next time” he will not be fooled, but when the new track comes in …

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Really fantastic post. Gondryesque.
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