Prasoon Joshi turns spotlight on films at AAAI creative workshop

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Last updated : April 19, 2004
The second session of the AAAI's creative workshop, The Block, had Prasoon Joshi discussing the various elements of ideation in the art of ad filmmaking

The second session of The Block - the 10-stage creative workshop being organized by the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) - was held on the evening of Friday, April 16, with Prasoon Joshi, national creative director & executive vice-president, McCann-Erickson India, taking the gathering of young advertising minds through a three-hour session that explored the various elements of ideation in the art of ad filmmaking.

Explaining his reasons for choosing ad films as the topic for discussion, Joshi said that creativity, per se, is not something that can be taught or understood in the course of a session. "I won't focus on things like how to arrive at an advertising idea or any such thing," he said. "There is no formula to it, and there is no way of knowing how and where an idea will come from. You don't find ideas - ideas choose you." Joshi, instead, chose to dwell on advertising films because he feels young writers and art directors aren't putting enough effort into crafting good advertising scripts and executions, and seeing their films through. "Young people come to me with their portfolios full of print work, but there's very little in film," he says. "Film is one of the most powerful mediums today, so why isn't there enough stuff on films? In advertising, the writer or conceptualizer of the film has a lot of say in the final product and is the captain of the ship, so it is important for you to give your best."

To begin with, Joshi expressed the opinion that to create good films, one needs to borrow from life. "Films can't be recycled into films," he argued. "You cannot be inspired from the same art form alone, or you will end up doing the same things you derived your inspiration from, which will make you repetitive. Advertising shouldn't be your only source of inspiration. Borrow from larger sources such as life or literature."

While writing an ad script, getting an unusual plot or setting is a key to getting noticed. "Try and see things differently, and focus on something people are not likely to have seen or thought of before," he urged. Taking the example of award-winning ads for Johnnie Walker ('first step'), Saturn and Nike ('chicken'), Joshi demonstrated how unusual settings and plots get the viewer hooked. "The treatment of the plot or setting has to be unusual if the plot or setting, by itself, isn't interesting," added, citing the commercials for Budweiser Light ('dinner') and Zazoo condoms ('supermarket') as examples of usual settings being handled well.

Joshi is also of the opinion that advertising - both here and globally - has not explored the power of the spoken word. "Even the most inane conversations can be crafted to great effect," says Joshi, adding that ads with great dialogues aren't getting written often enough these days. Taking examples from feature films such as Pulp Fiction, Life Is Beautiful and Dirty Harry (of the rattlesnake-like 'Go ahead, make my day' fame), and commercials such as Seagram's 100 Pipers ('taste buds in your ears') and our own 'Paanch matlab Chhota Coke', Joshi showed how well crafted dialogues can build memorability.

Music is one of the most intrinsic elements in many ad films, but Joshi rues the fact that most writers gladly allow the director and the music director to decide on the background score. "Music can make a vast difference to the film, and Suresh Mullick used to take the pain to fly Louis Banks down to Delhi to discuss the music in a commercial. We don't take that pain, and it shows," Joshi says regretfully. Using examples from ad films for Volkswagen, Nike, MTV, Axe, Hutch ('pug') and HP, he added that music can play the 'hero' or a 'supporting role' in advertising. "Even in features, it's hard to find a scene where the music and the dialogues are memorable at the same time, so nobody has experimented with both dialogues and jingles in ad films. There is an opportunity there," he said as an afterthought.

As we all know, humour in advertising always works. Joshi, however, insists on the crafting of the sequence and the timing of the joke for maximum impact. "Everyone can't tell a great joke - the trick is to know how to start and where to stop," he said. Joshi also believes that the success of a funny commercial depends hugely on the performances. "There has to be a synergy between the writer, the director and the performer." (Joshi separately also egged creatives to demand great performers if the idea they had created called for great performances. "If the film industry can get good performers, why can't we get great performers in advertising?" he beseeched.)

Interestingly, Joshi thinks humour in advertising is becoming too dependent on jokes alone. "Humour need not only be about jokes. It could be about dialogues, situations…" He cited a scene from Jack Nicholson-starrer As Good As It Gets as an example of how the situation lends humour to the scene. He also showed commercials for Fox Sports ('God is a Celtics fan'), MTV and SPY Sparkling Wine ('DJ Aon') to make his point.

"If humour is the social lubricant, emotion builds bonds," Joshi said, speaking on the use of emotion in advertising. He warned that writing emotion-led scripts is extremely difficult, and that the writer can't expect people to feel emotional just because an ad shows emotion. "You have to believe in those emotions yourself, and they have to be real emotions." Speaking of the award-winning Disney film ('couple') that was featured in Cannes a couple of years ago, Joshi said that while the ad only managed winning a silver Lion, "It was the only ad that got a standing ovation on awards night. That's the power of emotions."

He, however, warned that emotional ad films never get exceptional scores in focus groups or research. "It is hard to judge if an emotional ad is working because emotions are internal and personal things that people won't immediately express. Also, emotion, unlike humour, is not an instant icebreaker. It takes time to build a brand through emotional ideas." Using the deeply stirring finale of Robin Williams-starrer Dead Poets Society as a benchmark of emotion, Joshi showed how ads for Disney ('Magic happens'), Nokia, and the Special Olympics to show how advertising can best leverage human emotion.

In conclusion Joshi pointed out that there are some 'universal' things that simply don't work in India. "The way Indians react to the audio-visual medium is very different because India has a very strong oral tradition," he pointed out. "Because we are a strong oral-led country, everything has to be said literally, and the way people react to subtlety can be very disappointing to many creative people. Which is not to say that there is no scope for subtlety in ad films, but you have to keep the cultural nuance in mind." © 2004 agencyfaqs!

First Published : April 19, 2004
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© 2004 agencyfaqs!