After a month-long hiatus that was partly dictated by Cannes 2004, the AAAI's 10-stage creative workshop - The Block - revved back into action on Friday, July 2, with leading ad filmmaker Prasoon Pandey conducting the well-attended seventh session of the workshop. In the course of his three-hour session, the younger of the two famous Pandey brothers dwelt on various aspects of the creative process, including extracting a good brief and selling a script or an idea to the client.
Speaking about the importance of extracting a good brief, Pandey is of the opinion that the human mind is prone to being conditioned into thinking along set patterns, which impedes our ability to think of out-of-the-box solutions. To illustrate his point, he narrated an anecdotal account of a designer who is commissioned to make a path-breaking chair. After weeks of futile effort at making something radically different, the designer realizes that his client's demand for a 'chair' has conditioned his thinking. "The word 'chair' came with a lot of baggage, limiting the designer's thinking," Pandey explained. "He saw that the client wanted him to create something 'amazing to sit on', and this opened up huge possibilities. This is a good example of rethinking and breaking conditioning."
Pandey holds the belief that "unnecessary words contaminate our thinking", which is why he is all for short, one-line briefs. "I am not one for long verbose briefs," he says. "The eight-nine page briefs creatives often get are nothing but sloth and lazy thinking, and they only contaminate your thinking. You have to hone it down to something that is usable, though it's not an easy task." Pandey clarified that he was not advocating a situation where creatives work without adequate information at their disposal. "It's not as if you shouldn't have information related to the brand - you must, but unnecessary information should not get dumped on you. I say let creatives decide whether they need more information to work on or not."
Pandey thinks there is a real need for "inspirational" briefs. "What was the Church's brief to Michelangelo?" he asked, postulating that the request would have been something incredibly simple and unburdened, which helped unlock the artist's creativity. Using examples from his own experiences, Pandey then went on to demonstrate how simple, uncluttered briefs translate into great advertising.
"The Times of India film ('arch') happened when the client and Enterprise Nexus showed me a still from a print ad, photographed by Raghu Rai," he revealed. "They told me they wanted a film along similar lines that captured the crazy things about Mumbai. I think that still was a great brief, and I used it to come up with the series of films on 'a day in the life of India'." Pandey then cited the example of Pidilite Industries. "Fevicol is another great client… their brief to O&M is usually as simple as 'We want one more film for Fevicol.' This is a lovely brief with no baggage, and it puts the onus of producing great work on creatives." Recounting the brief for last year's award-winning Close-up film ('Kya aap Close-up…'), Pandey said, "The people at HLL told us that there really was nothing new to talk about in the product, so aap ek 'happy film' bana do. I think it was a dream brief from Levers."
If getting a good brief is important, selling a good script to the client is equally important. Pandey, however, thinks scripts needn't be sold to clients. "I think the script or story only needs to be told with conviction. You must make the client see the film in his mindscreen exactly as you want it." Sharing some of his thoughts on the subject, Pandey urged creatives not to resort to storyboarding the script for the client's benefit. "Storyboards do great injustice to the film as they cannot share things like a pause or the length of a pause, which can be the soul of a film," he argued. "It is too static a medium and cannot compensate for time and space." Citing his films for Nokia ('mother'), 8PM ('border'), BPL Mobile ('escape') and the Times of India ('arch' and 'paper pusher'), Pandey pointed out that none of these films would have worked as storyboards for the client. "The client will ask for a storyboard, but don't show it to him. A score sheet is only for the benefit of musicians who are playing, not for the listeners."
The filmmaker also pointed out that honesty, conviction and passion can help win the client's confidence, allowing the creative team to even backtrack at the last minute. Citing the first 'Lagey raho' film for Alpenliebe Lollipop, Pandey narrated how he and the agency (rmg david) went to the client hours before the PPM and sold the new film in place of an approved and researched script.
Of course, when all else fails, a well-directed gimmick could do the trick. "Even when the client is really stubborn and fails to see reason, your job is to make a good film," said Pandey. Demonstrating his point, Pandey then related an anecdote where he was up against a multinational client who wanted a meaningless change to be made at the end of a commercial. After much debate, it emerged that while the Indian executives could see the illogic of the change they wanted, they were helpless, as their South-East Asia head wanted the change made anyway - never mind the fact that they knew he was wrong.
"When I saw I wasn't getting my way, I told them that I would call my mother for advice," Pandey recalls with a smile. "I dialed a number and explained the problem to my mother. I then asked her if I should make the film, and then I told the client that my mother had told me to junk it. The client was astonished, but I had made my point," he grins. Needless to say, the film was shot and aired without the change. However, the bottomline, according to Pandey, is that clients will bite in "if you are convinced and honest about things".
But even honesty has to end sometimes, "Be honest to begin with, but remember you have a job to do, so when you've got to cheat, you've got to cheat for the brand," he said. He then cited an instance from his copywriting days at Lintas where he used underhand tactics to get his way for the greater good of advertising and Fair & Lovely, the brand in question. The incident, interestingly, also involved destined-to-be Miss World Aishwarya Rai, and the result of the trickery was the celebrated south India-centric Fair & Lovely film directed by Rajiv Menon.
Pandey also shared his thoughts on the importance of casting for films. "Good casting happens when you are able to find a face that has a story to tell, and it's a story that your character needs," he said. "I don't look at whether I like a face or not. All that is important to me is whether the face fits into the story." Explaining that every client likes his or her protagonists to have nice-looking faces, Pandey then went on to show how good casting - and not nice faces - had a lot to do with good advertising. He used the 'barber' film for Center Shock, the 'Sunil babu' ad for Asian Paints ("here, the neighbour needed to be a fantastic actor") and the 'morning walk' commercial for Pfizer to make his point.
Funnily enough, Pandey is of the opinion that creatives in agencies don't need to have knowledge of film to write great scripts. "Your first job is to write great stories - the script is only the second stage," he insists. "The advantage of not knowing too much about film is that you are free to express your ideas and vision. You can create magical stories without being pulled down by the technical handicaps of execution. The trick is to write good stories, not scripts."
The filmmaker is also loath to make a distinction between advertising for awards and advertising for sales - for the simple reason that he doesn't think advertising can, by itself, translate into sales. "When someone says adverting for sales, he is either dumb, or is taking himself too seriously," says Pandey. "Advertising is just one spoke in the wheel, and it is only when a whole lot of things come together that sales happen." His definition of the role of advertising: "Leaving an impression that lasts beyond the airing time."
It comes as no surprise then that Pandey is a strong believer in creating entertaining advertising. "I like entertaining and surprising people, as that increases my chances of them remembering my advertising." His other likes include respecting the intelligence of the audience ("I like leaving blank spaces for the viewer to discover and fill"), layering his films ("you must give the viewer a chance to discover something new every time"), great music ("I've had the good fortune of working with great music directors, and I give them a free run") and trying out new ideas ("sometime too new for clients, so the films get bounced").
What he doesn't like is "spoon feeding the viewer", and overanalyzing himself and his work. "I am an intuitive filmmaker and storyteller," he says. "I respond to my gut, so I don't have very many theories to share." What he does have to share are anecdotes, and some very good films on his reel. Those of which he chose to part with last Friday were lapped up by an appreciative audience.
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