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the diary thing 
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03.17.00
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 commercial
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UPDATES HERE HAVE BEEN few and far between lately. I'm not going to make any excuses -- it's my diary, and I'll be as lax as I wanna be -- but I do occasionally feel guilty about the long gaps between entries. Perhaps its the change of season, or perhaps I'm just on the ascendant curve of a moodswing, but it seems that I've had to pay too much attention to my life lately to actually write about it. 

It's not like a lot's been happening -- work, sleep, work, play (small), work, sleep -- and my usual winter hibernation has made everything seem rather...interior. So, rather than wait for something to really happen to me, I might as well indulge in some navel-gazing for an entry or two. If you can't stand it, just sit tight -- impending events seem to insure that I'll be getting out and about more in the next little while. And the wedding watch might conspire to shake things up soon enough. 

So fasten your seatbelts and prepare for a journey into the mind of Rick. 

RECEIVED AN E-MAIL FROM A READER that began, rather stingingly:
 

"I've been following your on-line journal for a while, and I must say I find it depressing and mean-spirited."

...which is a not unreasonable reaction to my last entry, I suppose. Still, I wrote back rather defensively, and received an apologetic reply, allowing that I might be mean-spirited, but probably not mean. In any case, I was hardly reacting to the lovely weather with a fresh, grateful mind. Touché.

In any case, it snowed a day or two later, and temperatures plunged to below zero. Told ya so. (grumble, grumble)

Still, I was forced to mull over the phrase "depressing and mean-spirited". I have to admit that, for long spells of my life I have been depressed. Not suicidal, or depressed in a way that prevented me from functioning -- certainly not depressed enough to require chemical intervention, but blue, down, in a funk, low, in the dumps. I learned to live with it, and became fond of saying that depression was my normal state of mind -- I could live with it, certainly a lot more easily than with the occasional euphoric highs, which inevitably led to disappointment, disillusionment and, yes, more depression.

Mean-spirited? Sure, fair enough. When you've made an accommodation for the inevitable, regular dashing of your fantasy life, you get a little...bitter. Jealous, perhaps, of the obviously successful, whether glimpsed on the street or known personally. When you're constantly broke, it's easy enough to glare menacingly at conspicuous consumers and the vulgar rich -- they're a guilt-free scapegoat. I feel no particular guilt for my spiteful narrative of the rude, nasty dessert-shop harpies. Hell -- I have bigger fish to fry.

FOR YEARS, I USED TO DEMONIZE a certain director who moved in my social circle. While I didn't know him personally, many of my friends did, and we'd mill about at the same parties. He had a reputation for flawless bohemianism, helped, it seemed, by a generous income from commercial direction, the odd gallery show, and several high-profile rock videos. At the mere mention of his name, I'd fly off into a ranting denunciation of this "so-called director" who bought and renovated an old dairy warehouse with money made from shilling tampons, or car parts, or kleenex or whatever. He walked the walk and talked the talk and, in a city that respects money more than anything else, was able to convince everyone that he was an "artist". Of course he's an artist, Toronto logic dictated -- he owns real estate!

After years of consideration, I've decided that the only people I trust less than politicians are artists.

Last year, the hated director finally made a feature film, a "flaccid heist movie" that, as far as I can tell, shared the fate of so many Canadian films -- two weeks of limited domestic release, no foreign screenings outside of the festival circuit, from thence to video. Great, I thought -- from now on he'll be "feature director" whenever he makes the gossip columns. Up here, with one feature under your belt, you can coast for years. I could feel the bile rise in my throat -- only the gratifyingly bad reviews gave me any comfort. Great, I thought -- it's all as bad as I thought. When you feel success constantly elude you, the thought that what passes for "successful" is so obviously a con is real comfort.

You can file the preceeding rant under "Desparate justifications for the terminally bitter". Okay, so he directed a Leonard Cohen video. And owns his own, spectacular, place. Damn -- do you smell sour grapes?


 
"But hushed be every thought that springs / From out the bitterness of things."
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William Wordsworth
- Elegaic Stanzas

 
I hope you think this is funny. I think it's hilarious. You probably won't think it's funny. Alan -- you'll probably think it's funny. Happy St. Patrick's Day.
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mom
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My mom, Agnes McGinnis, in the 40s. We have a lot of these photos; deadly symmetrical, acres of brick and snow and grass and dirt surrounding the subject, top, sides and bottom. My mom was quite the fashion plate -- K. would kill for her outfit. 

FOR YEARS, MY BUDDY PAUL has been telling me that I could make a decent buck directing commercials. His encouragement wasn't exactly flattering: "A chimp could direct a commercial. In fact, a lot of commercial directors aren't as smart as your average chimp. You'd be a great commercial director." Thanks a lot, pal.

I've been spending every weekend for a month or so now directing a music video for my friend Linda. It's pretty low budget -- shot on digital video, no crew, cast with friends and non-union talent, to be edited on an iMac DV. Still, it's been pretty exciting to play director and cameraman, especially since the results have been pretty good. It's been years since I've shot moving pictures, and I have to say that the forgiving nature of video is a real load off my mind, especially after the technical insecurities of 16mm film. Whatever we shoot, I can be certain that I can play with it on the computer, and make something that looks at least as good as most of the music video product out there. For an insecure beginner, the standards of competition in the video world are pretty encouraging.

A few days ago, K. helped me make up the first real resumé of my adult life, to help sell a grant application for the video. Looking it over, Linda and her husband Franc thought it was pretty impressive. A day later, a friend who had been enlisted as an extra for the video gave me a long pep talk, saying that there was nothing stopping me from making the sidestep from photographer to commercial director. He'd had some experience in the commercial world, and thought that I was more than qualified, especially since talent was always in short supply. Besides, the money was excellent.

Get thee behind me, Satan.

THE ONLY THING STOPPING ME from jumping head-first into the commercial world is my fear of assholes and terror at being implicated in the culturally absurd. Well, two things -- until the video is finished, I don't have any product to show. (Still, as my friends have told me over and over, you don't need much of a resume to direct a commerical. Interesting -- and frightening -- thought.) As for the assholes and the absurd, here's a couple of stories that might illustrate my fears:

1. A couple of years ago, my buddy Paul was shooting a commercial for a vacuum cleaner. The concept was cartoonishly simple -- the vacuum is so powerful that it'll suck dirt from your downstairs neighbour's floor. To illustrate the point, a set was built with a raised floor, so the camera could pan down through the carpet and the floorboards, through to the ceiling of the downstairs neighbour. A further continuation of the pan down to the neighbour's floor would be joined to the shot digitally.

The client showed up en masse -- marketing directors and V.P.s and consultants...and a midget. Paul was unsure of the midget's role in the whole business until the set was prepped for the big shot, where the vacuum rolls over the filthy carpet, and the camera starts its pan downward. The set dressers had finished their work, spreading a generous coating of lint and cat hair and dirt on the shag carpet, when suddenly the midget burst from the crowd of suits and, without bending down, got eyeball-level with the raised floor of the set. After an intense moment of scrutiny, he turned to the clients and crew and said, enthusiasticlly:

"Good dirt. Great dirt."

It was all Paul could do not to burst into hysterical laughter.

2. A few years previous, Paul's dad, also a cinematographer, was directing a low-budget commercial for a small-time, local client. There seems to be some kind of rule that, the smaller the client, the bigger the pain in the ass.

Every time Ivan did something on set, asking for a light to be moved, or re-positioning the camera, the client, would come tearing over to him, past the producers, and demand to know what he was doing. He would answer the client with a technical run-down of the shot, which probably mystified the client as much as it placated him. This went on most of the day until, inevitably, Ivan snapped.

With a few shots left to go, Ivan turned to a grip and asked him to move a potted plant at the corner of the scene. The client burst across the set and, in a voice mixed with outrage and pleading, bawled:

"How can you do that?! I mean, who do you think you are?! What are you -- how can you do that?!"

Ivan turned to him and, surveyed him through hooded eyes and, in a deep, Hungarian accent, said:

"Because I have an enormous cock."

The client deflated like a spent condom.

I HAVE, SEVERAL TIMES, BEEN LESS THAN diplomatic with clients. I once called the art director of one of this country's only fashion magazines an idiot. I made another -- a man -- cry, while I demanded overdue payment. When an editor from Harper's Bazaar asked me, in a plummy British accent, if I'd ever heard of the magazine, I answered in a voice dripping with sarcasm: "Sorry, ma'am -- we only get the huntin' and fishin' magazines up here in Canada." She laughed. I cringed.

I'd like to think that I don't suffer fools gladly. In all probability, I'm just a poor p.r. representative for myself. I'm sure that I probably need an agent of some sort, to protect me from myself.

So would I be able to flourish in the witless world of commercials? If I can just keep the paycheque foremost in my mind, maybe I can sit and smile in the face of the worst imbecility. Even the dimmest, most cliche-spouting corporate v.p. can be suffered if I'm sure that the paycheque I'll be getting is the better part of a down-payment on a house. 

"Great idea, Ted. This tampon commercial definitely needs more leaping, dancing women. I'd never have thought of that."

I AM NOT A MEAN-SPIRITED, BITTER PERSON. I only play one in this diary.

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photos and writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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