About a year and a half ago my client said to me, “We want you to do a branding piece for the entire program.”
“I have no idea how to do that,” I said, truthfully.
“Oh yes you do.”
I'd been dreading the moment when I'd actually have to pull this off. This winter, discussions turned to plans. Now, I should let you in on something—I am not necessarily that imaginative. I'm not good at making things up. I react. In my still photography work, I encounter and engage the world, and find the structures and connections that tickle me. My filmmaking has been similarly documentary in structure—I talk to people, I see things. I make something out of what I find.
I am not a studio guy. Studios terrify me. That empty cyc stage is a big blank nothing that I have no idea how to fill.
We had a creative meeting where we batted around ideas. They had a tag line: Keep Learning, which was the main message. The client needed to show the diversity of their offerings. I thought it had to be aspirational, show where you want to go. I had just come off of the UW Holiday video, so that structure was in my head and we thought, well, something like that. Lots of voices. There were a couple of events coming up where I'd have access to a crowd of current and former students.
We ran into my client's boss in the hallway, who wanted to know what we'd come up with. Now, normally I am articulate and composed and witty, even under stress. We both had an idea for what this piece was going to look like now, but neither of us could say anything that didn't sound like mumbly gibberish. “It's going to have voices. Lots of them. Saying things.”
“I understand. You're in the creative mode. You can't articulate it. Good,” she said with way more confidence than I had.
Robin, my wife, the woman who talks to people all day for a living, helped me structure it. Basically, I was going to do a series of lightning interviews, and get a ton of responses. “What do you want to learn next?” she suggested. “What's your dream job?” I answered.
We found a quiet conference area near the auditorium where the resume writing panel was scheduled. The worker bees at the event helped corral and cajole people for the interviews. Once, when the line stayed empty for too long I crashed through the networking room, with a box of treats. “Cupcakes for anyone who will talk to me!”
My assistant put a lav mike on the subject as they sat down. “Thanks so much for doing this,” I'd say. “What's your name?” “What program are you in?” Then, “What's your dream job?” “Now, repeat after me: Keep Learning.” It took about 90 seconds a person. I had hoped for a hundred such interviews. I had about 35.
I thought for sure I didn't have enough to work with, and I'd have to come back again at a future event. I threw everything in Final Cut, started slicing and dicing and organizing the responses and throwing things onto timelines. There was more than enough to work with, it turned out. I was sloppy about lining up clips, and discovered I really liked the overlapping voices. That became the way I ramped up the energy. I made a big, rousing climax of 35 voices all saying “Keep Learning.” I made a rough cut, the client loved the concept, and I refined it from there. They supplied the ending animation, and I farmed out the sound sweetening and SD broadcast conversion (I also produced a 30 second version for TV).
Collaboration, a client who can tolerate my vague and undefined process, and my own faith in the creative mode of the edit bay—this made the piece.