Paul Greengrass on making movies

"I don't think this is glamorous. Moviemaking is all about hard work and desire and commitment. Of course you have to have the talent, you know, to start, but in the end it's the will to succeed, as in any walk of life, that really makes the difference." - Paul Greengrass, Director of Captian Phillips

There's something I really enjoy about the bluntness of this statement. I heard it on the radio earlier today and couldn't get it out of my head. Everyone's looking for a silver bullet as long as that silver bullet makes it easier. But there's no easier way. You just have to do the work. Love that.

Secrets of a photography master who went crazy and lit all his work on fire.

I'm posting this entire thing because I liked the entire thing. Because his is the perfect story. Man is a photography star. Burns all his negatives at the height of his career. Finds out he has lung disease. And comes back to photography.

And there is one quote from Duffy early on that hooked me: "I always think of a photograph, if you look at it, you realize that in front of it, in time, there was something not very interesting, that the photograph is absolutely interesting, then a fraction after it's not interesting. There a moment you think what was happening at that very moment?"

From that single I understood more about photography than I ever had before. That's why I'm posting this.

Parody is about the essence, not about the thing.

Few things get me more excited than a well-executed genre parody. Yes it's a weakness but there are worse weaknesses to have. It's just always delightful to see someone get to the essence of something and turn it into something else. 

This probably stretches all the way back to when my parents first introduced me to Mad Magazine and The Onion. Even though I didn't always know the source material they were poking fun at, the humor illuminated something about that material and the world. So even before I'd seen the Godfather I kind of "got" the Godfather. Or got that it was about themes bigger than the mafia. That's always informed my sensibility of what a parody should be about.

This is different from the way some people treat parody today (perhaps they always have, I've just noticed it a lot lately). People will take source material, change the central aspect to the thing they want to talk about, then do a 1:1 copy of the source material but throw their "creative concept" into the middle. And what we get as an audience isn't something new or clever, it's borrowed interest.

This is a long way to go to say that these Toyota ads from COY! Communications in the UK made me happy because they feel like proper parodies. They get at the essence of the big studio title cards on movies (good because they're for Toyota's sponsorship of ITV movies) but they're unique to Toyota. They're also superbly executed. The little details, like the flapping car doors in the first spot, made me really happy. So enjoy these few and see the rest over on the COY! Blog.

Dave Dye offering free advertising seminars any hour of any day.

Dave Dye, one of the UK's finest Art Directors, has started sharing "assorted ephemera from solving problems, creating stuff & making things" on his blog. Ben Kay wrote about this a while back. Stupidly, I ignored his advice and only decided to look give it a look yesterday. 

I was floored.

The blog is a treasure trove of information and great work. It'll make you envious--at least it made me envious--of the places Dave worked and the types of briefs he worked on. There is a tightness to the thinking and the assignments that is so fresh, even though some of the ads are from very long ago. 

Each of the blogs tackle a different project or set of projects he's decided to show off. They all illuminate something different about the process of making very, very brilliant advertising. Things that I'd never experienced (like sending an assignment out to 10 different illustrators). It made me remember how exciting a print ad or billboard can be. That's something that used to happen for me all the time when I was trying to get into advertising. I would sit and read and dissect great ads from the past and feel my blood boil. It was that excitement that got me into advertising and that excitement has been waining for a little while.

For me, this blog has been a great discovery. It's really really wonderful and I think you should read it, too. Especially because nothing on Ad Age or Creativity will be as illuminating about the craft of advertising as any of his posts.

And because it's a blog you don't even have to put on pants to learn. How's that for convenience?


Critisim is sticky. Self doubt is cancer.

Self-doubt is cancer. It hides in the nooks and crannies of your brain and waits. Waits until a moment of calm. Then it rears its head. It represents all your fears. All your doubts. All your dashed dreams. It's your ego shouting at yourself, "You're no good. You'll never be anything. Just give it all up."

The making of Dark Side of the Moon

"It's a very good thing that we couldn't write singles. We may not have done some of the interesting work that we did."

Came across this the other day. I'm, admittedly, not the biggest Pink Floyd fanatic. In fact my knowledge about Dark Side was scant before watching this documentary. It was really enjoyable. Seeing how cultural cornerstones came to be is something that's endlessly fascinating. It seems like just the right amount of things went wrong for them to get it exactly right.

Ferran Adria videos

(This post is part of Ferran Adria week. Don't know what that is? Inform yourself.)

You didn't think I'd leave you without videos, did you? Here's a small selection of some of my favorites about Ferran and El Bulli. One of them is an entire documentary, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, if it gets taken off of youtube you can always watch it on Netflix. 

Also, thanks for reading all week. I hope some fraction of what I got from this book translated to these posts. If not, well, you can still enjoy these videos.

Experimentation and beyond.

(This post is part of Ferran Adria week. Don't know what that is? Inform yourself.)

"Ferran and his creative team--even at the Taller--basically tried everything, however unlikely, not knowing what would work and what wouldn't, or why some things did or didn't. Using intuition and imagination, they discovered new techniques by trial and error, and occasionally sheer luck. "We have never ascribed any scientific origin to our creations which have come about from a purely culinary quest.

One aspect of El Bulli that set them apart from other restaurants of the time was the Taller, their workshop. It was where they developed new concepts and techniques. Not new recipes, necessarily, but new ways of presenting food to diners. 

"First the concept, then the flavor." - Ferran Adria

Oriol Castro, "first comes the concept, like the chassis on a car. then we build on it."

This is almost almost identical to the way people in advertising develop ideas. First the idea, then the execution. The concept informs how the final result should be. I don't know of any other way.

Given El Bulli's approach to discovery it was important to them to know exactly how each product could be used. So in 1990, after purchasing the restaurant from the original owners, Ferran created "The Table of Associations."

"The table of associations: he made one list of all the available products, another of viable cooking techniques, a third of vinaigrettes, a fourth of emulsions, a fifth of herbs and spices, and so on, and from them, the two (Ferran and Head Chef at the time Xavier Sagrista) would try every possible combination of elements." "This process led to a flurry of charts and other lists, in which every element of cuisine was broken down and catalogued, as if there were a culinary genome, a DNA of cuisine."

But even with all this prep (six months of every year were devoted to experimentation), experimentation wasn't the point, it's the means. El Bulli wasn't asking people to admire the technique as much as their visceral and emotional reaction to the dish. It was about the end product, not the means by which it was developed. 

This is a lesson the ad industry could use. Too many ads these days are about the making of, showing how cool or difficult it was do do something. This is an inclination that I understand. It feels very important when you're making something and some people honestly enjoy the behind the scenes stuff. But the people behind the scenes—especially the creatives—are not the point. The product, the message, those are supposed to be the point.

Here is Ferran's brief for discovering/testing new dishes. It struck me how similar it looks to ad briefs. It's all about distillation of information. Narrowing the challenge enough so that a solution presents itself. Their briefs are tight and,  even though they weren't trying to develop a global campaign for a Fortune 500 company, it's a nice way to approach rewriting briefs if you ever have to do that.

Problem: mar i muntanya (sea and mountain, a cornerstone of Catalan cooking)
Idea: caviar and marrow
Definition of dish: marrow with caviar
Gathering of information: Is there something like it already? Has someone already done it?
Analysis of information: how can we make it?
Creativity: How can we combine the elements in the right form?
Materials and technology: What caviar should we use? How and where do we cook the marrow?
Experimentation: testing, trying things out
Final test: Tasting until it gets to the right point
Making it at the restaurant: Finding ways to reproduce what we've created."
There was another aspect that made El Bulli special: all of El Bulli's experiments were a team effort. Even though they had this genius at the front of the room he thought everything was best through a team effort. (But I believe this was an innate trait and not necessarily something that can be enforced on an organization.)

Even in the Taller it was important that everyone could exchange ideas freely without fear of who the boss was or wasn't.

"Every Thursday, "more or less," while he was there, says Kirby [Colin Kirby 2008 stagiare] the stagiares were invited to join in a creativity session. "Ferran would come for thirty or forty-five minutes," he continues, "just playing with ideas. He'd give us two ingredients and the next week everyone was allowed to share their ideas with him, no matter how crazy or irrelevant." Sometimes, an idea would make the cut and end up being incorporated or adapted into the menu."

Note that this only extended to the kitchen. It was not the server's responsibilities to help develop techniques. But there was a certain meritocracy where the idea, not politics or experience, were the most important part of everyone's jobs.

Occasionally, the most important dishes at El Bulli were the worst received. They were new. They were different. They were strange. Out of these, however, came the techniques that would eventually spread across the world. Because they established a precedent and then allowed for success to be built on the failures. One such dish was Smoke Foam (I know, it doesn't sound good to me either.

 "Smoke foam was the dish I have liked least at El Bulli, but it was the most important dish, because it made a gas into a solid. It was a clear expression of Ferran's message: 'Everything is possible.'" - Pau Arenos, cookbook author.

Because this technique led to other, better iterations of a dish it was important enough. Which is a huge luxury not afforded to most restaurants. But if experimentation and pushing boundaries is the goal, which they were at El Bulli, those thing have to be built into the system.

It is important to note that even with all of these experimentations, the chefs at El Bulli were not scientists.

David Weitz, director of Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, "Chefs tend to try something, and if it doesn't work they move on to something else. We keep at it, we try to understand why it doesn't work and figure out a way to make it work. Our whole belief is that if we can understand something we can make it better. Chefs just want to know how to get the results."

Which is also true, I think, of ad creatives and the ad industry as a whole. As much as people try to make creative advertising out to be something that has a formula. Even in the age of  creative technologists, with the added importance of understanding technology, our job is to get something done. It can be extraordinary and the result of experimentations but it it still about getting it done. Not the pursuit. Which puts us closer to chefs, artists, et al, than scientists.

All quotes taken from "Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food."

The quote that changed Ferran's career.

(This post is part of Ferran Adria week. Don't know what that is? Inform yourself.)

"To create means not to copy" - Jacques Maximin

Ferran hadn't realized that he had the right to create until he heard this quote in 1988.  It was inspiring for him to discover that part of the responsibility of a chef to create something new and unexpected. Kitchens at the time were a militaristic environment where you were expected to follow what had been done. With very little variation from tradition.

So it became Ferran's mission to create new experiences in food from that moment on. (Though some people say that you're never really creating something new. Just new combinations. But that seems like splitting hairs to me.)  And he did to great effect.

Applying it to advertising, I like this quote for different reasons. It's a rehashing of the lessons I, thankfully, learned early on. Advertising is not supposed to follow, to repeat the same solution over and over. This is the reason so much work fails when a client says, "give me a nike" or "give me an apple" and the agency agrees. 

The quote is a reminder that moving away from what is being done by everyone else is exactly what we should do for our clients.

El Bulli's famous spherified olives.

All quotes taken from "Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food."

Taste. Understanding, defining, and developing it.

(This post is part of Ferran Adria week. Don't know what that is? Inform yourself.)

Taste means everything in the restaurant and ad worlds. If you have it, great, with a little luck you're on your way to success. Without it, well, whew, you better develop some quickly. How? Well, this could be a pretty good place to start. I'm not saying I have all the answers. But there's worse places to learn from than the best restaurant in the world.


What do you do? that's what this whole part's bout. Forget the buzzwords. Forget making yourself sound special. What is it that you do, exactly? Understanding this is where taste comes from. Because you can't do something if you don't know what it is you're supposed to be doing.

"The job of the cook has always been to change food physically: first to separate it from its natural environment, either himself or through the agency of a forager or farmer or the like--to uproot it, cut it down, pluck it, catch it, slaughter is; then shape it for further attention by peeling it, seeding it, gutting it, cutting it up, discarding its inedible or infectious portions then--and this is as good a definition of "cooking" as any--to alter its molecular structure, either through a process like drying, soaking, salting, smoking, or marinating (or through the actions of induced fermentation), or more commonly, especially in the modern age, through the application of heat; and finally to combine it with other, complimentary, foods and/or to add seasonings or flavorings to render it more palatable."

So the definition of cooking, what it is at its most essential elements, is simple. It's easy to understand and pretty much anyone who has put prepared food in their mouths could understand it.

But when that is interpreted by a master like Ferran. Someone who knows exactly what will work for what piece of food. (Or is willing to put in the time and effort to discover this.)

For advertising this boils down to how we treat different media—TV, print, digital, radio, out of home, et al—and tone—funny, somber, frenetic, et al. Essentially asking the question, "where is this going?" and "what feeling should it give off?" This may sound bland because it is the basics but the basics are important.

Knowing where an ad is running because a great TV ad might not translate all that well to print. (This isn't a problem. It's more about embodying the spirit of an across campaigns. Same way that a comic book movie might change after being adapted from the source material.) Striking the wrong tone, for the wrong reasons is obviously problematic.

Of course, as with Ferran above, advertising in any of these forms—made by the right people, the best people—works because they understand what ideas work where.


Taste is important obviously. (Understatement the century.) Even more important is figuring out how to distinguish good from bad, objectively speaking, and good from bad, subjectively speaking. Learning good and bad on a fundamental level is important because it informs your entire outlook on your work.

This was the theory of one of the original owners of El Bulli, Dr. Shilling. Juli Soler, general manager of the restaurant, said of Dr. Shilling:

"He told me his policy was to send or take the staff to tour restaurants around the continent--not just the ones he wanted to emulate, but also those that did things badly, so that his people could appreciate the difference."

Thankfully, in the world of advertising and today's society, this isn't an expensive task. You don't even need to leave your living room to get a global and local perspective on advertising. The highs and lows of the advertising industry are available on the myriad screens we surround ourselves with. (Though you might have to go online to find the best of it these days. Not just digital but you're not going to be able to see the hot new spot from Shanghai during an ad break on Comedy Central.)

Even if it makes you sick, like it makes me sick, to watch most of the work out there it's important to watch it to learn what not to do. the good stuff will find you, too, but it seems that is getting harder and harder to find. The best way to see really good advertising and really good advertising thinking, is to explore any of the resources that have compiled the best of the past. (And of course surround yourself with great entertainment: who we're truly competing with.)

The ad industry seems to be legendairly bad at this part. I can't tell you the reasons why. There's a lot of people out there who want work, and who want to make work. But so much of it comes out bad. Or bland. And the argument "well it's always been done this way" is like a restaurant saying pulling pre-made patties out of the freezer is the way it's always been done.


It's also about understanding the essential elements. The simplest form of something. Before we can transform it.

Around 1988 Ferran began to eat at a tiny restaurant in Roses (the city that was home to El Bulli) called Rafa. Rafa is, "build around a one-man open kitchen that turns out exquisite fish and shellfish perfectly cooked on a very hot stainless steel griddle with olive oil and salt. Period."

"When he runs out of fish--no--when he runs out of fish he thinks is fresh enough or good enough--he'll close, even if it's in the middle of the Saturday night dinner hour."

"Everything is cooked exactly the same way, and there's no garnish, no sauce, no lemon wedges--and no side dishes." 

It was here that "Ferran discovered that the essence of a product, the purity of the ingredients, is the most important thing."

Purity. Seeing something at its simplest level (like the Labour Isn't Working poster from the UK) gives better understanding to something than any book of theory I've ever read. Because there is nothing to hide behind when things are simple. Once you understand these things, and what you're trying to do, you can start dissecting ideas, adding things, and coming up with something surprising.

Okay, taste. We get it.

So where does this leave us? Does it illuminate something for advertising? It should. And it's important because often times, early on in your career, it's your taste you're being hired for. Your ability to pick out a good and bad idea. And these are skills that only get more important as you go on. While a creative director might not have tastes you agree with this does not mean they are devoid of taste entirely.

All quotes taken from "Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food."