How I Got to Madison Avenue. And beyond.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Sunday, April 29, 2012
There are just two problems: one is getting the client to concentrate enough to fill it out and get all the decision-makers to agree on the answers. The other is getting the creative team to stay on strategy.
With just those caveats, today I'm giving away the Visco Creative Strategy Brief.
Feel free to use it, and if you do, I hope you'll let me know the results.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Sunday, April 8, 2012
They say the show must go on, and it did, thanks to Umbrella of Colonie. It happened on the Saturday a week before Christmas Eve – the Saturday of the first fund-raising production of a new community theatre company, the Troy Civic Theatre. And on the coldest day of the year.
I was cast in a pivotal role – the irascible judge who presides at “The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge,” a “sequel” to Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol,” in which the old miser sues his dead partner, Jacob Marley, and the Spirits of Christmas for all the indignities they subjected him to a year before.
As I was preparing to leave the house for a mid-morning call, I noticed that one half of the house was colder than the other. A furnace was not working. I had a half an hour to get to Troy, and no way to get to the furnace, which is in a crawl space under my unusual house. And no handyman skills to fix it, even if I could get to it.
I've been a member of Umbrella of Colonie for a couple of years now, because for a nominal monthly fee based on income, the service is on call for all sorts of services, emergency and otherwise. They screen the people who do the work – painting, cleaning, home and lawn maintenance and repairs of all kinds, provide carbon monoxide detectors, perform a safety check – and regulate the hourly fees for the work. It's a service that helps seniors like me stay in their homes, safe and secure.
I called, left a detailed message about the problem and how to get to the furnace, left the back door open, and got to the theatre on time, and while I was on stage, the workman showed up, sized up the problem, and left his number with the assistant at the theatre.
I called him back when the show was over and the applause died down, and as soon as the parts were available early the next week, the HVAC expert showed up on time, got the furnace working and even saved me money by finding and solving a smaller problem than originally suspected.
So, if you're a senior in the Town of Colonie, and you haven't signed up for the services of Umbrella of Colonie, I have just one question for you: Why the dickens not?
A couple of months ago, I decided to have Umbrella of Colonie recommend others who could get my house in tip-top shape so I could put the house on the market. My judgments of them was the same -- I was very pleased with the painter, window washer, fence menders and pressure-washers they provided.
So the judging didn't stop there, of course. Over the past couple of weeks, many people have come to see and judge my house.
And one was even a judge. A real one.
Sunday, April 1, 2012
Andrea Daley, who created this new exciting project to fill Little Italy with frescoes by local artists, asked me to emcee the ceremony and to describe what living in Little Italy was like in the past. This is part of those remarks. I'm not sure she wanted me to go back this far, but I'll start in the late 1800's.
(Outside of my family stories and experiences, everything else I know about the neighborhood comes from Mike Esposito, who knows all and tells all, and all you have to do is ask him. He's also written a wonderful photo and history book of the area, “Troy's Little Italy,” which you can find at your local bookstore.)
My parents were the youngest children of the Viscos
and the LaPostas –
-- two families that had a lot in common, their patriarchs arriving from Italy just about a generation after our Civil War, which coincided with the long overdue unification of Italy. My grandparents were also two of the original eleven families who helped to establish the “Italian Church,” St. Anthony's.
Antonio and Philomena Visco raised their family in a ramshackle house they owned. It had 4 tiny flats, and was moved in the late 1800's from Williams Street Alley around the corner and up to Liberty Street, between St Mary's & Haverman's Avenues. I can only imagine the teamwork that must have taken, with neighbors pitching in with their muscle, ingenuity and home-made wine.
My father had three brothers and four sisters, and outside of the daily grind of homemaking, working in laundries, foundries, factories, haberdasheries, and local politics, the Visk family, as they came to be known, loved putting on shows in order to raise money for St. Anthony's, and for other local organizations. During World War Two, the beneficiary was the USO. Everyone in the neighborhood was welcome to participate, either in front of or behind the curtain.
When I came along, our property was a four ring circus, full of people playing good-natured practical jokes in a cramped backyard that had a pond, a garden, a boccie court, and a green “banquet hall” built and named by Uncle Jimmy, so the family could gather for communal meals in bad weather. My mother renamed it “The Barracks,” because that's what it looked like, and the name stuck. Uncle Jimmy was not too happy about that. When I say the family gathered in the backyard, I don't just mean blood relatives. I remember neighbors and friends and even Franciscan priests being part of the fun. And not everyone was Italian, either. Italian boys fell in love with Irish girls and they were welcome, as were many friends and neighbors whose families came from all over the world.
As the years went on, some stayed, and some moved away – to other parts of the city, to the suburbs, even to careers in major cities.
But a spirit of family, and support for building a prosperous future stayed with us all. It never died. It grew, it brought some of us back, and it continues to attract people who sense that something special is still alive in Little Italy today. That same cooperation, tolerance and true camaraderie that moved houses and shared entertainment and meals seems to have become part of the buildings, the streets, the very air.
People still move here and stay here because of it. And it's that spirit that brings us together here tonight to start this project. People who were born here, people who feel that their lives are reborn here --- all who want to be – need to be – part of keeping it alive and helping it grow. That's why we need people like Andrea – a bundle of energy and talent that's focused on encouraging the growth of that spirit – one that I believe will live forever in Little Italy, and spread throughout the city – becoming our own renaissance. I hope you'll take a few more minutes to visit this webpage, learn more about the wonderful Bella Vita project and contribute as an artist or a sponsor.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Sunday, March 4, 2012
One friend/client who has worked for a couple of leading tech companies based in the Albany, NY area, and doing business on a world-wide scale, has suggested that I write a book about the changes I've seen in just one lifetime of working in radio and advertising. And I will take on her challenge.
A locally-based artistic couple I know have begun an exciting venture to engage the art world in the world of business, to the benefit of both. Their ideas are taking shape and they've already had successes that have brought them to the attention of major corporations.
That's a long intro to something that may seem completely off the point: A movie made in France by a true auteur in 1948, when I was just a boy.
The movie is “Jour de Fete,” the first full-length feature by Jacques Tati, who is more famous for his tour de force, “Mr. Hulot's Holiday.” Years ago, I managed to find an old vhs copy of the black and white version, and was enthralled.
Like Tati's later work, “Jour de Fete,” or “Festival Day,” or “The Big Day,” has no plot. It's simply a charming recreation of the day that the carnival comes to a rustic town, with spot-on characterizations of the inhabitants, including a technology-obsessed postman, played by the writer/director himself.
It's postwar France, and in the film tent that the carnival brings to town, they're showing a newsreel about the latest advances in mail delivery in the United States. Hilarity ensues.
But the best reason that “Jour de Fete” fits my theme today, is the fact that way back in 1948, Tati filmed the movie two ways – black and white, and color. Unfortunately, he chose a color system that didn't catch on, called ThomsonColor. In fact, it was impractical, if not impossible, to process back then, so Tati released the film in black and white, with a few spots of color, which he himself painstakingly hand-painted, frame by frame, in the same manner that Georges Melies used at the turn of the 20th Century. I imagine that Tati himself must have seen Melies work when he was a boy, and was metaphorically standing on Melies' shoulders. (Scorcese pays homage to Melies in his award-winning recent film, “Hugo.”)
Here's the kicker: A few years ago, it became technologically possible to convert Tati's full color version into reality, and his daughter, Sophie Tatischeff, oversaw it. Here's a teaser.
A Tati fan in Europe has created comparisons between the versions, which you can see here.
And so, yes, it exists today, although not commercially available for those of us on this side of the Atlantic to see. Unless, of course, you know someone with enough tech know-how to find it online, and copy it so that you can see it on your computer. Thank goodness, I do.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
It's Academy Awards night! Hollywood's glamour will be on display for the world to see, Billy Crystal will be back as the star of another dramatic story, the “last minute” rescue of a show when the original choice can't (or won't) go on.
And back here, in New York's Capital District, another story plays out. Not as glamorous, to be sure, but not as dramatic, either.
I make my on-screen debut as an actor! (I call the part, “the man with the book.”)
After a lifetime of being behind the camera, writing, casting, producing and sometimes directing commercials, I got the urge to get in front of the lens, and I managed to get there.
The shoot was on location, in Guilderland, a suburb of Albany, at the home of the man who inspired my character, the grandfather of the writer/director, a brilliant young student named Hunter Dimin. You will hear more from him, I'm sure.
The results are in, and as you will see, Hunter has actually made me look good. Well, not bad.
The project, a 5 minute dramatization of a short story by Isaac Asimov, is now ready to be seen.
Here it is: "Personal Democracy."
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Maybe more fanatic cineastes than me already knew this, but here's how I learned about it.
Went to see “Hugo,” in 3D. (Albany area readers: as of this writing, it's still on the screen at the Spectrum8) A wonderful film, based on the uncategorizable book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” which I then borrowed from the library,
along with a dvd of “Melies The Magician.”
Follow this trail of imagination, and oh, the places you'll go!
You'll discover the world of 19th century automata, which, by the way, is not a place that gives you food for coins. And although the automaton in "Hugo" is fictional, there is a real one, even more intricate, on display at the Franklin Institute, which in fact, inspired the book in the first place. That landing page is here, complete with amazing videos.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
I don't usually do this, but after reading Pete Iorizzo's column in today's Albany Times Union about Pick Boy, and laughing so hard that I came perilously close to a "spit take," I'm turning today's entry over to videos and articles about former area resident Jeff Sutphen, AKA Pick Boy.
Sunday, February 5, 2012
Double Chocolate Bundt Cake
SIMPLE INGREDIENTS: (Best to have all ingredients at room temperature.)
1 package devil's food cake mix
1 package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream (I used no-fat and it worked fine.)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup water
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spray with cooking spray, then lightly flour a 10 inch Bundt pan.
2.In a large bowl, stir together cake mix and pudding mix. Make a well in the center and pour in eggs, sour cream, oil and water. Beat on low speed until blended. Scrape bowl, and beat 4 minutes on medium speed. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared pan.
3.Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.
He bakes.... he scores!
Sunday, January 29, 2012
By the way, Alex is the Osborn in one of advertising's great agencies, Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn, which sounded like a trunk falling downstairs, according to Fred Allen, the irascible comedian from the golden age of radio.
Anyway, Lehrer goes on to cite research that claims to prove that brainstorming really doesn't work.
The problem for me in the article is that all of the research cited has nothing to do with creative advertising.
That got me thinking, sitting here alone incidentally, about whether it works in advertising or not. I'll tell you what I know about the subject, and then let you decide.
My best work, I believe, as a writer and advertising campaign conceptualizer, comes from a particular kind of brainstorming. Not a roomful of people, but just two people. And not just any two people.
Good, even great ads, at least in my experience (which runs continually from 1960 to, hopefully, tomorrow), are the result of collaboration between a specific kind of art director and a specific kind of copywriter.
What are those specifics? Art directors have to be as literate as they are visual, copywriters have to be as visual as they are literate.
The best art directors I've worked with, and I number them at just 3 in a half century, could write headlines that pushed me to top them. Some of them were so good, that I couldn't do better. And sometimes, I would be able to suggest a visual that they couldn't top. And sometimes, when the ad was completed, we couldn't tell who came up with what.
Here are some headlines from some of “my” ads. I dare you to identify whether the art director or the copywriter – or both – wrote them.
For Air France Alpine Ski Package: “Peaks of Perfection.”
For Puerto Rico Industrial Development: “The Industrial Evolution of Puerto Rico.”
For a savings bank: “Money Talks. Save Some Before It Says Goodbye.”
For a manufacturer of teflon-coated industrial products: “We Scoff At H2SO4.”
For a building supply chain: “We Share Your Passion.”
For a line of wine coolers: “Taste it all.”
For a public employee union: “The ♥ Of NY”
Sunday, January 22, 2012
But recently, I've had the urge to be on the other side, and this is a report on what that's like. I didn't do it to find out which is my “best side,” the angle that actors believe shows their facial features off to the best advantage. But I did discover which side that is.
My recent on-camera experiences began just a little over a year ago, when The Albany Times Union Advocate videotaped me recounting my beef with the New York State Canal Corporation. You can see that here.
Naturally, I wondered what it would be like to actually be part of a real video project, so I auditioned for a part in a short film by a student of a cinematographer I've worked with.
It's based on a short story by Isaac Asimov, and my one scene was shot yesterday.
The student told me that my character, a politically-savvy curmudgeon, was based on his grandfather, and in fact, the location shoot took place in his grandfather's kitchen. So I met the man, Lee Distin,
and used his recently published book, “Corporatocracy, A Revolution In Progress,” as my main prop.
I hope you'll read the book, and when the video is finished, that you'll be able to see that, too.
Let me state clearly that after the experience, I have even more respect for people who put up with the demands of the task. Lighting, sound, continuity, position in the frame – all are extremely important. And while you're dealing with all of those tasks simultaneously, you have to act – not as you would on a stage, but for the camera, which is a much different skill-set.
The expression and delivery are critical, and have to be the same in every angle that's shot. I only had a handful of lines, and yet when the young and accomplished director commanded “Action,” I hardly ever delivered everything as written, or even as directed.
Turns out, if he does a blooper reel, I'll be the star of that, because I gave him more screw-ups than good takes.
So, the answer to which is my best side? The one where I'm most comfortable, I'm afraid – behind the camera.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Why the Frisbee? I just read that a convergence of factors, such as the rising wages in China, and the rising demand and price for oil, resulted in Whammo returning half of the manufacture of their flying disc back to the USA.
That's sort of a full circle coming full circle. And being able to write that sentence and still make sense is what I love about American English.
Other full circles to think about for today:
Staging a comeback. Growing up in an extended family of amateur actors, and theatre lovers, I began following in those footsteps that resounded on the boards while I was in high school and college. My career took a turn toward writing behind the scenes, and for 50 years or so, I was an enthusiastic audience, always wondering if I could make it on the other side of the proscenium. Well, I recently found out that the answer is yes. I played a curmudgeonly judge for Troy Civic Theatre in December. Encouraged, I read at two other auditions this past week, and I've been selected to play a curmudgeonly grandfather (typecast?) in a student film based on an Isaac Asimov short story. Shooting tomorrow.
Haven't heard anything from the second audition. Yet.
Theatre comes home. Live entertainment – modern stage plays – did you ever wonder how they came about? Classical theatre declined in Europe and virtually disappeared by the middle of the sixth century, due in large part to the attacks on it by the Christian Church. And yet, theatre's resurgence was itself caused, in no small part, by that very institution! Passion plays and “Miracle Plays” developed out of simple re-creations of New Testament stories and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, until they became more and more elaborate. Gradually, fictitious characters were introduced, symbolizing virtues and vices. And out of this came plays of comedy, tragedy and history. Music, of course, was always part of it all.
And this April, (shameless plug alert) it all comes full circle as the Troy Civic Theatre presents “Godspell,” a delightful musical that is actually based on the gospel of St. Matthew, and is being staged in a church – the Chapel and Cultural Center on Burdett Avenue.
Sunday, January 8, 2012
After playing a featured role in the company's first offering, an enhanced staged reading of "The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge," I became a paid member and offered to help with their marketing and publicity efforts.
I assigned myself the task of observing the first night of auditions for the musical, which, appropriately, will be presented at the Chapel & Cultural Center on Burdett Avenue in Troy, NY, in April.
I'd never been to a musical audition before, despite my years of writing and casting tv commercials for the likes of Quaker State Motor Oil, Curad bandages, Krystal Restaurants, Dairylea products and CSEA.
I'm hoping to expand on the insider's view that I gained into the process, which includes, of course, singing, reading parts and dancing.
Meanwhile, I'll try to keep learning and sharing in this new venture which promises to bring a lot of quality entertainment to the area.