Monday, November 13, 2006

Two Rabbits

Can you hunt two at once?

This weekend a friend from advertising who has also been creating his own music wrote me with a question. It's one that's been around a bit in a variety of forms (see Laura Axelrod's Gasp!), but I thought was particularly well put.

And, as someone who has written for advertising, theatre, film and more, I thought it very ap-pro-po for this blog - a kind of record of a copywritin' playwright trying to swim in waters that are decidedly different for him. (And maybe even foolish as the previous Post suggests.)

Here it is, a bit excerpted but generally in tact.



So, my friend, I don't know what you did to deserve this but I am very interested in your answer to a question.

I just heard a fascinating comment. From all things, a script for CSI - the TV world you are trying to break in to.

It said "If you chase two rabbits you end up losing them both."

You and I are friends, I think, because we have in common the fact that we are chasing two rabbits.

With you it's script-writing - whether for TV, film or the stage is of no importance. With me, it's writing also. Definitely songs and maybe things I've never even attempted yet.

But we both have the other rabbit. Advertising.

By chasing both do we lose both?

Let me know what you think.


ps I know paying the bills is important. But as Leonard Cohen once said "I never wanted to work for pay but I want to be paid for my work."

Here was my answer:


Interesting question. Especially since a lot of times the right answer is the one that sounds the best in a given a moment.

Also makes me want to say a lot of smart sounding things like, if I made art with a gun it would be as simple as hunting rabbit. etc. etc.

Certainly, there are a lot of ad people who'd say that hunting two is bad. Nick Cohen of Mad Dogs & Englishmen really frowned on the writers and art directors who had "hobbies".

On the other hand, David Ogilvy thought creatives without outside interests were boring.

I've never really thought I was ever pursuing two rabbits though. I've always wanted to entertain and engage people by using language as a starting point for creation.

I've done it in advertising. I've done it in theatre. Now I'm trying to do it in other forms.

That said, when I'm hired to do one of those things, I pretty much am devoted to it until the project is over. I found this to be true the last two years I was in advertising: I could never really leave the office at the office. Yet the training and experience I have in other forms always helps inform the answers I come up with in whatever form I'm working in - which is to say sometimes thinking outside of the box really means to get outside of the box.

Anyway, there are plenty of examples of writers and artists who did more than one thing with their talents - often doing something to make money during the day while doing something completely different at night.

Joseph Heller, Bernard Malamud, Ted Bell and James Patterson were all copywriters for a while. Wallace Stevens worked at an insurance company. Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol worked in the commercial arts before going on to pop greatness. Many teach.

And there are currently lots of directors who cross freely from commercial forms to theatrical release forms; and writers who move between screenplays and theatre and television.

Of course, there are purists out there - and some may have been successful enough early on to go on being purists throughout their life. I'm somewhat glad to say, I'm just not one of them.


I'm sure there are plenty of purists out there who disagree.


Tim said...

Did you notice that Rob Kendt quotes Joan Didion today on this very thing, although from an artistic slant:


Malachy Walsh said...

Thanks man.

For me, Didion is only right if one thinks that there is no such thing as character, or plot, or story.

However, there are differences. Time usually can't happen the same way in the two forms. And there are certain kinds of intimacies a play can get away with - because you can look away - that a movie can't.

Which isn't to say that a movie can't be intimate. It just has to do it differently.

Anonymous said...

Saw Didion's comments. Her opinion is paramount to saying that French and English have nothing in common because the sounds they use to identify objects are different.

Malachy Walsh said...

To anon - great comparison. Latin taught me a lot about almost every language. And certainly I used what I knew in English to help me with Latin.

I wonder if, because Latin is the dead language that it would be like theatre. Making english and whatnot the more popular forms....

As in:

Latin is to Englsh as Theatre is to Film.

J.D. said...

As you may know, Chekhov wrote, "Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress." He had to make a liviing, too.

More and more I feel we overthink our lives. That the worry over rabbits, or the dilution of energies, perhaps, comes more from the thought we are not making a living with what we want to make it at: tv, film, etc. I try to keep my priorities simple: shelter, food, writing. And I no longer confuse that witih poverty liviing.


Malachy Walsh said...