Alan Parker, the film director, was being interviewed by Arte, the cultural TV channel that plays across all Europe.
He’d started off as a copywriter at CDP.
He was now Sir Alan Parker, the head of The British Film Institute.
He’d won lots of awards when he was Creative Director at CDP.
He’d won many, many more awards as a commercial’s director.
Then he’d made feature films, which were massive critical and box-office successes on both sides of the Atlantic.
He was one of the main influences in transforming British advertising and British cinema.
He was being interviewed by a typically earnest cultural guru.
The interviewer wanted to start by finding out about Alan’s early influences.
He asked him, “What did your father do?”
Alan said, “My dad was a painter.”
Aha, this was clearly the clue to Alan’s creativity.
The interviewer asked “What sort of painter, how did he use the medium of paint?”
Alan said, “He only ever used one colour really.”
The interviewer was impressed.
He said, “Ah, so he was an avante garde artist?”
Alan said, “No, he painted the railings for British Rail.”
That interviewer didn’t know what to say.
He was expecting a long pretentious answer, citing impressive cultural credentials.
He looked puzzled.
There were clearly no cultural influences there.
No reasons why Alan should be better at mass media than anyone else.
So he moved on to another line of questioning.
Delving and looking for reasons why Alan was great.
But I think the interviewer was wrong.
I think he had the answer to what made Alan great right there.
His dad painted the railings for British Rail.
I think that was Alan’s advantage.
He didn’t grow up treating mass-media seriously.
As the be-all and end-all.
For him it was a bit of fun that went on around real life.
But it wasn’t real life.
Painting the railings for British Rail was real life.
Leaving home every morning at 6.00am to start work outdoors, in the cold and the dark.
That was real life.
Advertising, films, music, photography, books, paintings, stage shows.
That was just what you noticed after you’d handled the real stuff.
Nice but not essential.
If it was good you paid attention to it.
But most of it was crap so you didn’t.
That was the advantage Alan had over people who’d been brought up to take mass media too seriously.
They assumed everyone paid attention to everything that was done in those mediums.
They thought the public was watching what was happening in our world like kids with their noses pressed against a toy-shop window.
Alan knew that wasn’t true.
Over 90% of it wasn’t even noticed.
It was wallpaper.
If it wasn’t different, unusual, if it didn’t have impact, it didn’t even get on the radar.
So that became Alan’s brief.
Not ‘how to do it the right way’.
But ‘how to do it so it gets noticed’.
He hadn’t learned the rules that everyone gets taught by reading all the case studies.
The case studies that are written after the event and turned into principles for students to learn.
And what have we learned from studying the case studies?
All we’ve learned is how not to have fun.
To take it all too seriously.
Alan didn’t read the case studies because he was too busy actually doing the work.
He was too busy having fun.
Making ads that he knew would make people in the real world watch and laugh.
And if they laughed, they’d notice it.
And if they laughed and noticed it and remembered it, it had a better chance of working than if they didn’t.
You don’t need years of study and a degree to work that out.
That’s what you learn that in the real world.