Thursday, May 27, 2010

Portfolio Night 2010. One man’s story of the LA contingent.

There were terrible hours the day before departure. One word was incorrect in a comp. As the copywriter I should have noticed it much earlier, and in fact I had, yet I found it to be too silly to go unnoticed by any art director worth their salt. Still, the mistake was purely mine. It came from my original document. Always proof read! Always!

I had the mistake corrected by one of my own contingent. Then I was off to the printer in a feverish frenzy to get my book together before I had to deal with the vicissitudes of life that an Ad Dad has to endure.

On the morning of Portfolio Night I awoke as usual and dressed my kids. I fed them breakfast and even spent some time in blissful cuddling. Then I drove my son to his pre-kindergarten class. He has gone every Thursday since the beginning of the year, but today was his last class. I would have to be back in an hour and a half for his “graduation” ceremony. I took the time in between to go to the bank, and to buy new headphones to enjoy music on my flight to Los Angeles. I wanted to buy new checkered Vans for the occasion since mine were badly worn, but I didn’t have the time. I buy new Vans every year, but I figured I could rely on the idea that my old pair were “vintage” and get a pass on that.

I picked up my wife and we headed to the graduation. My son decided to not cooperate during the ceremony. In fact he had his hands stuffed deeply in his pants the entire time. I decided to not be unduly embarrassed. At the end of it we all went to a small concert given by a children’s performer. Then we raced home so I could make my final preparations for my flight to LA.

The flight went well. I saw many mountains and other interesting geological features from above. When we landed I turned on my phone and found out from a message that I had left my sons diploma at the school. I felt like a complete ass.

I left the airport with my bag strapped to my shoulder. I never check luggage. I walked outside and asked the first person I saw with and official badge which way Sepulveda Boulevard was. I should have printed a map. Or I should have taken a cab, but I thought I could get to the ad agency by walking. It was close. Real close. But my mistake was applying logic. I assumed Supulveda North would be north of Sepulveda regular. A fifteen minute walk and much questioning left me with a different answer. So then I backtracked and found myself growing increasingly late for the event which brought me to LA in the first place. I walked back to where I had been and then even farther. Suddenly I was confronted with a tunnel. A traffic tunnel. A car tunnel. An evil tunnel. I looked for a way around the tunnel but I was fenced in. I was late enough already and with growing anxiety I decided I couldn’t back track another mile. I KNEW my destination was at the end of that tunnel so I decided to go through even though there were clearly marked signs telling me not to.

I walked through that long tunnel with cars and trucks whizzing by. It was not fun. Halfway through it was made worse by the realization that my right arm was covered in a thick black soot. I trudged on. I prayed I would not be stopped by cops, or worse, flattened by an errant vehicle. If I was stopped by authorities I was prepared to play the “aw shucks” yokel card, and get a ride to my destination anyway. Eventually I made it out, and there was the building I needed. I walked inside and I could see people milling about the guard desk. I was too embarrassed in my black arm sooty stage to go forward, so I went toward a restroom. It was locked. Damn! I then proceeded to try to wash off my blackened arm in the drinking fountain. I made an insane mess on the floor. But thankfully I was not seen. I called my friend and was able to take my bags to his car. Then I checked in to the event and was finally able to clean myself of sufficiently in a bathroom. From there on the event went quite well.

The host agency was David and Goliath. They did the KIA ads with the hamsters. I have actually made fun of those ads before, still it was fun to poke around the place and see areas where the creatives do their work. I saw marker comps on the walls, and those primitive drawings reminded me of some of the work I have seen in ad school. It gave me hope for my future. It shows you can take pretty simple ideas and eventually have them produced into effective advertising.

The creative directors who looked at my portfolio had good things to say, and they had lots of constructive criticism. It was worth the trip for that alone. I also met with many young creatives (most way younger than I) like myself and shared stories. It’s fun to look at the work other people are producing, and it gives one an idea about the competition.

The event was well catered. I ate tons of little pork tacos, and drank more than my share of the open bar. Toward the end of the night I met the woman who ran the catering. She is a British ex-pat about my own age with whom I discussed the awesomeness that is Doctor Who.

That night I left with the other two students from Minneapolis. We drove in the rental car provided by my art directors mother toward the hotel room paid for by his grandfather. It’s good to have connections kids. I heartily thank his family for all they did for us during our stay.

The next morning we awoke early so we could tour some ad agencies and to hopefully have another chance to show our books. One thing I was worried about on coming to LA, was that it was going to be hot. I never know how to present myself in the warmer climes. I’m suited to the chill of the Midwest. My style is largely based around the fact that I will be wearing a cardigan. But to my surprise it was a chilly weekend in LA. I was overjoyed at the sudden realization of cardigan weather. It’s like the gods themselves wanted to make my stay comfortable. I should also mention that while I was there I never saw any poor people. Not really. Maybe some of the busboys were poor, I couldn’t tell because they were in uniform. The host agency was upscale. The hotel we stayed in was a mile from the beach in Santa Monica. The other agencies we visited were in good neighbourhoods. My art directors family lived in the Pacific Palisades. Actually to get from our hotel to their house we had to travel through Brentwood. Brentwood for those of you old enough to remember the 90’s, was the place where that football star murdered those people a while back. Later my trip included dining in the Hollywood Hills and being dropped off in Beverly Hills. You may hear on the news that California is bankrupt, but I never saw any indication of anything other than luxury.

Back to the story. The first agency we visited was Saatchi & Saatchi. In LA their main client is Toyota. One of the art directors I was travelling with had an actual job interview there, and we joined in on the tour of the agency. It was a fun place to visit. Part of the tour took us into a video editing room where I made fast friends with one of the employees over his toys. We talked Star Wars in genuine Nerdese until I was forced to continue the tour. Later we found a bunch of creatives in an alcove watching the original Clash of the Titans. They claimed they were doing “research” and I bet they really were. I thought to myself that this is defiantly the line of work for me. Don’t get me wrong, everybody we met also talked of long hours and the pressure to produce amazing work. Still I felt a kinship with those folks.

The next stop was Chiat Day. This agency was truly amazing. It was huge. They had a basketball court in the middle of the place. This is where the iconic 1984 Apple Ad that aired during the Superbowl was created. There were dogs everywhere. We were then taken to a meeting alcove and given the opportunity to show our books to a resident art director and a copywriter. It was kind of scary but still quite worthwhile. I recently saw a movie called Art and Copy. There were many scenes filmed right there in the same place where I showed my book. It’s the kind of place I would give up my cardigan wearing habits to work at.

Afterwards we went to the Pacific Palisades and visited my friend’s family. His grandparents took us out to eat. Then his uncle and cousin took us to a cool bar near the ocean. It was a great end to a productive day.

The next day I met an old friend of mine. She had moved to LA a couple of years ago to be a screenwriter, and then she won an Oscar. It was great to see her. She is preggers, so we got to talk about kids. We also talked about the latest Star Trek, writing, and the possibilities of my band playing in LA. It was great to see her. She took me to lunch at her club. She was afraid they wouldn’t let her in because she was not in fancy clothes, but rather comfortable pregnant clothes. I looked down at myself and noted my crusty old checkered Vans, my camouflage pants, my Han Solo t-shirt, and my well worn green argyle cardigan. I was worried I didn’t look right either and she laughed and said everyone would probably think I was a producer. I’m not sure where she took me, but it was a rooftop café snuggled within the Hollywood Hills. I would have been happy going to In and Out Burger, but this place was really amazing. The waiter treated me like royalty and I ordered every cocktail recommended. I was far away from my responsibilities so I was very elated to enjoy the moment to the fullest. Then she drove me to Beverly Hills where I was to meet up with the rest of my party. She felt guilty dropping me off half drunk in the middle of LA, but I assured her that Beverly Hills was probably the safest place to drop a half drunk person off. But I made her drop me off near a bar.

At the bar I learned my friends were trapped downtown on a shopping excursion. I drank a beer and decided that I didn’t care to play tourist in Beverly Hills. I asked the bartender how to get to Santa Monica, and she told me there was a bus just outside the bar that would get me there. Then she gave me the exact change for the fare. So within an hour of being in an exclusive club in the Hills with an academy award winner, I found myself on a bus heading towards the Santa Monica pier. The culture shock was palpable. The people on the bus were regular folks, workers, families, tourists on a shoestring, etc. Every ad on the bus seemed to be in Spanish too, which was okay since I can read Spanish. I arrived at Ocean Boulevard and got off the bus. I walked by street performers and headed to the water. The one downside to cardigan weather is that it really isn’t beach weather. I rolled up my pants and waded in the Pacific Ocean. It’s like a ritual pilgrimage of mine. Whenever I am close to an ocean I have to pay tribute. One time I paid that tribute to the Atlantic in Coney Island in November. That was a cold ocean.

That night our group went back to the pier and rode the Ferris Wheel. Then we headed back to the hotel and slept. The next morning we went to my friends grandparents house. His mother made us breakfast and we squeezed fresh orange juice from which we picked oranges off a tree in their backyard. After breakfast we shopped along Venice Beach. I bought a hat for my son that looks like and Indiana Jones hat. Then we were dropped off at the airport. When I arrived in Minneapolis it was hot. Cardigan weather was over and I took a 55 dollar cab ride home.

Being home was the best part of the trip. Travelling is wonderful, but holding my family is even better. I have never been much of an LA guy. It really hasn’t been a place I wanted to visit too badly, but I really had a great time there, and I want to return. Maybe someday I will work there and then I can feel the ocean breeze under the shade of a palm and have my family with me too. One can only dream. Though I would still miss the winter.


Michael said...

I am not much of a "blog" guy outside of political current events, but this my friend is a legitimately honest and engaging post.

belsum said...

We'll get you some new Vans this weekend.

Gonzo said...

I was pouring sweat. My blood is too thick for Nevada. I've never been able to properly explain myself in this climate.

Superbadfriend said...

I lurves the west coast.