Ambivalence

I just turned down some paid work and I have no idea how I feel about it.

A few days ago I got an email about doing some corporate training videos: would I be interested?

Probably.

I already write corporate stuff for a friend’s company. He pays me, which is great, but I mainly do it because I like working with him. This isn’t an area I particularly want to get into, I like writing because I like telling stories (lying); but hey, it’s writing and it’s paid so why not?

Today I got the brief for the work and I realised I just can’t do it, for several reasons:

  1. I can’t get through the brief without falling asleep.
  2. Every time I read phrases like ‘Unique Selling Point’ or ‘Cadence of Commoditisation’, I want to punch people.
  3. I don’t find this stuff interesting, how can I make it interesting to anyone else?
  4. And this one shames me the most, I don’t understand a fucking word of it.

I really, really don’t understand business-speak. I just don’t get it and that makes me ashamed and angry. It seems like everyone I know has a degree which is ‘something’ and business studies: physics and business studies, flower arranging and business studies, vampire fiction and business studies – and I have no idea what they’re talking about.

Particularly the vampire fiction and business studies girl. I mean really, vampire fiction? As opposed to vampire fact? Although I do tend to link the word business with vampires so it’s probably quite apposite.

I don’t know if I’m just not clever enough to understand the terminology or if I’ve been listening to too many Bill Hicks CDs, but I just spent a morning staring at pages full of phrases I can’t comprehend and feeling very, very stupid.

When I work for my friend, we have to sit down for hours while he explains what he wants in increasingly smaller words until it finally clicks.

“Oh, you’re saying if you’re nice to people, they’ll buy stuff from you again? And people need a training video to work this out?”

Global brand positioning, B2B marketing strategies, positioning statements – I don’t understand any of it.

And then this key phrase from the brief keeps jumping out at me:

“Each video needs to be stimulating, engaging and informative.”

And I know I’m just not capable of doing the job required.

But that decision pains me. John Cleese did a lot of training videos, if it’s good enough for him it’s good enough for … nope, doesn’t work. I just can’t think of a way to make this information interesting.

So I’ve emailed back and politely declined. It’s very rare I admit I can’t do something. I’m normally stupid enough to have a go anyway and see if I can just muddle through – and to be fair, I usually manage; but in this case I wouldn’t be doing it because of any genuine interest, I’d be doing it because I wanted the money.

I need the money, as always, but it I just don’t think I’ve got the skills to do the job. Plus, there are two potential feature writing gigs on the horizon and if I commit to writing these training videos, I definitely won’t be able to take them on.

They may not happen anyway, but it seems a risk worth taking.

There’s this little voice in my head shouting at me and calling me names for quitting, being a bit shit and passing up an opportunity. Meanwhile, there’s another part of me which is obstinately folding its arms and refusing to budge from what it knows is the right choice.

Both of which have left me feeling a bit … meh.

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Categories: Two steps back | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Ambivalence

  1. Danny-K

    Don’t know if this post will get through – posted a comment on the previous blog about the inadequate treatments handed over to you for you to work on, and I quoted the old management line of, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”.

    – That’s another thing. Anyone know why everybody else’s name is lit up in clickable blue, whilst mine for the past couple of months has been blackballed into a static black font?

    Anyway, presupposing this gets through, I think it’s possible that you love drama/comedy screenwriting so much you fear getting sidetracked into something dry and unappealing. Not all of these corporate videos fit that mould though. Some are 100% out-and-out sketches, (your field of expertise, think: that’s why they may have chosen you). Whilst others are nothing more than glorified instruction/’how-to’ videos.

    Many years ago, mid eighties I think, when I worked in general management, we were all hauled off to training sessions to watch some videos made by a new company called Video Arts, set up and run we were told, by none other than John Cleese, (as you mention). What followed went down a storm with all – the videos consisted of nothing more than a collection of sketches – but tilted towards business settings – good sketches they were, (Cleese’s raison d’entre, yes?) And all done with a good punchline. I can’t remember them now – (such was the impression they made on me?) Save for one where he’d hired James Bollam to play an harassed office manager who in David Brent mode lets his mail pile up and avoids dealing with matters until he’s had a cuppa and generally messing everything up. Chaos ensues with Bollam’s character near to nervous collapse, when Cleese’s voice-over cuts in with a sort of kiddy’s hour supercilious talk-down-to-you voice, “Now, what SHOULD he have done instead? Let’s start the day again and see where he went wrong”, with a startled Bollam responding to his instructions. Basically, he restarts the day by opening all his mail on the same morning it arrives. That was the message. Don’t put things off. You may laugh, but barely a year later, Cleese had sold the company for £5 million pounds! Nice work if you can get it. The new videos under the new management were boring, they wandered away from Cleese’s template of learning through laughter and sketches ie., laughter David Brent style. (See? There’s nothing new under the sun).

    As for management-speak, all industries use it. But be in no doubt, it is the language of the uneducated, attempting to feign intellectual superiority over those who do not possess the key to unlock the secrets of the short-hand code words. You must come across them regularly in the screen writing business – I see them all the time in screenwriting blogs. People using industry words to show they know the game in the hope of being taken seriously – fear in other words. How many successful people have you read of, when explaining what drove them on to success was “the fear of being found out as a fraud”? Don’t we all feel like that from time to time?

    So you don’t understand the lingo – that’s exactly why management speak was invented. It’s not you who is the ignoramus. It’s to keep you out of the inner-circle and from finding out just how easy the job really is and thus getting promoted over your rival.

    If the likes of James Bollam and co. were happy to do these corporate videos, and the biggest names in entertainment and politics don’t hesitate to engage in after dinner speaking engagements at business dinners, then there must be big bucks involved – after all – it’s all tax-deductible as far as the companies who buy these corporate videos are involved.

    I think you shouldn’t dismiss this too readily – because help is at hand – in the shape of none other than the Internet, where all secrets are revealed and nothing stays hidden for long. Just Google any phrases you don’t understand and follow up on the links and there’s your start.

    Take for instance the first ‘trick’ phrase in your blog –

    the “Unique Selling Point” the USP which I always understood to mean:
    “We’re selling it cheaper than Tesco’s yah booh!”

    Google it and you’re informed by Google that it has 2.4 million references mentioning those words – need I go on? You know how to Google don’t you? You just put your lips together and . . . no, I’m wandering now. Anyway open the very first link and it says:

    “Every business should have one “USP”: a Unique Selling Point. This is something which sets your product or service apart from your competitors’ in the eyes and minds of your prospects.” And goes on to say:

    “So, what makes a killer USP?
    It should single you out from the opposition in just a few words.
    It will often have the words ‘the only..’ or ‘no-one else can..’
    It will be a proposal that will appeal to your prospects.”

    Bet you a pound that gives you an inkling of a sketch already. No? Then follow the link to Wiki which explains further:

    ” Some good current examples of products with a clear USP are:
    Head & Shoulders: “You get rid of dandruff”
    Olay: “You get younger-looking skin”
    Red Bull: “You get stimulation of body and mind”
    Ronseal: “You get exactly what it says on the tin”
    Some unique propositions that were pioneers when they were introduced:
    Domino’s Pizza: “You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less — or it’s free.”
    FedEx: “Your package absolutely, positively has to get there overnight”
    M&M’s: “The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand”
    Wonder Bread: “It helps build strong bones 12 ways”
    Retrieved from “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unique_selling_proposition”

    So, (relax I’m finished now), if everything you ‘don’t get’ is actually ‘gettable’ from Google and Wiki, then your main objection/hurdle is removed in one.

    Sketches – your forte; you could specialise in teaching others to learn via laughter. It got John Cleese £5 million for ‘nothing’ more than a bunch of sketches in the eighties.

  2. Holy fuck, that’s a whole lotta words.

    Funnily enough, I’ve never really thought of myself as a sketch writer. I only started writing for The Treason Show and NewsRevue in the first place because of much arm twisting from some friends.

    I only continue because I kind of enjoy it, it’s relatively easy, I get my rants read out to an audience and it pays a little bit; but it always takes a back seat to film work which is my first love.

    The jargon: I understand more than I like to let on, but I don’t like myself for understanding it. I like it even less when I realise I’ve applied most of it to my career so far.

    I guess what it comes down to most is I just don’t want to do it. It doesn’t interest me and the thought of trying to generate interest by being funny doesn’t appeal either. The money comes if my ideas were deemed suitable for production, which means coming up with the basic ideas on spec, with the script paid for. I thought about it for a while, but all my ideas were similar to the VA ones – which I asume are quite dated now.

    Plus there’s those two feature gigs which, if they materialise, will suck up all my time. One of them seems fairly definite, the other relies on the current writer being unreliable – which apparently he is.

    I’m fairly confident I’ve made the right decision, and I’ve recommended a friend instead who will doubtlessly be far better at it than me.

    That’s a really in-depth comment, by the way. I’m quite flattered you’ve taken the time and the effort to type it all out.

  3. Oh, and by the way, you left the 500th comment on my blog.

  4. Danny-K

    Krrrissttt! Yes, now I look at it again, what a ramble! It started out as a comment, a couple of lines. No, to the contrary, I’m flattered you read it -I would have just read the first and last para’s.

    Anyway, I’m feeling better today.

    The 500th – Wow! How many of those blue and pink McDonald’s glasses do I win?

  5. I’m feeling better too.

    Sorry, all McDonalds glasses are spoken for, but I can send you over twelve pounds worth of obsolete currency if you like?

  6. paulb

    don’t sell yourself! don’t help the fuckers sell any more of their stuff! there’s a reason you’re ambivalent, it’s because you don’t want to be sucked in by the men in grey.

  7. Men in Grey?

    Are they like the Men in Black, only without the benefit of Daz’s new colour protection formula?

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