Sunday, August 5, 2007

Collaboration as Intensification

One of the hard parts about collaborating in our business is deciding who gets the credit. This is hard enough in a single institution, let alone among different companies collaborating on a single project. In most creative enterprises, the question of credit can lead to some pretty ugly situations. In my past jobs, I’ve watched creatives throw fits worthy of my three-year-old over where they fell in the credit sequence. And from a professional perspective, they were right to do it. Credits are the currency of their careers. (For an equally darkly comic perspective on the battle over credits, check out the Hollywood novels of Bruce Wagner, like Force Majeure.)

But at the same time, we all know that marketing, like most enterprises, is a collaborative enterprise by definition. This is true in the majority of production-heavy enterprises from film to science. I’m really not sure how to solve this institutional problem; I think it will require a fairly significant change in perspective on exactly what being “creative” means.

The other day, I came across this passage in an appreciation of The Soprano’s by Geoffery O’Brien in The NYRB, which approaches the issue from a new perspective. While most agencies try and maintain the pretense that work is made better by the inclusion of multiple points-of-view, O’Brien suggests how a strong creative point-of-view can perhaps be intensified and focused through a collaborative enterprise. In this model, the work becomes—paradoxically—more distinctly individual as it passes through multiple hands:

“I use the term “David Chase” with a certain reservation here. The Sopranos was not made, one brushstroke at a time, by a solitary artist, however consistently it bore the mark of a single creator. That a show so manifestly personal was in fact realized by a multitude of writers and directors indicates that we continue to move toward a new definition of authorship and personal expression. The effect of dividing the work among so many collaborators—and refining it through a process of systematic conferences and revisions and “tone meetings”—was not to dilute but to intensify the show’s personal quality, as if finally one author were not enough even for the realization of that author’s vision.”

It’s an intriguing and inspiring suggestion: that a team can help bring an individual’s vision to life better than the individual alone. Of course, it’s generally a bad idea to use a single work of genius as a model for a general practice.

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