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Bloody Agents

Bloody Agents

by Daniel Friedman / 14.09.2010

It’s no secret that we live in a world where creativity and artistic talent is seen as more an impediment than an advantage. This is why we tell our kids to become doctors and lawyers when they tell us they want to be artists. We’re scared they’ll end up broke or on tik. Which, granted, is a real concern. But people still need the work that creative people do, even if they undervalue it. The result is that, as a creative person, I have to deal regularly with people who think that they are doing me a favour by giving me work. The worst of these people even believe that they are geniuses, because they have worked out how to get rich from the creativity of others.

I once worked under an editor who is a particularly scary person. Let’s just call him/her Satan, for the sake of this article. When he/she walks into the room there is a palpable change of energy, as people quickly scramble to stop having fun. Most editors are writers themselves, and some are among the most talented journalists in the industry. But not this one. Looking back now I can see that Satan had no discernable skill or talent, except being intimidating, and I must admit he/she showed a rare flare and brilliance for that. Satan’s publication worked only because he/she would recruit talented people and then stand over them, cracking a whip. They would then work hard and, in the process, make him/her look good. To the point that everyone would marvel at the brilliance of Satan’s ‘work’, which basically consisted entirely of telling his/her employees to do stuff.

It’s not just writers who are undervalued, it’s all creative people. I direct these words at anyone who makes money from the work of creative people. Sometimes they are publishers, occasionally they are editors and in the world of performance they are managers or agents or venue owners or event organisers. And I’m not saying there aren’t good people in the world offering these services, or even those who are so good at it that they themselves are every bit as skilled and talented as the artists they deal with. There are. But they are considered special specifically because they are so rare.

As a musician it’s even worse than being a writer. You are, from a club owner’s perspective, right at the bottom of the pecking order, after the guy who cleans the toilet. Comedy is slightly better, but in just one year of doing it I have had encounters with some of the scariest sharks in the business.

Strangely, though, if you become successful enough the tables suddenly turn and there are people tripping over your feet trying to make you happy. I’ve performed and worked with people who are that successful, and do you know what? It also sucks. Because people stop being honest with you, and they will never ever say anything they think might upset you. The result, you start to believe that you can do no wrong, because this is how most people treat you. This is why so many of the world’s top artists stop producing good work after they become successful. That said, I hope I do reach that level of success one day, if only so that I can watch those same sharks who once treated me like shit trying to suck up to me, in a supreme act of earthly karma.

If this ever happens I will tell the sharks the same thing I’m about to tell you now, which is that I believe it’s those of us with skills and talent that make a difference to this world, not those who make their livings out of exploiting people with skills and talent. And since they’re the ones who make all the money, it would be a nice touch for them to, at very least, occasionally acknowledge this.

*Daniel Friedman is a writer by day and musical comedian Deep Fried Man by night. Read his blog here.

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  1. yip says:

    totally true

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  2. in limbo says:

    Daniel, much of what you say here is very true. However, many of these “Satanic” managers and agents are often caught in a difficult space between the artist’s instincts and the expectations of the public. This is a particularly challenging situation in South Africa, where decades of political and social repression has left some deep scars on the consciousness of the population, making them less receptive to more subtle and incisive creative nuances. Therefore, insensitive and opportunistic managers are just a small part of the problem. Much of the draconian circumstance that they place around an artist’s environment is driven by market forces that elevate the likes of Steve Hofmeyr and Leon Schuster and condemn more worthy artists to obscurity.

    Excuse me while I take a long hot shower after typing those two names on my keyboard.

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  3. Jason says:

    Nice try, Bucko.

    Talent is nothing without proper management. We creatives are prone to flouncy procrastination, dawdling on every deadline, get upset when our (shit) ideas are called shit.

    That is why a self-made successful talent is so rare. We’re too damn busy doing things for free, to have our work praised but not paid for. Stroke the ego and a little juice comes out. For free.

    That said, I’m looking for a design rep/new business manager. Apply within.

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  4. creepy steve says:

    can’t wait to apply for a job in jason’s sweatshop, jase call me buddy 082-try-to-stop-being-a-dick . you’re just punting the disorganised creative sterotype which is exactly what the friedman i think is talking about. i’ve worked for all these cunts and it’s honed my sense of it i can smell arsehole manager with in the first 5 mins, for true . i for one am on my shit and am actually a little more creative with out someone around who believes the only way to motivate is with the whip

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  5. gonzo nowhere says:

    whinger! if you were only blessed with a right brain, don’t underestimate what the left brain can do for you.

    unfortunately this piece held some promise (to a fellow writer) but as it progresses it just goes nowhere – except to bed… or a distant tear-stained corner.

    get a grip df – this frustrated, undervalued artist thing is so droll

    ps not everyone who plies their trade in the “creative” sector is actually creative. in fact very few are. and from what i read above, I have my doubts as to your cause for complaint.

    pps that he/she thing you use to talk about “Satan” is fuggen clumsy and schoolboy and unfunny. I didn’t really start off wanting to denegrate you or your piece, but if you are capable of humour. why not show it. – an old ad man once said to a junior copywriter: “don’t tell me you’re funny, tell me a joke”. capiche?

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  6. Juanel says:

    @ Gonzo Nowhere


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  7. creepy steve says:

    hey gonzo an old ad man also once said “let’s put this project dudu’s” and thats why i don’t trust old people, carpacio?

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  8. Sara says:

    If creative types were more humble and didn’t behave as if they are privy to some divine source, then they might be treated better

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  9. Jason says:

    Steve, you forget I’m on the side that should be getting the whip. I would be a rich man if I had half a manager/salesman’s sack, old boy.

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  10. Roger Young says:

    I think we’re all starting the blur the difference between being creative and being a creative. Those you talk about Sara are obviously the latter. This is not an article about people who design advertisements for processed cheese.

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  11. Rubbernecker says:

    Rog – you’ve hit the nail on the head there.

    Being “creative”, as an adjective is to be desired. Being “a creative” as a noun, is to be avoided. Copywriters and advertising hacks. I love the way they call themselves creative though.

    The cliches and puns that are too shit for fiction and journalism make their way into advertising copy. Deal.

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  12. Sara says:

    Actually Roger, I don’t work in advertising, I am a development professional nauseated by the inflated egos I have to deal with in the PR, art and media industry. Bunch of prima donnas plying the artist’s lament

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  13. G says:

    @Rubbernecker: Shame, you never quite made it then, did you?
    You sound as if, and I suspect it may be true, some snot-nosed, *creative* young copywriter kid put you ou of a job.
    By the way, journos and authors, very generally, can’t write for shit.

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  14. Roger Young says:

    @Sara I didn’t accuse you of working in advertising, I was stating that there is a difference between being creative and being A creative.Maybe the reason the creative people you work with behave like prima donnas toward you is due to their frustration with your lack of understanding of basic syntax and grammar?

    @G If journo’s and authors can’t write for shit, who in your opinion can? Advertising Copywriters?
    I think we need to look at your definition of the word “write” before we can constructively engage in this conversation.

    An Anecdote: Martin Scorcese made a series of fragrance TVC’s in the early 90’s. I had completed film school and was working in advertising. I used the TVC’s as reference in a pitch. The head AD on the campaign asked me not to use them as reference because while they looked gorgeous, they weren’t real advertising. When I asked him why he replied “All these film makers think advertising and film is the same thing, well it’s not Scorcese may know how to make a film, but he’s a terrible ad man.”. Years later when I exited the advertising world in disgrace, i thought to myself, “I too, am a terrible ad man, thank you sweet Jesus”

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  15. creepy steve says:

    jason bucko, old boy you missed me entirely the whip is redundant and if i had my way so would you be

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  16. ZOMG says:

    @gonzo nowhere: Daniel is possibly one of the most creative people we have in our country at the moment. I don’t say that as a fan, his relative, or someone whose family he currently has held at gunpoint, but rather as a fellow comic who has watched him rocket very quickly up the comedy rankings to the point where he will be performing at the Heavyweight Comedy Fest in October, just about one year from when he started in the industry.

    Taken from that perspective it is possible to understand that not only has he the right to be saying what he is, he almost certainly has the experience too. He defies the lazy creative stereotype and backs up his words with his actions.

    The ball is in your court now Gonzo. What have you achieved that allows you to stand in judgement of him?

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  17. @ZOMG says:

    Please go fuck yourself.

    “I love Daniel, yes I do, I love Daniel, how about you?!”


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  18. Mike says:

    “It’s no secret that we live in a world where creativity and artistic talent is seen as more an impediment than an advantage.”

    I stopped reading after that. What kuk is that oke?

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  19. G says:

    @Young: I’m afraid your Anecdote does very little to prove your point. But I guess that’s inherent when you’re speaking to a “non-adman”. And yes, the overwhelming majority of film directors do struggle to make the cross over. Expecting them to do so successfully is the same as expecting a marathon runner to be able to sprint. I’m not hating on film makers by any means, it’s a different discipline entirely. But my point about journos and authors stands – the average publication – be it a book written by an author or an article by a journo, is poorly written. So when it comes to writing, I think that copywriters, on average, are stronger craftsmen.

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  20. Roger Young says:

    Aaaah, yes the difference between Art and Craft. Now you’re talking.

    Firstly, the anecdote was not meant to empirically prove a point but to merely illustrate it. Your reaction, expansion and evoking of the notion of “craft” means that the illustration worked on some level. It was not a level I could have predicted or hoped to control.

    Advertising copywriting sets out to cause a specific goal: Buy this product. Literature has another goal entirely: Empathise with this/these characters plight or journey and take what you will away from it. If by better writers you mean the success of advertising copywriters goals are measurable than you are correct. If you find that level of success preferable to actual meaningful human contact then I pity you.

    Filmmakers tend to look down on Video Artists because they’re mostly technically sloppy or infantile in execution. Video Artists tend to look down on Filmmakers because they tend to refine the idea so much that emotional power of the initial idea is lost to structure, lighting and reason. Video are is, of course, the pure form because more often than not, it doesn’t bow down to economic pressure from studio’s, distributors and audiences. Video art is mostly unwatchable but often there is a moment where one piece will come along and have such raw power that it leaves you shattered for days. That is Art. Craft, in your definition, would be successfully using that raw power to sell a product.

    A well made coffee table is craft. David Lynch’s coffee table book that turns into a coffee table is Art. My copy of that lost one of it’s legs years ago. I still think of it often. For many more years than that existed,I have had the same coffee table that serves a very important function, this actual coffee table, I never give a second thought to.

    Also, I think you need to read a better quality of books, maybe we should suggest some authors to you?

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  21. gonzo nowhere says:

    I didn’t stand up and say I’m a comedian, so your challenge is irrelevant.
    (I’m actually a proctologist – and quite a shit one at that!)
    I wrote my comment above in response to his article, not his stand-up ability.
    And by coming to his defense as a comic – I’ll rephrase my question and address it to you: if DF is such hot shit in the comedy department why can’t he write a funny piece? Is that really a kak question, or is there something I missed?

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  22. Miss Juju says:

    Roger Young: 2
    Gonzo: 0

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  23. sleaze says:

    I heard that Satan stopped hiring after the Economic downturn

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  24. Daniel Friedman says:

    I’m not usually one to participate in the debates that occur under my pieces on Mahala.

    But I wanted to drop in and apologise to @’gonzo nowhere’ for my extreme cheek in attempting a serious piece of writing. From now on I will strive to be hilarious every time I write anything, even if it’s an obituary or an IRP5. Please come out from the pretentious internet alias you’re hiding behind so we can hug and go for a milkshake.

    And thanks to everyone for the kif comments and to @Roger Young and @ZOMG for debating this stuff so I don’t have to 🙂

    Check out the stuff on my Deep Fried Man page: http://www.facebook.com/deeplyfried

    Oh, and the link to my blog is broken. It’s http://www.danielfriedman.me

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  25. gonzo nowhere says:

    to all those dix above that tried to dis my comments: take another read, take another toke, and put that scarce grey stuff to use.

    my criticism probably did more for daniel’s cause than all your sycophantic stroking.

    to quote Mr Friedman : “(when you become succesful) people stop being honest with you, and they will never ever say anything they think might upset you. The result, you start to believe that you can do no wrong”

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  26. G says:

    @Young. Again, I fear you misunderstand both the goals and impact of advertising. To say advertising’s sole goal is the sale of product is ignorant. If I think of the moments that’ve made the greatest “human” impact on me, most of them will have come from ads. If you think hard enough (or have seen enough good advertising campaigns – I’m not just talking tv), I think you’d agree. Think of tv ads (and I happily admit there’s a lot of trash advertising out there) as distilled film, where all superfluities are stripped away – many of them have a far greater impact than the most well made/written films/books. The fact that they accomplish this in such a concise manner is testament to their craft AND art, as you call it. I’m not saying books are bad by any means, and I fear that the fact that you’ve misunderstood my point may render this argument irrelevant. I think people generally imagine their lives are largely unaffected by advertising – it’s a natural reaction. But give it some thought and I think you’ll realise that it’s shaped much of your world, whether you see it or not. And if it’s done so, then it’s more effective (or powerful) than you realise.

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  27. Pariah Carey says:

    Music is really overrated too.

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  28. Pariah Carey says:

    G, you’re absolutely right, i got a lump in my throat from that 80’s ad with the elephants walking through the desert to ‘He ain’t heavy, He’s my Brother’. I was 7.
    I think what you mistake for the ‘affective power’ advertising supposedly has, is utilising established affective strategies, in order to sell product. I’m trying to get my head around your assertion that ads have ‘greater impact than most books’, sure even that were quantifiably true, it’s still a different kind of impact completely.

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  29. Roger Young says:

    Advertising would not exist if it did not have product to shift. Art exists because it is necessary for the artist to express themselves. Your argument is, basically, The Prophet VS Omo.

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  30. gonzo nowhere says:

    … and this site would not exist without advertising.

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  31. Roger Young says:

    And your comment bears no relation to the conversation.

    But to bring it in. I never said Advertising was bad. I like advertisers, they have a purpose, they pay our bills. What I am saying is that to say people who work in the craft of advertising are greater artists than filmmakers or authors because their work is quantifiable is just silly. To say that one line of copy is more effective in communicating a life changing feeling than a novel or a film misunderstands what Art itself is; and what that is is primarily the compulsion to communicate something that is difficult or impossible to put into one concise statement or image or short piece of film therefore leaving the viewer to experience their own response framed in the context of their own experience; and secondarily that the compulsion, in the moment of compulsion, is not fettered to economic gain.

    I know, that last sentence, badly written right? Should have chopped it up a bit, made it punchier, maybe made the logo bigger?

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  32. Anonymous says:

    “If I think of the moments that’ve made the greatest “human” impact on me, most of them will have come from ads”.
    – classic, what a life this guy…

    “(I’m actually a proctologist – and quite a shit one at that!)” – hmmm, ha, ha, yes.

    Friedman, be a man, no ones going to be nice to you because you think you’re enriching the human condition through your creativity. the world’s full of assholes who are bad at what they do, find a good manager who treats you right while you make him lots of money… be sure to make him lots of money though…

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  33. Anonymous says:

    Re: the G vs. Roger Young thing,

    Roger is so right on this.

    G, let’s chop up Crime and Punishment into a six page pamphlet. It could start with a summary:

    Guy kills this old woman, feels all guilty and then turns himself in.

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  34. Andy says:

    nope gonzo the site existed quite well without advertising… we did it for well over a year… the site would not survive without advertising going forward. Semantics dear boy

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  35. Daniel Friedman says:

    Just wanted to say that it’s not true that there are no good managers or agents in the world, and I said so in the piece. I was just writing about the bad ones.

    Whacked Management are always a pleasure to deal with and they really know how to look after their comics. Respect Music, who look after Lloyiso, Gang of Instrumentals, etc, are super-professional and on point. Just to name a couple.

    And most of the editors I’ve worked under were brilliant. Satan, described above, is the exception.

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  36. Tim says:

    Yeah this is chicken or the egg shit. if there was no whip the lazy beatnik artist would do jack, but without the beatnik artist the whip would have fuckall to do. Yet somehow guys managed to bring out thier writing dicks for a little lightsaber fight – I’m looking at you Roger and G. Like the article though Dan – should have been called Much to Write about Nothing.

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  37. G says:

    Lead India, anybody? Show me a non-religious book (or any movie) that’s made that large an impact and my argument will happily be withdrawn. Until then, I suggest you examine your obscured view (probably formed in the nineties) that advertising consists only of adverts. It feels a little like I’m discussing rugby in Greenpoint. Peace.

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