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Production Essays: What price creativity?

Regardless of formulae or theories, the essence of what makes ads work remains a mystery.

A couple of months ago, we were round at our good mate Stephen Hawking's house, having a lads' night in - you know, a few beers, telling jokes and watching the football - when the commercial break came up. Before long, an argument developed in which we couldn't decide which ad was best. I mean, how do you measure how good a commercial is?

Is it the one that sells the most things? Well, we guess that's ultimately why we're all here. Maybe it's the one that reinforces the client's business mantra best or portrays the longest lasting company message?

We know which chocolate bar we feel like grabbing when we don't want to spoil our appetite between meals, and it's definitely not the one we chomp on when we need some help to work, rest or play. Thinking about it, maybe we production people should leave the sales statistics to the account teams and base our opinions on which commercials are more creative. But how do you define creative?

Creatively brilliant, creatively funny, creatively filmic, creatively memorable? The list goes on.

The truth is, we don't really know.

I guess that's why we rely on the plethora of advertising awards scattered carefully throughout the year, whether they be Pencils, Circles, Arrows or Lions (apologies to any others not mentioned, we're still interested and hope it doesn't affect our chances of winning). The awards are the benchmark for creativity. Panels of judges, experts in their fields, are carefully selected to appraise the best commercials. Hours are spent poring over millions of frames of film, scrutinising thousands of posters and analysing radio spots. And yet, we still have a conundrum.

How do you measure creativity?

In fact, how do you judge, value and, therefore, sell creativity?

Sure, campaign effectiveness can be measured by any number of means. Sales, hits, dollars in the bank. But the artistry of commercial-making often comes down to simple opinion. Opinion of an industry genius, a setter of trends, or the office cleaner who happens to be passing the chairman's office and who, after reflection, on being asked about the new multimillion-pound trans-continental campaign, says: "That's shit."

But, luckily for us, being in the company of the world's leading theoretical physicist and Lucasian professor of mathematics, it wasn't long before Stephen came up with this equation to measure creativity:

So there you go.

Of course, we can't understand any of it but we're told it works. Simply apply it next time you watch an ad and it will tell you if it's a winner.

Seriously, though, imagine if this was the case. Creative teams, directors, editors and sound engineers could run this over their work to discover whether they needed to buy a new suit. There could be a revised version for research tapes to determine whether the ad would be even worth making. Forget juries, all we'd need is a calculator.

Maybe this equation would be most useful to the cost controllers of this world. It would be the perfect way to measure whether the client was getting artistic value for money. Writers, directors, artists and operators across the production could measure how successful they are. In fact, we could have a league table. Imagine that.

It sounds horrific, but business is business. We all like to think of ourselves as artists and quite rightly. That's what makes our industry the best in the world. There's nothing sexy about spreadsheets but there is about design, production and presentation. But times are slowly changing. Artistry and hard nosed-business are merging. Production is changing and we have to get a lot more business-savvy.

A few years ago, can anyone remember filling out a procurement form before undertaking some work? We understand the client's need to determine costs and, in turn, help them to set their budgets, but having looked long and hard, I can't seem to find a spreadsheet box that requests, "creative input", or, for the post-production people reading this, "speed, talent and versatility". And how do you measure how good a lighting cameraman's eye is?

Sometimes, to create the best work, things just take as long as they take. We can't start billing musicians for the number of notes they use in a composition. Remember the scene in Amadeus in which the Emperor of Austria, on hearing The Magic Flute for the first time, criticised Mozart for there being "too many notes"? It's not as if it cost him any more.

Certainly, in our audio corner of post-production, it's extremely hard to gauge how long a job will take. The job evolves as it grows. But this is nothing to do with money. It's far more important than that. It's about appreciation for our art, for all our art in production, and hopefully not too vain an attempt to stave off anyone trying to pigeonhole, justify or league-table the work we do when every job is different, living, breathing and organic.

Imagine if the cost controller was in charge the day Van Gogh got commissioned to paint Sunflowers.

CC: "How much?"

VG: "200 guilders?"

CC: "What if we don't use yellow?"

We guess that, for once, Stephen is wrong. He may have a pretty good grasp on life and the universe, but he struggles to explain why certain ads are great. The point is, you can't put a price on creativity. Thank God, or whoever Stephen says lives up there.

- Warren Hamilton and Johnnie Burn are the creative directors and owners of Wave Studios.

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