Scene change: Home entertainment
by Ron Greenfield
My formal education was invaluable. It gave me the tools and foundation for a career as a graphic designer, in theory. However, it didn’t deliver the nuts and bolts, the practical, everyday application needed when things came flying out of left field or had to be turned around on a dime.
From the outset I was fanatical about working in the entertainment industry. Developing corporate identity programs or designing ads for potato chips or deodorants didn’t get my creative juices flowing. Luckily, I came into the industry at a fortuitous time.
My first job was as a film graphic artist, doing the grunt and production work on everything from commercials to sales films. Eventually, I rose through the ranks to become an art director, designing on-air promotions. And then I found my sweet spot — creating and producing trailers and featurettes for the studios. My real world education was put on the fast track, working with musicians, copywriters, and editors, learning how to create a trailer from start to finish, getting it out the door and into the theaters.
While I was cultivating my skills and adding credits to my resume, the world shouted scene change, in the form of a job opening in a promising new industry: home entertainment. Without realizing what was in store for me, I shifted gears and signed on as art director at CBS/Fox. Little did I realize I had just purchased my ticket to an amazing roller coaster ride.
Back in the early 80’s, no one had any idea that home entertainment would radically change the industry and Hollywood’s way of doing business. We were a small group of neophytes, navigating in uncharted and sometimes very rough waters. How do you even market this concept to the public? Was anyone really going to pay $50 or more to own a videocassette, let alone purchase the equipment to play them on?
There were no ground rules in the beginning because we were writing the playbook as we went along. Like everyone else, I was way out of my comfort zone. So in that respect, we all stood on common ground. Every day presented new and intriguingly exciting challenges.
Creating a campaign meant more than just designing packaging, ads, and collateral materials. It meant sales, distribution, promotional partners and publicity too. There were times it was frustrating and disappointing, working on multiple campaigns at the same time and dealing with a small army of vendors and agencies, relying heavily on them to make it happen.
At one point I was getting work from a small boutique agency. The work was consistently of poor quality, making my job much more difficult. I went to my boss and said, “I refuse to work with them. They’re getting very well paid and delivering substandard work.” She threatened to fire me if I didn’t continue using them, but I held my ground and adamantly refused. Our confrontations continued for several months until someone discovered, by accident, that the agency was paying her a commission on the jobs they received. Needless to say, she was let go.
In any type of business, ethics is of the utmost importance and without it, no good can ever come from it. Ever! At the same time it reinforced my own personal resolve – never accept mediocre work.
Perfection is probably unattainable, but striving for excellence, whatever the conditions or looming deadlines may be, is always achievable.
That has been my credo, and I believe contributed to the longevity of my career.
As my confidence and skills increased, so did my universe – taking part in developing any type of product for release (everything from George Lucas’ Return of the Jedi to Sophie’s Choice, exercise and How To videos), going on sales calls to meet with retailers, and eventually initiating several cross-promotional ventures for Fox, everything from the BBC in London to well-known publishers and toy manufacturers in the states.
Looking back on that time, I can honestly say we didn’t consider ourselves pioneers by any stretch of the imagination. We were just doing our jobs and trying to do the best we could with what we had to work with. In the space of just a few short years, we could see home entertainment had become a huge and expanding juggernaut.
My rockets were on fire, operating at full throttle and getting into my groove when the world shouts again, scene change. I knew instinctively I had gone as far as I could go at Fox and it was time to move on to whatever was next.
Taking stock, I realized how much I had accomplished in a relatively short amount of time. I had pushed the boundaries of my job almost beyond recognition, hardly having any semblance to the original description, a characteristic that came naturally to me in future jobs.
It is one of personal resolve every one of us determines for ourselves, to keep pushing the envelope in our pursuit of excellence. That is something that cannot be taught. And what was in the future, what was the next move for me? It was inevitable – the West Coast.Tags: Art Director, CBS/Fox, Education v real world experience, Hollywood, Home entertainment, Life lesson, Marketing and promotions, Ron Greenfield