“Mad Men” and Other Ad Tales

From the start, I was a big fan of the Mad Men series on AMC. Although it was set in the 60s when I was still in grade school, I could relate to that time period. It also reminded me of New York City in the go-go 80s when liquid lunches and heavy boozing after work were kind of a throwback to the business world depicted in Mad Men. Plus, I almost wound up working for a top ad agency in NYC, not unlike the ones Don Draper was competing with for accounts.

Life comes full circle in unexpected ways sometimes. Today, a phone chat I had with an inventor in Hawaii for my Career Changers TV show, which I produce for a local cable channel, led to a discussion about two writers from the Mad Men series that we both had met at screenwriting workshops held at the University of Hawaii. His story shows how networking and a little chutzpah can lead to book and TV deals.

Since he doesn’t want to go public on the TV stuff yet (and I may be working with him on those projects), we’ll call him “Don.” Anyhow, when Don got my email requesting an interview about his inventions, he checked my CCTV website bio and Googled my name to see if it was worth his time to grant me an interview (he’s been doing national TV and radio shows, so he can be picky). He saw that I was a screenwriter, which opened the door for him to talk about other things he’s been working on.

Don said he took the UH screenwriting workshop with Andre and Maria Jacquemetton, the Mad Men writers, because he had a true life love story he wanted to pitch to them. Part of the workshop is pitching your TV series concept, so Don figured they might be interested in his movie idea even though their background was television. Before Mad Men, the married couple wrote for a number of series, including Baywatch Hawaii, which is why they continue to do the UH workshops.

Well, Andre and Maria loved Don’s pitch. They collaborated on a TV series proposal, but nothing came of it. When I last spoke to the Jacquemettons a couple of years ago, they were on the verge of selling their own TV series, which I believe was set in Canada where they live. In all likelihood, they probably just got too busy with other projects to devote much time to selling Don’s series idea.

However, he didn’t take it personally or let that stop him from developing other ideas for TV and movies. He’s an inventor. And he likes to collaborate. So he found a published book author to help him write a book, which is now out. He also has a great idea for a kids TV series that I hope to work with him on.

All of this is happening for me because instead of complaining about my scripts not selling, I decided to produce a local TV show about changing careers and finding your calling. Yet it brought me back to the very thing I want to do: create TV series for a national audience and make movies.

Another coincidence involving the Mad Men writers and my little TV show is that the two Honolulu daily newspapers merged recently, which resulted in many staffers getting the boot. I contacted one of them, Charley Memminger, who has won national awards for humor writing, and asked if he’d like to do some on-camera stuff to lighten up the show. He said, sure, and we’ve been having fun with those humor segments. Charley also knows Marie and Andre from working with them on the Baywatch Hawii series — and he got that gig thanks to a screenwriting contest.

The Maui Writers Conference used to be one of the better screenwriting competitions because the finalists were read by working producers, agents and managers. Ten years ago, Charley’s comedy script placed first. My suspense screenplay took second place. The manager who ran the contest got a request from the producers of Baywatch Hawaii asking if he knew any writers on Oahu, who could add some authentic local flavor and laughs. Charley got the gig, and was paid well to work on a half dozen episodes… which never got aired. The show was canceled. But Andre and Maria would subsequently get a call from an old friend, Matt Weiner, who had showed them his a few script years earlier for a TV series about ad guys in the 60s, which they really dug.

It’s all about making personal connections, then staying in touch with those contacts. Where it goes or how it plays out, you never know. But that’s why you enter contests, sign up for workshops, pitch ideas to whoever will listen, and do whatever it takes to stay in the game. You must have the mindset of an inventor.

Bonus link: Interesting NY Times article on why MAD MEN has struck a chord with the public and critics alike… “The Allure of Messy Lives.”

Ad Agency Addendum: After college, a friend whose dad was a high level exec at Grey Advertising, helped get me an interview there as a copywriter. The dad took me to lunch and after a few drinks, offered to help me by “borrowing” some of their TV commercial scripts for major clients. He suggested I write some sample commercials that were similar to those…

But when I met with the head copywriter she looked them over and said, “They’re good — except they sound too much like the stuff we already do. I like this one though,” she said, pointing to a script that was totally my own concept. I didn’t get the job. Had I stayed true to my own ideas, today I might be working on Madison Avenue, instead of writing screenplays in Hawaii and blogging about “Mad Men.”

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One Comment on ““Mad Men” and Other Ad Tales”

  1. MadMenGirl Says:

    Hey!

    I’ve entered a contest to win a walk-on role on the sexy retro-licious TV show “MadMen”…. but I need your votes to win!

    Click my name (or the link above) to go right to my picture and vote!

    Thanks!

    XOXO


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