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Chance Comedy Marketing

Accidentally on purpose

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Random killer

Many creative people learn to accommodate seemingly random events into their process. Film maker David Lynch, for example, invented a terrifying character when he glimpsed Frank Silva, a set dresser on the pilot of Twin Peaks, accidentally reflected in a mirror during the filming of a scene. Frank Silva was then cast as Bob, a demonic killer who was pivotal in the unfolding drama.

The I Ching, known as the Chinese Book of Changes in the west, is a book of divination, a way of seeing into the future. Used for more than 2600 years as a fortune telling device, it is also a repository of Taoist and Confucian philosophical thought.

I first started delving into the I Ching* in my teens. I found it a source of sagacious advice and interest. For a westerner its sheer otherness drew me in. But one of the first things it taught me was that randomness is part of the world. The random act of throwing coins to obtain your reading deliberately accommodates chance into the process, for the world is full of it.

The composer John Cage was given a translation of the I Ching in 1951, and found it a springboard to composing a new kind of music such as Imaginary Landscapes No. 4 using radio receivers, and Music of Changes. The I Ching enabled Cage to strip away the influence of the human voice on the sounds he heard, and connect his music with natural, unmediated sounds.

When I hear what we call music, it seems to me that someone is talking. And talking about his feelings, or about his ideas of relationships. But when I hear traffic, the sound of traffic—here on Sixth Avenue, for instance—I don’t have the feeling that anyone is talking. I have the feeling that sound is acting. And I love the activity of sound […] I don’t need sound to talk to me **

For me, it has left me with a legacy of noticing mistakes, wondering what they have to tell me and incorporating accidents into the work I produce. Some mistakes of course, are simply annoying, but frequently others make an idea more fertile. Introducing chance into the process is irrational, and precisely because it is not predictable it becomes memorable.

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Random meerkat?

Advertising of course is full of randomness, and the appearance of randomness. Why use meerkats for a price comparison site? It seems irrational, but as we all know random things seem funny. Of course the whole shtick of the advert is that market and meerkat sound similar if pronounced with a strangulated eastern European accent. So its origin may have arisen with simple word association. Success, of course, has many fathers and there are claims that suggest employing meerkats was encouraged due to the 5p cost per click of the word meerkats against a £5 cost per click for markets.

All I’m saying is: notice your accidents.

* In the famous translation by Richard Wilhelm, (further translated into English by Cary F Baynes with an introduction by C G Jung).

** I stole this quote from wiki, which attributes it to: John Cage, in an interview with Miroslav Sebestik, 1991. From: Listen, documentary by Miroslav Sebestik. ARTE France Développement, 2003.

Secret identity

I was among the last in my class to learn to read, and my spelling was atrocious. I liked pictures, so comics were a natural home as I made my transition to becoming a reader at around seven. My friend Ajit, who lived next door to me in Neasden, was an avid reader of Marvel Comics. Much of our play was superhero themed. Skinny nine year old Ajit, brandishing a ruler, would be Thor and Abu from across the road might be Spiderman, and as the youngest I always seemed to be allotted Iron Man.

I remember one Hulk comic frame where our hero rips up the surface of the street to reveal a science fiction underworld below. This image of breakthrough, and revealing what is hidden under the surface has always stayed with me. Hulk is by nature a breaker of barriers.

But for me the lasting legacy of those Marvel comics was the idea of the double identity. The Hulk had Dr Bruce Banner, Spiderman was Peter Parker, and Thor has had multiple alter egos, including surgeon Dr Donald Blake, labourer Sigurd Jarlson, Architect Eric Masterson, and more. While alter egos have a long pedigree, perhaps most famously The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde  by Robert Louis Stevenson and first published in 1886. Interesting that a high proportion of heroes’ alter egos have PhDs. My brother has a PhD (just sayin’) and studied doubles in literature. Through him my Marvel based notion of alter egos expanded to include doubles, which were present in  The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad and The Double by Dostoevsky for example. Once you get your ear in, doubles are everywhere. 

Rather inspired by seeing Jeff Keen Shoot The WRX I decided to start doing some home movies. Also I have been watching Inland Empire again by David Lynch, which always promotes weirdness. So here is my double identity piece called Janus. It’s a bit mad, but was fun and surprisingly fast to make. You can view it here, or click through to watch it bigger on YouTube. I was also interested in the creepy, and unflattering, effect you can get when not showing the entire face.

My howler is a Bob moment

Like most right thinking people, David Lynch is one of my heroes. Twin Peaks is one of my favourite TV experiences, an immersive world with its own codes. In it there is a mad killer called Bob, who drives a much of the narrative, and he came about by sheer accident. The actor Eric Silva was working as a set dresser, here’s what Lynch says about it in ‘Catching the big fish’, an excellent book by the way.

“Frank was never destined to be in Twin Peaks, never in a million years. But we were shooting in Laura Palmer’s home and Frank was moving some furniture around in her room. I was in the hall, underneath a fan. And a woman said, “Frank, don’t move that dresser in front of the door like that. Don’t lock yourself in the room.

And this picture came to me of Frank in the room….So I said, “Frank, you’re going to be in this scene.”
We did a pan shot of the room, twice without Frank and then one time with Frank frozen at the base of the bed. But I didn’t know what it was for or what it meant.

That evening, we went downstairs and we were shooting Laura Palmer’s mother on the couch….. So I said “Cut-perfect-beautiful!” And Sean said, “No, no, no. It’s not.”
“What is it?”
“There was someone reflected in the mirror?”
“Who was reflected in the mirror?”
“Frank was reflected in the mirror.”
So things like this make you start dreaming. And one thing leads to another, and if you let it, a whole other thing opens up.

Anyway it came to me in a flash that my recent ‘howler’ could be a blessing in disguise. There is some talk about refraction and things not seeming to be where they should be in Defenders of Guernsey. And my ‘mistake’ described a mirror image channel islands, where things that should have been east were actually west and so on. A perfect explanation for this has opened up in my mind for the second story. Suddenly that howler looks more like a stroke of luck.