About Andrew Buck:

My name is Andrew Buck and I’m obsessed with communication.

With more than a decade of experience crafting sticky, compelling, and measurable marketing campaigns, I’ve seen firsthand that sound strategy and dazzling content can improve any business. To learn more about Andrew, check out his website, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.


I’m a sack of potatoes, hauled heavenward.

More on that in a moment. But first, let me tell you about last Wednesday.

Last Wednesday, I was on the set of a video shoot led by SparksightSparksight is an Austin-based creative agency. They create commercials, animations, promo videos, explainer videos, print work, etc. Their tagline is “Imagination For Hire.”

Here they are, in the photo the Austin Business Journal named them one of the Best Places to Work in 2014:


But as I witnessed, after spending 10 hours in the middle of the Sparksight tornado — but no, tornado isn’t the right word. “Tornado” is a lazy word, and worse, it’s inaccurate. Because what I’d like to write about here is this: Sparksight should be the new paradigm for how to execute creative ideas. Books should be written about Sparksight — and its, like, 20 employees. Marketing MBA candidates ought to be writing case study after case study.

Sparksight isn’t a tornado. It’s a waltz.

Let me be less ambiguous: Last Wednesday, I was the lead character in a video for Advocamp. Advocamp is a big marketing conference taking place in San Francisco, and this video will open their conference. In the video, I played a character named “Counselor Buck,” who was a Ron Swanson-style camp counselor. The script was only five pages long, but it included nine unique scene set-ups.

In other words, the Sparksight crew — about a dozen of them on this shoot, the majority of the creative portion of their smallish office — had a ton of work to do in the single day allotted to the shoot. Lots of props. Lots of effects. Lots of schlepping of cameras, tripods, lighting boards, etc.

If you’ve never been in the middle of a semi-elaborate film shoot, done by real pros — and that’s what this article is about, I swear: it’s about the professionalism of the Sparksight gang — anyway, if you’ve never been on a real film set, let me assure you it’s a BEAST.

In those ten hours working with the Sparkies — (a name I just invented, and which I imagine is in no way endorsed by Sparksight’s leadership) — I noticed several things that make them so damn good

1. Professionalism FTW!

I’ve just finished an excellent book called The Idea Writers. It’s all about what being a “copywriter” means in the digital age. The gist of the book (which is excellent and which you should purchase here) is that these days, copywriters are writers, inventors, producers, collaborators, idea generators, etc. In other words, it’s a lot more than just writing — though the book also never lets us forget that writing is still center stage.

The book is packed with transcribed interviews with today’s ad giants. One of them is Robert Wong, the man at the helm of Google Creative Labs. If he could apply the Google way to other creative businesses, it would be…

…more listening, less talking; more feeling, less thinking; more doing, less promising; more inventing, less polishing.

That quotation should be carved into the desk of every cubicle. Certainly it’s wound into the DNA of the Sparkies. This crew — including a director, an art director, sound guys, lighting guys, camera guys, producer, president, and more — has internalized Wong’s way.

Sparksight is a team of absolute dedicated professionals — i.e., people who take pride in a job done well, done efficiently, and done with delight. Damn, they seem to delight in creating things.

But make no mistake, these aren’t gooey artists dripping their artistry all over the place. There’s a clock. There’s a budget. Shit’s gotta get made — on time, on budget. So while there’s no doubt that there is gads of genuine artistic talent at Sparksight, it’s first and foremost a team of makers.

And now they’ve got me thinking about: What is creativity, really, if it isn’t executed? Ideas are gorgeous things, but only if someone turns them into actual gorgeous things. Again, Sparksight. We showed up at 7:00 a.m. without a lick of film shot, and 10 hours later, we left with tons of it.

(NOTE: When the video’s edited and packaged, and if I can get permission, I’ll share it here. Otherwise, my “sack of potatoes” story below will have to suffice!)

2. Preparedness: The Scout’s Way

The first shot of the day — around 7:15 a.m. — involved me, as Counselor Buck, sitting on a canoe in the middle of a small river. At one point, Buck reaches into the frigid water and pulls up a carp — ya know, like a man. It’s all tongue-and-cheek, and it’s got a kitschy Wes Anderson vibe.

But before I could slip on my giant hiking boots (I had a costume!) the crew was already 100% set-up and ready to shoot … on a tiny patch of rocks … in the middle of a not-slow-moving river that was bracingly cold. I’m still sucking on a bagel and meandering down to the river’s edge, and already there are five people ready to go. The Art Director, a man also named Andrew who had more energy than Andrews traditionally do, even chauffeured me into the middle of the river on my canoe.

It was like that all day. The shoot operated with such easy panache that I’m still marveling. But of course I know the real reason everything sailed along that day: they showed up fully prepared. Every checklist item had been triple-confirmed. No prop was missing. No set-up was a mystery. Everybody — and I mean everybody — knew the script inside and out.

In fact, if anyone slowed down the production, it was the tiny man living inside my brain who refuses to memorize scripts well. Blame him. His name’s Scooter.

3. They Got 99 Problems But a Distaste for Problem-Solving Ain’t One

The director of this shoot — and in the two other shoots I’ve done with Sparksight as an actor (they call us “talent” which is just the greatest thing for my ego) — is a guy named Drew.

While arranging his lenses for one scene that morning, Drew explained to me that he loved his job — especially filming stuff — because it was a puzzle to him. Each shot was a miniature challenge: how to get the light just right; how to arrange the human and artistic elements in an effective way; how to see each scene as part of a larger whole; etc.

What a fantastic skill you hiring managers should look for! Ask interview candidates about problem solving. Do they do it? But more importantly, do they enjoy it? If you can find someone who relishes tackling business problems each day, artistic or otherwise — and Sparksight, remarkably, has found many, many of these folks — then hire them!

Because look, that problem solving that Drew’s talking about? That’s called making art.

It just so happens that this art happens also to be conceptual, branded, and part of a larger marketing strategy for Sparksight’s clients. How fortunate!

I’m a Sack of Potatoes

Alright, I’ve trumpeted Sparksight enough for now. Suffice it to say, if you need someone to create great art on behalf of your business, Sparksight simply cannot be beat. They operate at maximum imagination and maximum efficiency.

Except for one thing.

In one scene, Counselor Buck is speaking up to the camera while hanging from the top of a climbing wall. In other words, I had to speak up to a camera from the top of a climbing wall. Which meant — can you guess? — I had to climb to the top of a climbing wall. There was no way up but to climb.

Or so I thought.

Because about halfway up this 30-foot (or so) narrow wooden wall, my body said unto itself: No more. My arms and legs were zapped. If my life depended on me making it up one more handhold, my life would end. I was that exhausted.

But there was simply no way to get the shot without me making it another 12-15 feet up the wall. It had to be done. Down below, the entire Sparksight gang was singing my praises, encouraging me, offering support. Above, Drew, who was working the camera and the boom mic from his single spot perched atop the tower, was encouraging too. It was a love fest. But my arms still didn’t want to work.

So then, in a moment of inspiration for which Sparksight is duly famous, a couple of the crew guys grabbed my rope, and began hauling me up the wall. In tiny, effortful bursts, they yanked me heavenward. Little by little, until I was close enough to the top to get the shot. It was beautifully humiliating.

Because here’s the thing: I need to start lifting weights again, clearly.

But here’s the other thing: The kindness and camaraderie of this team of professionals — the ease, the head-down-get-it-done-ness of their attitudes made it such that I wasn’t as humiliated as I should’ve been. No. I was, if only for this day, a part of their machine. Their creation machine that was chugging along, eating up ideas and spitting out results.

God, that sounds terrible, doesn’t it? It sounds overwrought, overstated. Maybe it is. All I know is that it was refreshing and inspiring to once again be in the midst of a team of people who were honest-to-god passionate and professional. That’s a deadly combo, friends.

And it’s proof positive that the single best investment any business can make is in finding, wooing, and nurturing hard-working talent.

By the way, the guy at the helm of the shoot, Drew Wolber, wrote this fantastic blog about how he uses Photoshop. It’s a great step-by-step guide through one creative guy’s process. Check it out here.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention by name another Sparkie, Ryan Austin. This guy, who happens to be an improv colleague and friend of mine, is Sparksight’s illustration and animation go-to guy. He’s a genius with a mousepad.

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