“Coach face” and the creative cycle
As I’m writing this blog, it is Dawn’s birthday. When it publishes, her birthday will be past, and I hope I will have achieved a sort of extra present for her, which will actually be more of an absent than a present: I’m going to try not to have ”coach face” for Tuesday evening.
If you’ve ever watched professional sports, you may know what I’m talking about here. The team has just scored again, they’re up by a really comfortable margin with almost no time left, the home crowd is on its feet cheering, the players are grinning and slapping each others’ hindsides…
…and the camera cuts over to the coach, and he might as well be carved from granite. Frowning, judging granite. I never was able to understand how someone could look that unhappy in the midst of a situation where everyone else was jumping for joy – like they’d just learned they were being audited instead of about to claim a victory after watching their people play a great game.
And then, somewhere along the line after we started Zombie Ranch, I realized that on some Tuesday nights I often ended up with that same face. It’s like I can’t allow myself to relax and smile until everything is ready to go, and poor Dawn is my quarterback (or equivalent) waiting for that nod which is the closest thing she may get to approval for the moment.
Before this ends up sounding terminally unfun, the reason I bring it up is because we watched something recently that made us both realize this phenomenon isn’t necessarily an aberration, but a more-or-less natural result of the creative process colliding with deadlines (self-imposed or otherwise).
The documentary, which I believe is currently still available for instant streaming on Netflix, is titled Six Days To Air: The Making Of South Park. Onion A.V. Club has an excellent review of it here, and I recommend it to any of you out there who are slugging away week after week to provide a story (or just some entertainment) to the masses, especially if you’re doing so as part of a team. You won’t feel so crazy anymore.
Well, you might still feel like crazy people, but you’ll at least take some comfort that you’re not alone. I recognize that hangdog, strangely almost depressive state Trey Parker exhibits on the day the episode is shipped off to air, even though everyone that it’s been shown to is laughing their heads off. He talks at one point about gorging on McDonald’s, not because it helps his creative process but because it makes him happy “for five minutes”. And one of his candid speeches should speak to the heart of any webcomic creator out there, whether you’re writer, artist, or both:
“I always feel like, wow, I wish I had another day with this show. That’s why there’s so many episodes that we’ve been able to get done, because there is a deadline and you can’t keep going. Because there’s so many times that I’d say, no, it’s not ready yet, it’s not ready yet. And I’d have spent four weeks on one show. All you do is start second-guessing yourself and rewriting stuff, and it’s over-thought. And it would have been 5 percent better.”
The next day, you can visibly see the weight come off his shoulders as the finished product has aired, and they’ve got another six days before crunch time comes around again. It’s important to note also that you can see him (and all the rest of the crew) having a lot of fun with the brainstorming sessions, voice recordings, and all the other aspects of turning an idea into an episode… but yeah, on that final deadline day, Trey has some serious coach face.
I wonder if that’s where pro (American) football players came up with the tradition of dumping a barrel of gatorade on the coach after a big win, just to shock him out of his stoic state. Fortunately Dawn hasn’t started doing this to me yet, although it’s possible she’s been tempted on some of the more extreme days.
But anyhow, happy birthday to my favorite wife and artist! Oh and a heads up for anyone who doesn’t know yet, on Wednesday some big sites like Wikipedia, Reddit, and Boing Boing are all shutting down access for 24 hours in protest of the SOPA bill trying to be passed in the U.S. – details here. That means the barrel o’ gatorade link above won’t be working unless you read this on Thursday or later. As the skull on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride would say, “properly warned ye be…”