Making Ads With A Legendary Cartoonist

One of the high points of my career was when Don Martin, “Mad Magazine’s Maddest Artist”, agreed to make a series of ads with me at Fred/Alan, Inc. You have to understand, I idolized Don Martin. I was that kid who snuck Mad Magazine into class and covered it with a Moby Dick book cover. And Don Martin was one of my favorites. With his geeky characters whose feet folded over the curb and his uncanny sense of absurdist slapstick, he cracked me up over and over.

So, there I was, charged with creating a campaign for VH-1 that would position the network as an MTV for baby boomers. What better way to accomplish that than to invoke the boomer’s bible–Mad Magazine? To the best of my knowledge we are the only people who have ever made an animated film of Don Martin’s cartoons, either for commercials or pure entertainment value. That makes these spots pretty special. I’ll pause here to let you look at the second of the spots and then pick up the tale…

Actually, while you were watching the spot, I took a spin around the web and found that there IS a guy in Brazil who has been doing some decent Don Martin animations . You can find them by Googling “Don Martin Animation”. It’s not clear to me that he did them with Don’s blessing, but they’re kind of fun. (We did our spots with Don’s complete participation.) And apparently there was an unaired Mad Magazine special that contains an animated Don Martin cartoon. Still, I think our ads are unique in that they remained true to the spirit of the master and also delivered a strong marketing message. These ads spoke to the prevailing thirty-something sense of living with stress and anxiety and troubled times, and the corresponding feeling of entitlement. “After all you’ve been through, you deserve your own channel.” Don’t we all feel that way? We’ve all been through a lot. We DO deserve our own channels. And with the Internet exploding into niches the way it is, we’ll each have our own channel before too long. (See Next New Networks one post up on this blog.)

Published in: on May 10, 2007 at 1:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Pan Am: Your Very Own Corporate Jet

Commuting is something you want to have happen to a jail sentence. It’s not something you want to do every day. And yet hundreds of business folk make hellish commutes between New York and Boston and Washington DC many times a week. To ease their pain, Pan Am decided to make its shuttle ultra-comfortable, with extra legroom, leather seats, private phones and frequent, dependable flights.

We dubbed it The Corporate Jet. I wrote a jingle which was played incessantly on the radios and TVs of the northeast. And we hired old J.P. Moneybags from Monopoly to come in and be our winking mascot. Here’s what it looked like…

Published in: on May 9, 2007 at 11:15 pm  Comments (1)  

The Hidden Soul of Canon Office Equipment

Canon Office Equipment was looking for a way to go head to head with IBM, without being so ungallant as to mention their giant competitor’s name. (As you probably know, the Japanese are extremely polite.) We came up with this “Think Again” campaign, which provided another opportunity to use groundbreaking animation in a television spot. Here, Glenn Batkin and I came up with an elegant way to express the hidden qualities of, ahem, an electric typewriter. (Hey, stop snickering, or I’ll force you to watch my ads for steam-driven typewriters.) An “animation spotlight” crosses the machine, revealing the poetry, strength, and versatility that lies beneath that beige exterior, accompanied by another Bill Burnett musical composition. It’s a lovely spot. Check it out…

Published in: on May 9, 2007 at 10:40 pm  Comments (1)  

Me and My Clio

In my first year in the business, as a junior copywriter at Grey Advertising, I won a Clio for best animated spot


It was an exciting moment for me, but a dicey one. My bosses–a couple of extremely ambitious veterans–had made a 60 second Timex spot which cost over $1 million. I believe it was the single most expensive spot ever made at that time. And they wanted to win a Clio for it. They really wanted to win. And they lost, and I won. Me and my art director Glenn Batkin. The kids. We won. Our bosses had to sit it out. Awkward. But great!

Anyway, the interesting thing is that we won for best animated spot. Little did I know I would go on to a whole career in animation, doing breakthrough animated spots for Canon office equipment and VH-1, becoming Creative Director of Hanna-Barbera, one of the greatest Cartoon Factories of all time, and creating ChalkZone for Nickelodeon, as well as eight stand alone cartoon shorts for Nick’s Oh Yeah, Cartoons!

Here’s the spot. It’s called “Engine It’s no great masterpiece, but it did pioneer certain techniques in CGI animation which we now take for granted, like being able to fly through tubes filled with liquid. That had never been done before. Oh, and by the way, I also composed the music. Check it out…

Published in: on May 8, 2007 at 5:39 am  Leave a Comment  

Put Us To Work For You!

I’m proud and excited to announce the launch of our new production company:


(Click on the logo to visit the site.)

I say “our” production company because the super talented woman who runs it is my lovely wife Debrah Lemattre. Debrah is a tremendously gifted director, producer, photographer, editor and graphic artist. She can plan a project, shoot it, edit it, author the DVD, and make the packaging for it. No kidding. She’s a quintuple threat, at least.

As its name suggests, Filmanthropy specializes in doing film, video and graphic work for philanthropic groups and causes. Debrah has made Documentaries, Fundraising Videos, PSAs and Performance Films for the LA Free Clinic, Maria Shriver (and family), Physician’s Assistants, and many more. But she’s also worked on a host of “commercial” ventures. And of course, so have I. I have been on the Filmanthropy team, providing writing, music, animation and branding and positioning consultation.

Now, maybe you’re not a “philanthropic” organization. Maybe you like to make some money out of your worthy endeavors. Well guess what–so do we! We can bring the same budget friendly and brand savvy production techniques to your project that we use for our philanthropic clients. Check out the Filmanthropy A-Z page. I bet you’ll find something there that is just like a project you have in the works–or wish you did. Let’s work on it together!

Published in: on May 7, 2007 at 11:32 pm  Comments (2)  

Positioning A Legendary Institution


I arrived in Los Angeles on the day of the big earthquake. Which is perhaps appropriate, because the job I was applying for–and got–was to shake things up at one of the most venerable studios in Hollywood…Hanna-Barbera. The birthplace of a host of the world’s best known and beloved cartoon characters–The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo, The Jetsons, Top Cat, Huckleberry Hound, Johnny Quest, to name but a handful–had lost its way. It was down at the heel and covered with cobwebs.

Its new owner, Ted Turner (remember him?) wanted it turned into a living, breathing success story again. I worked closely with Fred Seibert and a new staff of tremendously talented executives and creatives, and came up with a positioning document, along with a series of essays that addressed the misconceptions many people–myself included–had about Hanna-Barbera. These documents not only helped us turn Hanna-Barbera around. Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network turned the entire animation industry around, with such breakthrough hits as The Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo, Dexter’s Lab, and Cow and Chicken. And our studio became the training ground for the next generation of young cartoon artists. You can find the document under the “Pages” section to the right of this blog.

Published in: on May 2, 2007 at 7:01 am  Comments (2)