DC is more than just our nation’s capital: It’s home to some of the most creative minds in the advertising business. These thought leaders are pushing the envelope, developing award-winning campaigns that inform and inspire far beyond Washington. We sat down with past ADDY Award winners to learn what motivates them to Resist the Expected.
Today’s creative brain is Harry Evans, a Senior Sound Designer/Mixer at Clean Cuts. He’s won many ADDYs but can’t tell you which ones — he’s just in the business because he loves what he does, especially when clients realize that sound design isn’t scary.
Tell me about the best ADDY Award-winning campaign you worked on.
I was afraid you were going to ask me this. Nothing is in my brain. I don’t remember anything that I’ve won. I’ve been here for 15 years. I’ve won stuff that was best in show, I’ve won a bunch of golds and silvers. I won an Emmy and I couldn’t tell you what it’s for.
You know what? This may sound stupid, but I really don’t care. I love what I do, I love working with the people that I work with, whether they’re award winners or they’re never going to win an award. I approach everything I do the same way. I want it to be the very best that I can possibly make it and I want my client to be completely happy with what I’ve done.
I’ll take ownership as far as you’ll let me, but at the end of the day, I want you to be happy. If I’ve done work that I think is fantastic and you say, “No, get rid of that,” cool, let’s do it because I want you to be happy.
What was the best thing that you’ve ever worked on here?
That’s a really hard question. I loved the FEMA work we did. The bystander one, a “choose your own adventure” series of vignettes that was really well thought out. I loved that — it was really fun to work on. We did original music; I did the sound design and the mix.
The thing that sticks out for me was one scene where they actually kill a kid. You can choose one of the endings and the very next thing [you see] is the freaking ferris wheel falls and kills a kid in a go-cart. WHAT? That was completely unexpected. I thought it was cool that FEMA [included that scene]. It was just a really cool concept as a whole.
Speaking of unexpected, what do you think it means to resist the expected?
Not doing the easy thing. Any time I sit down at a project, I’ve got a pocket full of things that I can pull out and do quickly. Resisting the expected, to me, is to stand back and not pull out all the easy stuff, but really think about what you’re doing.
In my world of sound design that could mean not going, “whoosh, whoosh, bang, whoosh, bang, cymbal, whoosh, done.” Maybe [the piece] would lend itself more to a musical approach. Maybe I pull out an instrument, maybe I augment the stock library track that you’ve selected and I make it sound like it’s been post-scored. Stuff that you may never hear unless I point it out to you, but as you watch it, the whole thing flows.
Resisting the expected means putting more creative thought into [what you’re doing], which is especially fun on projects that could be [done the easy way]: What can I bring to this to elevate it, even though it’s the easiest thing I’ve done all week? That doesn’t matter because I don’t want to phone it in, I want to do a great job and think about it as its own creative entity, and not compare it to this, that, or the other. What can I do to make this the best it can possibly be?
What creative clichés do you wish people would resist?
A lot of people tend to be afraid of sound design because they’re unfamiliar with it or they have a wrong impression of it. They think, “Sound design means they’re going to put whooshes everywhere and they’re going to make all this crazy sound.”
With good sound design, you should never be distracted from the message. I shouldn’t add anything to your mix that’s going to make you go, “What was that?” Everything that I do should accentuate your message and should keep you glued to the messaging.
Sound design can be really beneficial. If you’ve got a creative piece with a man and a woman talking to each other, why do they have to be in this dead space? Why can’t they be in a grocery store? On the front lawn? In a bar? A restaurant? Let’s put them somewhere. That’s sound design. I’m putting these people in a location, which draws you into the story.
What are they talking about? Healthcare. Okay, maybe they’re standing in the hallway of a hospital. Let’s make that sound and let’s put them there.
It’s like you’re building this audio experience — specifically I’m thinking about radio. There is no picture, so you’ve just got to make a picture with sound. Then doing stuff to video, it’s the same way. It doesn’t have to be whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. It can be musical, it can be ambient, it can be abstract. There are all kinds of ways to make it very effective.
I wish people wouldn’t be afraid of sound design. At least present it and say, “This can elevate your piece to the next level.” It can make [your piece] feel much bigger and more grand if you just spend a little time.
Something else that is extremely powerful that people don’t think about is silence. Especially in TV, because let’s say you’re out in the kitchen during a commercial and your TV goes silent. What’s the first thing you do? You turn around and look at your TV. To see why it’s quiet. If you have a big message, maybe try silence because that’s going to get people’s attention because they’re not used to hearing nothing.
Why do you think advertising competitions are important?
They make people want to be more creative. If I can do something that’s going to impress other people, I think it helps to elevate work across the board. You know, if nobody cared, and if there were no awards, and if there was no, “Hey, look how great these people are,” then you [don’t have] a bar to shoot for to be better and better.
At awards [shows], you see work and go, “That was the Best in Show last year. I can do better than that. Let’s find something to do this year that’s going to be better.” It just elevates the work across the board and it makes our local community do better work.
What do you think is unexpected about the creative in DC?
People don’t realize there’s so much creative in DC. If you look at it from a national level, I don’t know that DC is seen as a creative town as far as production, but there is a lot of creativity here — agency-wise, post house-wise, audio-wise, video-wise. There’s a LOT of creativity in DC and that’s what’s remarkable about our market.
What is your favorite ad of all time?
I love the Geico campaigns. They’re so creative. I just feel they just go, “Yeah, whatever. Do what you want.” There’s not someone at Geico worrying, “Oh, we’re going to offend somebody.” Or, “This is weird, and I don’t understand it.” Instead of scrapping all this great creative work, Geico’s just letting them do just this crazy stuff that’s so entertaining, and so good, and so memorable.
I also really like the creepy old Burger King commercials with the king. Those were really fun. I thought that was just weird. I also love the KFC advertising since they’ve redone their branding and they have a different colonel all the time. I think that stuff is fantastic. “You like chicken? You like boxes? You’re going to love KFC.”
I like advertising that’s risky. I wish clients would be willing to be a little more creative and a little more open, and not so worried. Hey, does it ruffle some feathers? Well, good. People are going to talk about it, and people are going to remember it, and people are going to think about it. If you just do the same, safe, boring advertising all the time, nothing will happen. Just be a little more edgy. Be a little more willing to take a chance on something that’s a little more outside the box.
What advice do you have for someone submitting to the ADDYs?
Don’t overthink it. If you think it’s cool, don’t say, “Oh well, you know, they might…” Just submit it. Someone else is probably going to think it’s cool too. If it’s not, we’ll let you know.
What is it about you that is unexpected?
I’m thoroughly churched. I’m a very religious person. I’m pretty much an open book but that’s something that most people don’t know. Fun facts about Harry? Thoroughly churched.
Come see all of the work that resisted the expected this year by attending the 2018 ADDY Awards on March 29th at Gypsy Sally’s.
Meghan Kotlanger, the friendliest of interrogators, is a producer/director at Eastward, a content studio in DC and LA. Eastward is a collective of creatives, driven by curiosity and conviction, that bring a range of experiences and disciplines together under one filmmaking roof.
Matthew Rakola, is a photographer with 16 years of experience working with a wide range of commercial, editorial, and educational clients. He specializes in making “real people” shine in front of the lens, usually by poking fun at himself.