A VIKING IN MY DUSTBIN. (55) Caption Desperation.

It’s true, especially for freelance wannabees, that it’s not what you know it’s who you know that counts.
I went along to the interview full of confidence with my Birmingham portfolio under my arm crammed with good stuff and had my interview. It turned out it wasn’t just with Dave, but also with several members of the studio.

The staff there produced all manner of graphics for programmes,for light entertainment shows, childrens’ shows, regional daily news broadcasts, dramas, documentaries and the nightly weather forecasts, to name but a few. It was a very busy place and hummed with activity.
In those days there were no computers to assist in production, no ‘Illustrator’, no ‘Photoshop’ what appeared on the TV screen had mostly been produced by hand and ‘Letraset’.

To my disappointment, I wasn’t offered a position on the studio staff, but as it turned out something much better. Dave had read me right, I would have been bored out of my crust on the studio staff, there’s a limit to how much ‘Letrasetting’ a weather forecast artist can take. Much better, he said he’d give me regular freelance work and he was true to his word.

First they had me producing illustrations for caption boards promoting movies they were to show later in the week. Doesn’t sound like much but it was really challenging and they paid me ten pounds for each one.
The phone would ring at home where I’d set up a cramped studio in the spare bedroom of the little house we’d now moved into and someone from the promotions department would read me a paragraph describing a basic synopsis of the films’ story. This I scribbled down and started the wheels of my imagination turning.
There was never any visual material given over, I had to make an illustration up. Usually I produced an illustration directly on paper, using pencil, air-brush paint or a combination and stuck it down onto a shiny black board, supplied by the studios, using wonderful ‘Cow Gum’.

For TV transmission the caption would be placed before a caption camera and broadcast ‘live’ with a voice-over as a promo for the coming movie. Half the time the outlines I received were of films which I knew and seen, but the other half were ones I’d never heard of, never mind the actors who appeared in them.
Sometimes, the worst, there was virtually nothing to go on but the title. Then it was a nightmare. I’d scratch my head up there in the back bedroom wondering what image I could come up with that said anything relating to the films’ story. In the worst case I just made things up and produced something really abstract; surprisingly no-one ever seemed to notice, in fact I don’t think anyone checked to see what I’d done.

One film that gave me real problems was a science fiction flick which I hadn’t seen (and bearing in mind the internet was centuries away, so couldn’t look up) it was a “B’ movie, called simply, ‘Them’. Them what, potatoes? Budgies? See what I mean. The work of course, came with a deadline; this by the way is not a line of work for the nervously challenged, all the work I produced for TV studios, came with a deadline; deadlines became the bane of my life.

Having said that, I’ve always found that there’s nothing like a bit of pressure to get the creative juices coursing through the brain helping you produce the right answer at the right time. However with something like ‘Them’, which I never did get a description of, the clock became a sadist. I did several versions but none looked right. Then I thought, well maybe ‘potatoes’ wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

A VIKING IN MY DUSTBIN. (55) Caption Desperation.

John Sunderland

New York, United States

  • Artist

Artist's Description

Small job for the TV studio, big pressure for the guy in the bedroom studio.

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