I was at a house party in the hills of Studio City in LA a few years back, spending time with my buddy Jeff, an aspiring screenwriter and director. I was never one to go out clubbing and get crazy, mostly because I work best when I’m rested and not hung over. But a 100-person gathering with “ Party Jeff ” was always a good time and all I had to do was bring my own beer.
At the time I think I was working on an Activision gig for a game called Soldier of Fortune, which was turning into a nightmare. Concept art is fun in theory, but I was working under a committee—meaning 12 guys in suits putting their two cents in about each line I put down. Everything I did had to be redone at least once. I was being well paid but the stress was costing me my sanity. Some people HAVE to put their fingerprints all over a project whether they’re an expert or not. Some people want to change things simply because they can. Twice I got into a yelling match over the phone, telling them things like “I’m not a machine”, “you hired me to do what I do, so let me do it”, and phrases of that nature.
When Party Jeff heard this, he told me something I never forgot.
According to Party Jeff (who worked at Warner Brothers), the writers of Arrested Development where having similar problems working under committee and getting scripts approved. And what they started doing (according to an interview with David Cross, I believe) was making mistakes ON PURPOSE. They called them Purple Dogs (although I’ve Googled this and found nothing, so maybe I was more drunk than I realized).
A Purple Dog is genius, and let me explain why.
A committee, a studio or a tough editor will sometimes press himself to find mistakes even though there may be none. If he doesn’t find error, then his job doesn’t exists, so he’ll try and make a point to show HIS bosses that it’s a good thing they hired him, otherwise Sean Murphy would be screwing up Soldier of Fortune. Finding error justifies their egos and their positions.
So if I’m working on a project and I sense that my bosses are like that, I’ll start making Purple Dogs. If I’ve just finished a picture of a guy with a gun that looks perfect, I’ll open it up in PS and make his head HUGE. Then I’ll say it as a different file and send it off to be approved. An, like Chewbacca falling into an Ewok trap, I get word back that, while they love the picture, they feel his head might be a tad too big. After waiting a few hours (however long it would take to resize a head), I’ll send the ACTUAL original and not the Purple Dog.
Am I wasting their time? Yes. Are they wasting mine? Yes. But if they’re paid to find errors then I might as well make it easy…like spotting a Purple Dog. At the end of the day, they feel happy to have contributed and you feel happy about not having to make any fixes. No one ever has to know.
I know I’m not the first person to do this, but I would love it if we all started referring to these acts as Purple Dogs. To give something a name is to draw attention to it, and maybe overbearing committees will relax a little if Purple Dogs became a known phenomenon.