Mon 8 Nov 2010
Okay, I generally hate television commercials. For sundry weighty reasons. Mostly, because they no longer actually give any information about the products.
I remember one of my last meetings with an adman friend of mine who, alas, is no longer with us. We were talking about the sad state of American advertising. He told me that it was no longer even remotely about product information. It was almost wholly about branding.
But I digress.
I think I have discovered a commercial that I truly dislike. It has nothing to do with the product (Southwest Airlines). It has nothing to do with the branding (Southwest cares about you and, I don’t know, has a hippie street band that likes to sing in public for free). It has to do with the directing.
Have you seen this commercial? A band of ebullient Southwest airline employees led by a pilot with a guitar, are singing the praises of their benevolent company and ethical pricing, while walking through the streets of a major city. It is corporate HAIR without the feeling, the joy, or the talent.
Okay, now to the object of my loathing: the actor playing the role of the pilot does not play the guitar. And what I truly mean by that is that this commercial shoot is probably the first time he has ever held a guitar. I mean look at that guy. You do not strum a guitar like that, at least if you don’t want other guitarists to pelt you with sweaty bandanas.
And this is where I really get pissed off. That director was a lot of money to make that commercial … and he doesn’t have the skills or the eye to see a detail like that? And not only does he not fix that, but he puts that kind of thing front and center in his shots. I mean, come on! That really dumbfounds me.
To get paid that much money and let something like that fly … shame on someone.
I saw a bunch of one-hour shows at Theatre Cedar Rapids’ Underground Festival. Honestly, things were all over the place, but there were a few good shows and some really quite nice performances. And I realized that one of the things that set some plays and some performances apart was the simple attention to detail.
An example: Matthew James, who is one the finest young actors in Eastern Iowa, was in a production of No Exit. There were a couple of good things going on in this show, but there was one thing that really impressed me.
There is a simple line in the show: at one point Inès says something to Garcin about his twisting mouth. Now many actors would simply affect some lip twisting at that moment and then that moment would be forgotten. But a smart actor (or director if that is necessary) would use that moment to inform a specific detail about the character and use it throughout his performance.
And that is exactly what Matthew James did. Throughout the entire the play, before and after that moment, it was a part of his character’s habits. It was really a nice performance.
I guess that the thing that the heinous commercial has given me is a renewed understanding of the beauty of details in performance. It is really the thing that can separate one show from another.
Okay, this is an add-on from November 9. I just saw a commercial for American Express with Conan O’Brien that takes my meaning about details in entertainment and really runs with it. As a director who has ade specific props for a show before because it is one that I want made in a specific way, this ad speaks to me, and also probably to my therapist.
Here it is: Conan O’Brien American Express commercial.