The Big Think

April 17, 2013

The Steel Building and the Yellow Towel

Filed under: Business,Education,Movies,Music — jasony @ 9:18 am

And now for something non political. You’re welcome. 🙂

I saw this on Facebook this morning and it got me thinking about music, movie trailers, and communicating through art. Give this a few minutes. In fact, watch it once and don’t think about anything. Just watch it as you would any other trailer. Then watch it again and pay attention to the music.

Movie trailers are an art form in and of themselves. A good trailer can make or break a quarter-billion-dollar movie, making the lowest piece of dreck seem like a perfectly good way to blow ten bucks and two hours on a friday night. Similarly, a bad trailer can take the best piece of cinema and leave the audience with a deadly feeling of “meh” during the previews. This trailer accomplishes what it sets out to do perfectly. Posing spoken and unspoken questions in the mind of the viewer while building to an emotional climax that makes you feel better for having watched it.

First off, I really like what the the music isn’t. It’s not the typical BWAAAH… BWAAAHHHH that we’ve become accustomed to since Inception a few years ago. It doesn’t get in your face and say “I’M THE MUSIC!”. That works in some contexts and trailers, but this one called for a more reserved and traditional approach. From the quiet piano statement at the beginning with simple harmonies, the music is understated while still being regal. Then the light rhythm starts and we hear words of inspiration and aspiration. Slow build. Slow build. Good intercutting between the spoken words and the music. Good storytelling in a three minute format. The trailer is a mini-movie in itself. By the time the brass comes in full-tilt at the 2:00 mark we’re sold. Give us the bad guy, show us the digital FX. Explosions and mayhem. It becomes a big giant summer movie blockbuster but somehow seems like… more. Then we’re rounding back to the simple initial theme before ending with a punch. It’s a great trailer, and a fitting tribute to a fun standalone art form.

It is tough to connect with an audience when you have limited time and a small pallet. You need to tell a story, communicate emotions, manipulate (but in an honorable, allowable way), and leave the viewer feeling fulfilled and also expectant. It’s a difficult thing to do that often comes down to individual frames, beats, fractions of a second, and that ineffable thing that’s impossible to communicate but you know when it’s right.

I’m reminded of a story from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. A young theater director was having a hard time making a scene work with his actors in rehearsal. Not knowing what else to do, he called in a much more experienced director to watch the scene and make suggestions. After silently watching for several run throughs and getting a sense of things, the experienced director thought for a while and then pointed his finger at a prop and said “that towel should be yellow”. And that was it. After that, the scene worked. The audience loved it, and the show did well.

How did he do it? What was the mystical, magical thing that changed? I don’t know. And here’s the important part… the older director probably didn’t either. But somewhere in his brain was locked the accumulated experience of tens of thousands of hours laboriously adjusting, tweaking, massaging, and correcting performances until they felt right. Until something unknowable just clicked. And when asked to correct a scene for a younger director, that inner voice supplied an answer that didn’t make sense, but made the scene sing.

That’s what we do as artists. Whether it’s movie trailers, the written word, or Sing acts. Communicating with an audience through art is an act of constantly digging into the depths of experience and finding the yellow towel that makes something take flight. It reminds us that speaking through art is the hardest thing to accomplish consistently but also the one that touches us most deeply.

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