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You Have Been Watching…

Posted on May 9, 2012 and read 1,714 times

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nick smile You Have Been Watching…Nick Bailey
ECD
AKQA Amsterdam

There is a malign influence stalking our industry, turning formerly enthusiastic, optimistic creative professionals into Munch-Scream-faced misanthropes, shivering, twitching wrecks, desperate to get out, to get away, to go anywhere to escape the next two-minutes of fresh hell that awaits.

What began with just a few, isolated cases is now a scourge, infecting otherwise good work and turning it into a will-sapping grey-goo of guitar-driven banality, all wrapped up with a perky VO.

I speak, of course, of the BAD AWARD CASE STUDY FILM.

The BACSF will suck the life-force out of your body via your retinas, until even to lift your index finger to click and scrub forward through the unintelligible voice-over to find the part where it ACTUALLY GETS TO THE POINT takes a super-human effort; until (even though before you started watching you had a pretty good command of English) attempting to extract some kind of actual meaning from the turgid marketing-speak you’re hearing is like being forced to translate Dostoyevsky using only a ‘Russian for Dummies’ text book against the clock with loaded gun pointed at your temple.

How did this happen? When did we all sign up to this mediocrity charter? When did it become OK for the work not to be able to speak for itself? It’s amazing how often in Jury rooms or in the bars afterwards you end up having conversations like, “Did you understand this or that piece of work? I totally didn’t get it.” Even though a team of people who are supposedly communications experts spent a bunch of hours and whole load of money trying to explain it to you. Can it really be that complicated?

A true BACSF needs no analysis to identify, but they do share some increasingly consistent soul-sapping conventions:

  • The whole ‘“the problem”…. “The insight”…’ voiceover formula. It’s impossible for my heart not to sink when the first words I hear are
    “The Problem” – I’ve got enough of my own without hearing about someone else’s; it’s depressing.
  • The sexless ‘something for everyone’ indie music. Who wrote that rule? Are other music genres too potentially polarizing? Why not mix it up a little? Who knows: you might actually elicit an emotional response from someone – or even wake them up.
  • The po-faced seriousness. What’s wrong with having a bit of a laugh? Or (here’s a radical idea) actually seeking to entertain? An award reel that manages to crack a smile would have me loving its creators forever.

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys once said, ‘beware the lollipop of mediocrity. Lick it once and you suck forever’ – he could have been warning us all about the phenomenon of the BACSF. The presence of all this lameness seems to be bringing everyone down to its level so that, far from inspiring us all the raise our game and push the BACSF into the irritating minority niche where it belongs, it’s growing and spreading and spawning hideous imitation after hideous imitation, not unlike the Structured Reality TV show genre. Its very ubiquity is making us all blind to it: film after film after film and it’s as if they’ve all been produced by the same former State Broadcaster of an ex-Soviet republic, rather than world-class advertising agencies.

And here’s what’s worse: The infection has not been contained to the closed, already self-regarding world of the award circuit, where it could only do limited damage. It has broken through, escaped and – with potentially dire consequences – infected the next generation.

Yes. The BACSF has infiltrated and begun to spread its dire influence among student competitions. So that instead of student work feeling fresh and challenging and leftfield and exciting and interesting, it’s beginning to feel tired and clichéd and dry and even sometimes depressing – wrapped in the same dry, clichéd by-the-numbers award-reel conventions the rest of the industry is falling prey to.

Here’s my message to students: Every minute you’re spending recruiting your actor friends with the ‘good’ VO voice, or cutting in iMovie to a generic- guitar-based kookie Indie rock outfit, is a minute you’re not spending interrogating your idea, challenging it, improving it, pushing it, amplifying it. Desist, before it’s too late.

And as for the rest of us: enough already.






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