Miscellany

Mandatory Sensations / The Experimental

In most organizations, there’s going to be a tension between what’s been proven to work, and what’s worth experimenting with for the future.  Last time I checked, facebook is a company that experiments a lot; it’s a core value at the company.

Of course, new initiatives aren’t always successful.  I can remember a long time back when Monday Night Football selected comedian Dennis Miller to be a commentator.  My recollection is that it was not a good idea at all.  However, one certainly can’t fault Miller, and although the ABC network was perhaps too lax in screening this experiment beforehand, you can at least credit them for being willing to fail.

Virtually all organizations – no matter how ancient and stoic – have to eventually try something new and risk failure.

Moving along with a simple case study, I can’t really remember the last time I saw much or any of the Academy Awards, but in recent years I more or less remember the headlines surrounding the event.  To be pretty general, there were calls for change regarding the award results.

Now, my gut feeling is whether or not the suggested changes were warranted, the Academy Awards was like a sitting duck.  It’s perceived lack of experimentation, and more generally any sense of movement or change, inadvertently created a curious vulnerability for it at that point in time.

This is the curious vulnerability:  It didn’t really matter if it made sense for the Academy Awards to experiment radically.  It also didn’t really matter if the changes demanded by external forces were warranted.  Today, by default, an organization is expected to experiment, and more generally, exude a sense of movement or changingirrespective of what that movement or change is!  Organizations that don’t do this are automatically, implicitly, and perhaps subconsciously, considered faulty, if not guilty!

Yes, it seems as though your organization has to propagate a sense of movement or change, even if completely vague, just for the sake of producing that sensation.  We’re now several generations past the “MTV generation”, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

In a motto: If you don’t control the conversation about “change” in your organization, the odds are much higher than someone else will.

With respect to the Academy Awards, I think the experimentation that they’d need to embark on to effect that general sense of change would have to go beyond who is the host.  The experimentation will have to affect the fundamental nature of the event.  For instance, award categories.  Perhaps add some new experimental categories, and try them out in the run-up to the actual show.  Perhaps include some in the time slot where they kind of just show actors walking into the building.  And perhaps others in the days and weeks preceding the actual event.

And to that end, I’ve had musings for some time that are somewhat obscure, but nevertheless interesting and perhaps worthy of some kind of experimentation one day.  They probably also cater more to cinephiles than the average consumer, and that, specifically, could be a great part of the experimentation.  In my opinion, they’re legitimate categories in their own right.

1. New Experimental Category: Highest Ratio of Trailer Quality to Motion Picture Quality

In other words, it was an incredible trailer for an awful movie.

Of course, it wasn’t necessarily an awful movie.  In fact, my current all-time pick for this category is Safe, which was not bad at all.

The bottom line is trailer composition is an art that’s currently not recognized in any way.  The producer for the trailer may have the lamest film of all time to work with, but his job is to take that, and from it create the most compelling 60-second preview possible.  That is an art!

To drive this home further, Hollywood is approaching $50 billion a year in revenue, and this is easily the most unheralded facet of that cash cow, even though it’s one of the absolute most critical trades.  Imagine a Hollywood where all the films were the same, but all the trailers were absolutely awful.  I would envision many billions of dollars in lost revenue.

2. New Experimental Category: Greatest Motion Picture Over-Performance

In other words, you saw the poster, you saw the trailer, you knew about the cast, you knew who the director was, and… you were completely shocked at how good the film was.

Similar to before, it doesn’t necessarily mean all those aforementioned ingredients were of low quality.  And of course it doesn’t necessarily mean the film is that great.

Picks from recent memory include Law Abiding Citizen, Broken City, and Prisoners.  Perhaps owing to the complexity of the measurement, it’s difficult for me to choose one as the clear winner.

To drive home the above points, the best film I’ve seen from the recent past is The Dark Knight.  However, it wouldn’t be a contender because, although it actually did over-perform, I expected a very high level of quality to begin with.

3. New Experimental Category: Best Scene From A Motion Picture

This is self explanatory, and there are too many possibilities to list right here.

I also think this is a non-cinephile category that could captivate the average consumer.

4. New Experimental Category: Moodiest Motion Picture Film

Wow, now this is a niche experimental category!

I have no idea how to quantify the moodiness of a film, or articulate what this category even really means, but you know it when you see it.

One thing I’m pretty sure of is music tends to play a critical role.  That said, this isn’t Best Motion Picture Score or Best Motion Picture Soundtrack.

For me, the film that really stands out is the mostly-unknown 1996 Spanish film by Carlos Saura, Taxi.

Fittingly, the soundtrack featured cult band Mano Negra, which was noteworthy for its very high level of experimentation.  Numerous multilingual tracks from the the band’s relevant album Casa Babylon have a very unconventional and original sound, and are worth a listen.

Equally worthy of consideration, with an equally moody score,  soundtrack, visuals, and writing, is Yimou Zhang’s 1995 film, Shanghai Triad.