Thursday, November 21, 2013

Commissioner Vassiliou directed by Pedro Almodovar: that's 'Creative Europe'!

You see, I want to be positive and constructive. Above all I would like to be helpful in some very, very small way. I am longing for improved EU communications - OK, maybe longing is a bit exaggerated, I am not that sad. But I can assure you that it gives me no pleasure whatsoever to continuously criticise the audiovisual material coming out of the institutions. OK, if I am totally honest, it does give me a little bit of pleasure, but I am certainly not happy to be persona non grata in a couple of production companies here in Brussels!

What the hell. Don't you think that if I name a programme 'Creative Europe' I should at least make sure that the video that introduces such programme, shows an understanding for the meaning of the word 'creative'?

We are talking about very good news: an increase in the funding for European culture, i.e. cinema, TV, theatre, music, literature, performing arts and so on. For the next seven years, the programme has at its disposal 1.8 billion euros to boost the cultural and creative sector in the continent. So, great news.  Now, here is the video:

Forget the screen shot (a shot of a truncated graphic! It's not that difficult to change, you know?), the video shows a series of numbers - money and people - on a backdrop of ... well, a bit of everything, really: musicians, dancers, cinemas, libraries. Ah, I nearly forgot: there are also two clips of the commissioner in charge of culture, Androulla Vassiliou.  

Creative? Not really. I did not expect Almodovar-style quality (although, imagining Commissioner Vassiliou directed by the Spaniard, à la Penelope Cruz, would be very entertaining..). And to start with the positive, I am really happy that the Commissioner was filmed in the Strip Museum rather than behind her desk (comic strips, I mean. Don't even go there!).

But the problem is that, despite the good news, and despite the fact that we are talking about something potentially very visual, the video is boring. And it is boring for a simple reason: it's too literal. So, when it talks about funds to translate books you see...books! And when it mentions an increased budget for cinemas you see.....cinemas! You get my drift.

I would like to suggest two alternatives that could have been chosen instead of the literal approach (I am trying to be constructive here!):

The first was to use only one of the cultural expressions mentioned and shown in the video, for example the dancer being filmed for a performance. This would have easily sustained the two and a half minute length. A short edit of different kind of shots, interesting movements, close-ups or top-shots; as a result the whole performance would have looked quite abstract -  to symbolise culture in general and not just dance, for instance - and would have allowed the viewer to focus on what really matters, i.e. the graphics. But all the while watching a consistent set of nice pictures, AND a bunch of numbers.

Or, and this is alternative number two, if the focus were indeed the numbers and the increased funding in the different sectors, then maybe it would have been simpler and clearer to do a good animated video such as the one just produced on EU trade policy. But there is a reason why they chose an animation for trade and not for culture. Trade is not very visual. Culture is. More importantly, European culture is possibly THE one thing that gives us some sort of continental identity. So we should not waste any opportunity to show how amazing it really is.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Viral Veteran: opera in four ingredients.

This week I have selected a non European viral video: the makeover of homeless veteran Jim Wolf. The video has been seen by 13 million people in just a couple of days. Here it is:

Why has it gone viral? A couple of possible suggestions that might be worth keeping in mind when producing a video.

1) Time-lapses are fun. Always. If they are not too long. It is physically gratifying to watch something that normally takes a long time, happen in a couple of minutes; it makes you feel powerful because it helps you escape from the slowness of your daily grind.

2) The Cinderella syndrome. Make-overs are fantastic stories. The sad becoming happy, the poor becoming rich, the homeless finally buying a house; the lonely finding love and so on.

3) The f-word. The producer Rob Bliss (I mean, what a great name!) says that the virality of a video - and he does this for living - is linked to the f-eeling it produces in the person watching it: the stronger the f-eeling the more likely to become viral. Almost obvious I would say. In this case the Cinderella feeling obviously worked, but would it work with any strong feeling, even negative?

4) Maybe not, but could another reason of its success be that the protagonist looks like Chuck Norris' brother or Brad Pitt's older cousin?

I am all for virality when it raises awareness - and a lot of money as it seems - for important issues, homelessness in this case. But, is it me or does the man not look really happy when he watches himself in the mirror?  I know that the video says that he has taken control of his own life and he is going to AA meetings. I don't dispute that he is better now. I am just saying that he did not seem to like himself after all the hard work to make him look just like.... everyone else his age. And it leaves a bit of a bitter taste at the end. It's must be just me.

Anyway, well done to Bliss and Wolf.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Digital is natural, aka Digital makes me feel old. (Little Red Riding Hood revisited)

On the whole, I consider myself rather digital-savvy. I use the computer, have an I-Pad, and am familiar with most social media and some of the coolest apps. I love and use new technologies even if I don't necessarily understand how they work. Of course I am a total Luddite compared to some friends who have made being digitally knowledgeable a priority, even a profession. And I am talking about people my age, or just a couple of years younger.

But if, in a moment of self-flagellation, I were to compare myself to the next generation (to be clear: this means only slightly older than my children) I feel a moron. And please tell me I am not the only one.

I know what I am saying is not earth-shattering. New generations are exponentially better at using and understanding new technologies. Right.

So how does one explain....Neelie Kroes? Is she for real?

Don't want to go into the speculations about her wanting to stay on as commissioner (although at 72???). Nor am I  interested in whether she is really into innovation and digital things as much as she is obliged to say. The fact is that you hear the phrase the 'digital agenda' more often than before. This is at least in part thanks to her, her team and their open and fresh communications strategy. It's true that the digital economy and all that is technology fascinates a wider section of the population than, say, agriculture. But there is more.

The video in this post is quite fun and people can relate to it. It is slightly worrying though: I do confess, I have tried increasing the font of a book with the thumb and index finger, or at least I wished it worked. - It's called a Kindle, Virginia!-

Commissioner Kroes has a huge following on Twitter; she is open to discussion and possible criticism; her spokesperson tweets in a fun and friendly fashion - as does the head of the spokesperson service of the Commission and a few others to be fair. (Interesting side-quiz: how many spokespersons actually have their Twitter names in their press contact details on the Commission's website? And is there a relation with the number of followers?)

Anyway, back to the digital agenda and the next generation. This week the Commission announced the winners of the 'Digital Woman and Digital Girl of the year' and when I read the press release (yes, despite my general aversion, I do read press releases sometimes; this is a post full of confessions!) I wanted to cry. Not because I was moved by the poetry of it, nor by the originality of its layout. No, I wanted to cry because I read that one of the two 'digital girls of the year', now 13, has started CODING. Did you read that? CODING...three years ago! Did you even know what coding was three years ago?? Ok, she wouldn't be digital girl of the year if she only knew how to find a comma on the keyboard, but still, coding at 10? Scary but fantastic.

And so here goes the new version of the 'Little Red Riding Hood' tale: once upon a time there was a grandmother with more than 86.000 followers and a 10 year old girl.. coding...and they all lived happily ever after...Amazing. Sorry, need to go and get my handkerchief!