Cars on screen

As a somewhat regular filmgoer, I often fall prey to the motor industry’s marketing messages.  Yes, we the cinema going public are apparently gagging for a new car, strong liquor and something to treat our terrible acne (mostly recently interminably promoted by a CGI goose) – which does feel less than ideal as a combination.  On the whole, the ad reel is entirely independent of the cinema or film – but I did recently discover a couple of exceptions.

  • Before the Shaun the Sheep movie (U), the ad reel was really very different, nothing to dull the pain of existence or excise my spots, but full of much brighter colours and mysterious products which I presume were aimed at much younger viewers (and left me begging for strong liquor).
  • In Scotland, an ad for the NatWest morphs into one for the Royal Bank of Scotland, losing the dulcet voice-over tones of Rebecca Front to be replaced by a someone with a Scottish accent and changing the corporate logo in the branch at the end (but nothing else).

But, I should return to the plot (such as it is) and the attempts by car makers to flog their wares.  What I have come to realise in these visual offerings is that the vehicles always have UK licence plates, but are clearly not in the UK (and frequently admit that the model shown does not even exist in the UK).  Why is it so important to maintain this flimsiest of fictions?   Would the actors’ skin tones be darkened for sunnier markets as well – or have they been lightened for cloudy Britain?

More importantly, the cars are always being driven either on entirely deserted streets or in some barren wilderness (the latter is normally true if the vehicle is a 4×4).  Clearly, we are being sold some entirely spurious idea of freedom which the automobile is supposed to deliver – and I suppose if we go back far enough in time, once did.  However, to me it looks as though motor manufacturers are in complete denial about the existence of traffic or are hoping their clients will only wish to use their cars after the recent detonation of a neutron bomb (or perhaps in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse).  This gives all the ads a somewhat dystopian feel which seems at odds with the desire to shift product.

A few recent ads, show a “classic” car from a company’s product line and then show it driving near to its latest incarnation.  Without exception (for me at least) these make the older car look much the more attractive – but that may be down to my age.  However, the message seems to be: look how ugly our new car is, why not try and find a decent second-hand example from when our cars weren’t designed be a committee of accountants?

I think this demonstrates why (a) I am a poor target for advertising (I insist on taking home the wrong message) and (b) should never be hired to work in marketing – or perhaps I am the small boy pointing out the emperor’s nudity in this scenario?  The ads rarely look cheap (though clearly are recycled across multiple markets) so I assume someone has checked whether they actually do any good?  Still, I probably shouldn’t complain as they must be subsidising my cinema-going habit – though I must try and curb the desire to laugh (or at least splutter) at some of the more egregious examples.

In a related topic, I have noticed the frequency with which characters on both film and TV will have a conversation whilst in a moving vehicle.  The only problem with this idea is the apparent difficulty of doing this in real life on both safety and continuity grounds (I would guess) means that the world outside the vehicle is usually faked.  My issue is that it tends to be faked really badly – even on otherwise high-budget productions.  It is usually a little better at night, but would still rarely fool anyone who has ever been in a vehicle while in possession of functioning eyes.  Entire series are made leaning heavily on (often quite convincing) CGI, but somehow no-one can create a convincing backdrop for a moving car.  Given this clear difficulty, surely it would make sense to hold fewer (or no) conversations in moving cars? It is not as though (in the real world) people only talk in cars, there are lots of alternatives!  Is the “moving” of the vehicle supposed to distract us from some slightly dull (if plot critical) exposition?  Or is it just down to a failure of the teaching in film school?  Is avoiding this issue part of the allure of period drama?

The Selfie

The “selfie”, the production of a photographic self-portrait using a smart phone camera, has been a popular topic in the soi-disant news media for a little while.  I must admit to being amazed, following the hysterical Sunday Format on Radio 4 many years ago, that newspaper Lifestyle pages (where this topic has been a mainstay) seem to continue unchanged and without the slightest hint of irony – but it is so.  But, to return to my main theme, the recent announcement that the OED has made “selfie” their New Word of the Year has only added accelerant to the existing flames.

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while, may remember my very poor quality attempt to capture an image of myself on or near a Eurostar train, primarily to make my nephew jealous – an activity, which following his karate competition-winning exploits this last weekend, may be rather more dangerous than I had previously realised.  In general, I try to avoid any photographic evidence of my existence entering the public (or indeed a private) domain.  So far as I can recall, the nearest thing to a selfie on this blog are my plum-clad legs and white-socked feet (at which sight, I’m sure many a reader has swooned) – though there is, of course, the infamous “vlog” post for those not of a nervous disposition.

I do, in fact, have a few photos that might count as “selfies”.  These are normally taken on some high point, with the camera (these pre-date the smart phone) perched precariously on a trig point or cairn, with use of the timer enabling me to (mostly) appear within frame.  These shots are to prove to my mother (and anyone else interested) that I was really there.  Occasionally, another hiker can be persuaded to capture a small portion of my soul for posterity, but this is less fun than the DIY approach.

Other selfies have occasionally been needed to use as a thumbnail for Skype or other similar applications. My “picture” for Twitter is in fact a small jar of spice and another of fish (anchovies, if anyone is interested) – a choice which is explained in a much earlier post.  Such thumbnails are just taken “live” when required without any preparation or posing (except for the two jars which were posed with some care) – and, probably show both this total lack of preparation and the dread concentration need to line everything up while pushing the right button.  My last such thumbnail is probably a good 5 or more years old by now.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should make clear that this lack of desire for images of myself does not arise from some virtuous lack of vanity (as this blog, where all is vanitas, should readily prove) – perhaps quite the reverse.

Las week, the “man” suddenly decided that “he” needed a selfie of me to include as part of a proposal going out to a potential client.  I realise that this has been de rigeur for models and actors for some time, but I hadn’t realised it had spread to the life of the mere desk jockey.  I’m not sure what seeing a small, dodgy photo of me can add to a proposal (unless it were one of marriage) – especially if it were to be read at a meal time – and can only feel it is part of our society’s increasing obsession with images and the self.  Do serious business folk reject or accept proposals because the delivering team would involve someone with blue eyes, a side-parting or ginger hair?  I’m sure I’ve written before about the number of TV programmes which are a much shorter, punchier radio programme with some moving pictures unnecessarily tacked on.  In a similar vein, I always find myself railing against websites where a potentially interesting article requires me to watch a video – I’d far rather read some text (with the odd picture, if you insist) while I continue to listen uninterrupted to BBC 6Music, Radio 3 or a CD.  It would seem that I am a fan of using the simplest medium for any given message – perhaps an otherwise latest desire for efficiency finding an outlet? (This post was supposed to be a really short one – so much for efficiency!)

Anyway, I felt I had to comply with the request and so had to rifle through back-ups (backs-up?) of old hard drives to seek an image of myself not standing triumphant on hill or mount.  Perhaps readers would care to decide whether the proposal will have gained or lost from its inclusion…

Would you "buy" this face?

Would you “buy” this face?

A Star is born

As I was compiling a less than thrilling compendium of my weekend’s activities (or at least the one’s I was willing to share with the general public) and the damage I sustained in the enjoyment thereof, I missed perhaps the most seismic of all the occurrences from the litany.

Oh yes, the medium of the blog may soon no longer be sufficient to contain my creative genius.  As I wandered twixt the Courtauld and Last of the Hausmanns, strolling along the South Bank I made my television debut.  Well, I may have made my debut: as I was recorded I may yet end up on the cutting room floor, but I have high hopes as it is well-known that I have great screen presence and I was wearing my burgundy trousers to boot (oh no, I didn’t just stop at the plum).

To my chagrin, if broadcast this appearance will be on BBC3 and will feature me trying not to walk into a female comedian of Irish extraction (despite her rather erratic behaviour).  I had always rather fancied I would break onto the screen via a BBC4 documentary – either as the subject or front man – but you have to play the cards you’re dealt.  I’m sure once directors and casting agents see me, offers should start flooding in.  Well, a chap can dream…

Pitching a TV Show: The First Attempt

I was shaving this morning, properly, with a blade – actually with 4 blades, though I’m still too scared to switch the vibration option on (I fear a blood bath, or blood sink: as previously established I’m not a big fan of the bath) – and whilst noting that the bathroom sink could do with a clean, came up with a wizard new TV show idea.

I think this idea would be best for a channel like five or Bravo, and could provide a new vehicle for Danny Dyer or Ross Kemp.  The series would be entitled, “Britain’s Hardest Water”, and would involve the presenter looking at tap-water around the country and getting it to demonstrate just how “hard” it is.

Incidentally, tap water provides a nice counter to the traditional north-south stereotyping, whereby the south is generally consider ‘soft’ in all ways.  Trust me, Cambridge tap water is seriously hard – it’s basically liquid marble.

Saving the planet…

…one Saturday night at a time.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC for short) has been running a competition for several years now.  The contestants are hoping to win the chance to build a carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) scheme on a coal-fired power station of their choice.  CCS is a fairly hefty bit of kit, which might most easily be explained as a scrubber (get your minds back out of the gutter, please) which scrubs a power station’s exhaust to remove most of the CO2.  In this way, we can head off global warming at the pass – or at least mildly slow its implacable advance.

OK, to be honest, it’s not so much the chance to build CCS the contestants hope to win as a huge wad of (taxpayers’ hard-earned) cash to pay for the thing.  Unfortunately, the competition is dragging on a bit and almost all of the contestants have left – some willingly, other less so.

I feel there is a clear opportunity here which our government seems to have missed.  We have a need to choose a winner from a number of entrants – and this is something Saturday Night TV has been doing for several years now.

Our entrants need to be “tested” against a number of criteria – which seems to lend itself to weekly trials (an obvious error in the current competition is that it takes too long, which destroys the narrative tension – the viewers need a weekly fix and probably backstage access on ITV2).  These trials will need to be judged – I suggest an older man, a rude man, a pretty girl and A N Other.  In the early rounds, we will have some complete no-hopers which could be handled by the judges on their own.  Once we have weeded these out, then the viewers would get to vote for their favourite – following some guidance from our judges, but probably picking the one with the most tragic backstory.  The entrant(s) with the least votes would leave the competition – perhaps after some sort of dance-off – in floods of tears and with frequent mention of having “been on a journey”.  The revenue from the phone votes could fund the winner’s CCS – and the blanket coverage in Heat (oh, the delicious irony) magazine should help to raise public awareness of the electricity industry and climate change (it might even make me and my job “cool” – or is it “phat” now, or “sweet”? “Groovy” anyone?).

The final element of this format is two loveable, if vertically challenged, Northern lads to present the show.  We already have DECC, so we just need to find an ANTT!