Authenticity: Why good films should shine and even hurt a little

Why it’s pointless to strive for more than self-similarity

Filme are as varying and multifaceted as life itself. Be it an image film or a video as an object of art  – as long as a film triggers something, i.e. conveys an effect – and remains within a moral, rightful framework, films can do just about anything. Nevertheless both  films and clients strive for one thing above all else: Authenticity.

In this articles, Videothink shines a light on the complex, but just as alluring areas of conflict that often come about when trying to achieve authentic communication with moving image, authenticity in image films or authentic product videos.

While for most of us – as human beings – it’s never too late to strive to become the person we really want to be. Films and videos however – after postproduction – become the final, definite, unchangeable version of themselves. From that point onwards, it’s like with crocodiles and tree trunks: No matter how long a tree trunk floats in the water, it has no hope of ever becoming a crocodile.

Now, what does it entail for a film or video to be perceived as authentic?

Every film student is taught that when analysing a film, it’s not enough to simply examine the work at hand. The messenger (filmmaker) and the receiver (viewer) have to be considered too. In sponsored films, this triangle of filmmaker-viewer-film, becomes a square, because corporate films always have to take the client into account too.

In order to understand what really makes a corporate film authentic, we have to approach it with these three aspects – client, filmmaker and viewer – in mind.

Authenticity from the point of view of the messenger

The majority of contracting bodies or clients (hopefully) have good reason to commission a film or video. Often this reason is a desire to raise awareness, become more appealing or strengthen or change the image a company or product already has. Or even to trigger the viewer’s interest and convince them to purchase what’s on offer. Up until this point, it’s all quite straightforward. Problems begin to pop up, when we ask ourselves, how the aforementioned effects can be made a reality.

The most common conflict arises with the knowledge that, on the one hand a plain, straightforward film, without highlights or novelties in content, can only strive to be mediocre. When it comes to achieving effect in today’s ruthless fight for attention in the realm of moving image, the formula: “Mediocrity = Uselessness” unfortunately applies. Of course, if you stand out, you have to deal with the consequences of being an easy target. Whoever drives around in convertible, has to accept that their hair will look a mess.

A perfect example for this type of conflict is the way off-commentary is often used in image films. Last year, I had the pleasure evaluating several corporate films, as part of the jury of a national and international film contest. I hate to admit it: There were moments – after having watched over a dozen of the sponsored films – where I had the slightly perverse desire to secretly swap the audios of the films overnight, just to see if anyone would actually notice the next day. As I watched a few more videos, I came to the sad realisation and my fears were confirmed: no one would even blink an eye if I were to interchange the audios of all these videos.

Thomas Sevcik of Thinktank Arthesia – a creative and pioneering out-of-the-box-thinker, an eloquent and brilliant all-round great guy- was way ahead of us when he coined the term self-similar communication years ago, when referring to communication with film and video. Self-similar because filmic communication has to remain faithful to the messenger (filmmaker), but can only be successful if – in face of the similarity required – you have the courage to carefully venture beyond the usual press statements and excel sheets.

Authenticity from the viewer’s point of view

In the eyes of the viewer, authenticity means high surface coverage when it comes to your own expectations. Viewers are almost always preconditioned. Either by the expectations connected to the brand or product. Or by the style of the film – or even its very first image – can condition the spectator. In cinema every film has to life up to the expectation of its genre. It’s no different for advertising films, image films, leadership videos or product films.

Authenticity or Fake Videothink

Self-similar or fake?

People always look for context and orientation. That doesn’t mean that the viewer isn’t open to be guided, misguided or even seduced. Online, where the first 3 to 5 seconds can determine the fate of your film or video, if the promise of added value is hard to decipher, in film, a spectator will quite simply choose look way.

The filmmaker’s point of view

For the filmmaker authenticity is even more of a challenge.

On the one hand – film theory in mind – films that aren’t subjective, don’t exist. The choice of the point of view or narrative perspective defines the medium of film, in the same way editing does. Even when it comes to 360-image films, the positioning of the 360- degree camera has been specifically and subjectively chosen and thereby determines what the viewer can and cannot see. Simultaneously, 360-degree films perfectly demonstrate what can happen if a lack of subjectivity is implemented, when choosing a point of view: Boredom threatens to dominate over content.

On the other hand, the customer’s desire for authenticity often limits the narrative possibilities and thereby diminished the chances of capturing and enthralling the viewer. The storytelling toolbox is a much more resourceful device, than overcoming hurdles is. The fact that tension only results from contradictions and opposites, is a big no-go for many image and product films. The filmmaker then is only left to choose between losing the client or loosing his audience.

Summary

The trick when dealing with authenticity is to provide the viewer with expectations, experiences and lifestyles that he or she can identify with, while simultaneously ensuring that these expectations are exceeded within the first few second.

Films have to trigger something. Mediocrity won’t do that. Authenticity in a film has to – due to the compulsory choice of narrative perspective and camera angle – be understood in compliance with its media.

Authenticity is thereby always inevitably subjective. An authentic film primarily lies in the eye of the beholder. The viewer’s point of view, at the end of the day, is the only deciding factor in a film’s success. Demonstrating your own inability to deal with filmic authenticity could arguably also be seen as a form of authenticity. Unfortunately this only rarely proves to be effective when it comes to communication.

A perfectly authentic film is like a rollercoaster. The viewer knows what he’s letting himself in for, but still is pleasantly surprised – beyond the confines of his or her expectations.

If a film or video, can’t shine or hurt a little, there is a plan B: to make no film at all !


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© filmpuls, translated by Nina Kaelin

About Kristian Widmer
Kristian Widmer (49) is Executive Producer and CEO of Condor Films Ltd. He has been advising customers on film and video for 23 years.

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