Talk to the brand

by Tom Albrighton 5 December 2011 Branding, Digital and social

I really like The Usual Suspects. So, after watching it for the umpteenth time the other night, I thought I’d have a conversation with it.

But how do you talk to a film?

My first thought was to contact Bryan Singer, the director whose vision brought this taut thriller so vividly to the screen. Unfortunately, he wasn’t available. Apparently he’s a bit busy with Battlestar Galactica.

‘No, you're missing the point. Shut up. I don't want to hear anything you have to say.’

So I moved on to Christopher McQuarrie, whose snappy, streetwise script gave life to the film’s cast of cops and crims. Turns out he’s tied up too, overseeing editing on Mission: Impossible.

Feeling a bit dejected, I moved on to others who, I felt, might be able to share a little of the film’s spirit – stars Gabriel Byrne and Chazz Palminteri, and editor/composer John Ottman. None of them could spare the time.

Finally, I got through to the second-unit assistant caterer. Apparently, she’d placed jalapeños on the wrap-party canapés, among other tasks.

‘Yes? What is it?’ she began, rather testily. It dawned on me that I was speaking to a paid employee associated with the film, rather than the film itself. But since films can’t really talk, that was as close as I was going to get.

‘Well, I’m a big fan of The Usual Suspects,’ I began, hesitantly. ‘And I just wanted to… engage with it somehow. Join the conversation. You know, like on Facebook and that?’

There was a brief pause. ‘Films are one-way, one-to-many cultural communications,’ she said flatly. ‘Interaction adds nothing.’

That wasn’t very social. ‘But I’m the audience!’ I protested. ‘The community. Surely I’m part of the film, in some small way?’

‘Not really,’ she sniffed. ‘It’s true that a film lives in your mind, at least partly. But the more of yourself you pour in, the more you dilute the magic. It’s like scribbling in the margins of a book. You’re just talking to yourself, really. Isn’t that obvious?’

‘No, it isn’t,’ I said sulkily. ‘Can’t you make me a little online game, or let me upload a photo?’

She sighed audibly, as if explaining something to a child. ‘Firstly, your contribution would be embarrassingly gauche and unoriginal. That kind of goes without saying, since you’re a footling amateur with nothing at stake. But the real point is that your input is totally superfluous. A film is already complete in itself. You watch, and that’s it. The end.’

‘Is Kevin Spacey there?’ I asked plaintively, with a slight wobble in my voice.

‘No,’ she replied firmly. ‘And anyway, he’s not Keyser Soze. He’s not even Jack Vincennes. He’s just a feller. Creators are never as cool as their creations.’

I didn’t want to hear that, but I knew she was right. I’d known it ever since I found out Steve Jobs didn’t use deodorant for most of the 1970s.

‘Look, this isn’t really my job, talking to saddoes who want to interact with stuff,’ she said. ‘They just added it on to my job description. So, are we through?’

‘I suppose so,’ I said dejectedly. The line clicked and she was gone.

A couple of days later, I’d pretty much forgotten the whole sorry episode. But when I returned to my desk, something was nagging at me, particularly when I worked on anything to do with social media. I just kept thinking… is a film really any different from a brand?

  • This fictional post was inspired by a pub conversation with @paulsaxton.