Wednesday, July 29, 2009

5 Minutes Of Raw Emotion
On 5 Blocks Of Video Screen

In downtown Vegas they have the Freemont Street Experience. The Freemont Street Experience probably used to mean drug addicts and really skanky hookers and people vomiting up free cut-rate casino drinks on the sidewalks, but downtown Vegas has had a major face lift and now it’s like a big fun street fair. The old hotels have been given new facades and there are dozens of security people pushing the undesirables further south on Freemont Street and dozens of clean up folks who remove litter before you get a chance to see it. Downtown is clean... unless you stray from the tourist areas.

Now the Freemont Street Experience is a 5 block long overhead video screen on a section of street closed to car traffic and turned into a huge outdoor mall kind of thing... except instead of shops there are older casinos and one strip club. But even the strip club looks like something from Disneyland. This is now a family destination. There are street performers and a place to get your picture taken with a (tamely dressed) showgirl or a Chippendale type guy and two bandstands with live music... and that huge TV screen.

This year is the 40th anniversary of man landing on the moon, and the theme is Summer Of ‘69. Everything is tye-dyed! You can win a tye-dyed Teddy Bear if you win a slot jackpot. Another casino is giving away some 1969 vintage muscle cars if you win a jackpot. I bought a tye-dyed T shirt. They have the life-size prop Apollo space capsule used in Ron Howard’s APOLLO 13 movie on display. Every Saturday night throughout summer they have a live band - and not just any bands, they have big groups who had hits in 1969. Last Saturday I saw JEFFERSON STARSHIP play... as a bunch of crazy people bounced beach balls through the crowd and threw frisbees through the crowd. Kind of cool to catch a frisbee thrown by a stranger on the opposite side of the audience and throw it back to... someone. These concerts are completely free, you just wander out of a casino and there you are! The kicked off the summer with GUESS WHO and BLOOD SWEAT & TEARS, wish I’d been here for that. A couple of years ago I watched The Beach Boys play while eating a hamburger in a casino McDonalds. John Stamos was playing with them at the time. The great thing about these free Saturday concerts throughout summer is that it hits a bullseye with their demographic. Lots of Baby Boomers go to the downtown casinos who may have seen Jefferson Starship in concert when they were kids. So you have this great nostalgia thing, and Starship is playing all of the hits (back when they were Airplane) and however many original members of the group who are still alive get to pay their mortgages. The cool thing for us old coots is - man, I’ve never been that close to the band! I did a bunch of Day On The Greens at Kezar (San Francisco) and you needed binoculars to see the bands... but on Freemont Street you could stand right on the edge of the stage (for free) and after the concert you could probably talk to Paul Kantner. Some people did. I just wandered into a casino to lose more money at blackjack.

And if you were away from the bandstand? Well, all you had to do was look up at the 4 block long TV screen and there was Starship. The music was blasted up and down the street through the sound system. Anywhere on Freemont Street was like being near the bandstand.

But that huge overhead screen isn’t just for showing the band playing on stage, every hour after dark they have a show. A 5 block long music video. Since this is the largest video screen in the world, and 5 blocks long but only the size of the street wide, these music videos are unique. They can only play one place in the world - the Freemont Street Experience. Because the screen is so long, and people watching it on one end won’t be able to see what is in the middle, let alone on the other end; the videos tend to have the main action in a couple of places on the screen, but some things blast down the whole screen to give you an idea of the size of the screen - really cool when they do that. One of the videos has dueling electric guitars on opposite sides of the screen - 5 blocks away from each other. I don’t know the copyright and clearance issues with doing a one of a kind music video, but all of these are made of existing footage and some great CGI work and animation. They have to use what they’ve got for the most part, which makes these all the more amazing.

They have a song, around 5 minutes, to put images to. And not just any images - they need to make this an amazing experience that will make you come back every night (and lose money playing blackjack in the nearby casinos between shows). And that means, these images need to make you feel something. They need to tell you a story that is full of big emotional moments. And they only have the picture part - they are stuck with whatever words the song has and can’t add their own. I strongly suspect whoever makes these is a music fan who owns all of the albums of the artist featured (partly because the album covers - vinyl album covers - are often used as part of the video, and also because they often seem to find hidden meanings in the lyrics that they can illustrate with images). I’ve seen a couple while I’ve been here - and both of them made me cry and also vocally cheer. And, when I looked around, I wasn’t the only one. Imagine - you have around 5 minutes worth of images, and you have to make people cry and then cheer. Not easy to do.

AMERICAN PIE by Don Maclean just kicks ass. The song is great, but the images take us back to the early days of rock and roll, and take us through the events of the 60s... eventually coming to a roll-call of rock stars who died before their time: pictures of all of these great musicians whose songs are part of your personal soundtrack, who are dead now. And the video doesn’t just show Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper - it would probably have shown Michael Jackson if they had made it today. And just when you’ve been taken back to your youth by the song and the images, and then see those iconic musicians from your youth who are no longer with us (and had a cry) the images take a cue from the song and bring us back to the great world we live in today, where that great music still lives on within us... and you can’t help but cheer.

And all of that with about 5 minutes of images and a song you’ve heard a million times before.

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS by Queen gives us some great concert footage, some of which has been run through some animation program so that it’s like the TRON version of the concert, and all kinds of great images... and when we get back to the We Are The Champions chorus, the screen shows us hundreds of every-day heroes: firemen, teachers, soldiers, nurses, police officers, doctors... some famous heroes in there, too. But the images celebrate just regular people who have made a difference, even if it’s just a small one. And as these images tumble over us, danged if we don’t cry (everyone around me was getting misty eyed) and then we go back to some great Queen rock to make us cheer. Sure, there’s kind of a formula at work on these music videos, but you can’t end with us crying - this is rock and roll. We really are the champions, my friend.

You know, I’ve seen hundreds of movies that never made me cry or cheer. I’ve seen hundreds of movies that never made me feel anything at all (other than a desire to have my $11.50 and 2 hours back). So here are a bunch of 5 minute music videos that make me cry and cheer - mostly due to some great images in conjunction with some old song I’ve heard a million times before.

And the big lesson here is that we have 110 minutes of images, the folks making these music videos have 5 minutes. They manage to find strong emotional images and combinations of images that make the audience feel something. We need to be able to make the audience feel something just with the image part of our screenplays - and do it as effectively as these music videos do. And if we can bring strong emotions to the audience every five minutes? I think they’ll come back again and again to experience these emotions again.

At $11.50 a ticket.

Emotional images. They aren’t just for Vegas street music videos.

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Strange Devices and the HULK.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Some *other* Casino Hotel Buffett where I ate way too much.


ashes1998 said...

Glad you're having fun, Bill!

We've been going to Vegas as average of 3 times a year for the past 16 years, and I saw the evolution of the Fremont Street Experience to what it is today.

The programmers (I suppose that's what they're called) really have learned a lot about manipulating images to elicit strong emotions. It is well worth watching. (And a different one every hour).

I'd also recommend the Fountains at Bellagio to see how they can do the same with pure motion of water. No flashy colors, no lasers... Just movement expressing and embellishing the music.

It would be a great exercise to imagine writing a
'script' for the fountains to go along with any song you love.

Oh, and buffets: The Rio probably has the biggest. But for the extra money, the quality and selection of almost-gourmet food at the Wynn Buffet is worth it.


Anonymous said...

when you look down from the Fremont screen during a show you can see all the pickpockets busy working

wcmartell said...

Jim - I'm going to do an entry on weird ways writers make money, and that came from watching the Bellagio fountains and then talking to a friend... and Ron Goulart's name came up. Between novels, he wrote the backs of cereal boxes for either General Mills or Kellogs or Post (can't remember which). Thought it'd be fun to look at all of these strange things that require writers with an imagination.

- Bill

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