Saturday, May 28, 2011

If You See This - You Will Buy This

With the onset of one of my favourite young adult novel series The Hunger Games, being adapted to film, a thought came to my mind. No, nothing about the casting, or the locations they’re shooting at, or costume design -- but how the hell are they going to use the tried and true method of product placement?
    For those of you who don’t know, The Hunger Games is a novel series that takes place in a dystopian future, where North America as we know it has crumbled, and out of the ashes a dictatorship run country called Panem has risen. Each year for 74 years to commemorate a past rebellion against the all controlling capitol; two children aged 12 to 18 are randomly chosen from each of the twelve districts that surround the backwards utopian Emerald City, dubbed only The Capitol, to fight to the death on a televised reality program called the Hunger Games, that the entire country is forced to watch and/or endure. The main protagonist is a 16 year-old girl called Katniss, she is from one of the poorer districts called District 12, which is thought to be what remains of Appalachia. It’s a hard place to live, and the only revenue is seemingly from either being a trades person like a baker, or working in the coal mines. Panem as a whole, minus The Capitol and District 1 and 2 which are considered upper class and middle class by our standards, is hell on earth, where state sanctioned work forces are run like slaves, and starvation and dying of illnesses we’d now consider easily curable is the norm.
    Now everyone is thinking, why the hell is this series so popular, again? And my answer to that is simple, the characters. They’re rich and well thought out, and they endear them selves to the reader like Anne Shirley or Huckleberry Finn did 100 + years ago. However, the allure isn’t just attributed to the characters, but the scenarios they are forced to be in. Yes, it’s dystopic, and unpleasant, and something we hope never happens to our family, or country, or to us personally, but that’s the draw in and of its self, it could happen. Product placement is my kick though, and I wonder quite keenly how a story that takes place in a world that does not exist as we know it can put contemporary products into the mix?
    The first film I know of that deliberately used product placement was Steven Speilberg’s E.T The Extraterrestrial, and they did it well, and they did it right. Reese’s Pieces was the product prominently used in the film, and Hershey’s following the films release had a disputed report of a 65% to 85% sales increase. Not so bad a bad deal at all, and to think they originally approached M&M's and were rebuffed? It's also believed that once those numbers broke that the sometimes strange practice of product placement became the everyday for Hollywood. However, with a story like The Hunger Games, where the world as we know it is gone, how does Hollywood plan to place contemporary products your average person can recognise, and then think they might want to buy? The answer to me is this, The Capitol.
    The Capitol is a stylised mess of product whores, and style mongers, hell bent on having the latest, the best, the most popular things in their hot little, sometimes strangely coloured hands. It is conceivable, and to me also may prove to be a great sight gag, if while Katniss is in The Capitol, that the people she’s surrounded by are adorned with electronic gizmos that have familiar logos like Apple, Sony, or Nokia. To really break it down, considering how influential companies like the ones I just named are now a-day, it wouldn’t be so much of a stretch for some of the most name brand and popular products to still be around even in a dystopian future. Just imagine the sight of seeing Katniss being plied with Cover Girl or Chanel makeup, while she’s getting ready for her initial appearances on television before the Hunger Games begin. Or the trademark red soles of a classic pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, are seen on the feet of one of her style team members. A soft drink company could even get on board, like Pepsi did for the Back to the Future trilogy, where when Marty McFly travels from 1985 to 2015, he orders a stylised futuristic bottle of Pepsi at a cafe. It can be done, and it can be done in a way that would be almost comforting and thrilling for people to see.
    There’s a discomforting and depressing way that product placement can be used in these films though, and not in the sense that they can do it badly. Because The Hunger Games does take place in a dystopic future, contemporary products or logos can be aged and grimed up, and placed strategically in camera shots taken in Katniss’ home district. Envision the sight of children kicking an old glass bottle or can of Coke down a road, or someone having taken the aluminium casing from an Apple Macbook and welding it to the side of their home to patch up a hole. Simply taking the familiar things we use every day, and showing the audience what could happen if the world ends and they have no use anymore, it would be a great tool and a visual shake up and shock for many people.
    I am greatly looking forward to seeing how they use product placement in the films, but mostly I’m just looking forward to seeing how this amazing story is going to be visualised.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It Isn't Funny- But It Kind Of Is

When I was 12 I lost my sister, she was 15 years-old, there was no funeral, there were no condolence cards, or flowers, or casseroles stuffing the shelves of my families fridge. I say lost, but what I mean is that the person my family and I knew wasn’t gone in body, but was gone in mind.
    Mental illness is a funny, cruel thing, unpredictable in some, inevitable in others, and sadly only preventable by simply not having children. My sister, Lizzie as I will always think of her, has been dubbed Manic Depressive, Bipolar, A.D.D, Schizoaffective, Borderline Personality Disorder, oh... and difficult. All of these diagnosis’ have held water at one time or another in her 31 years, right now however, we’re sticking with Borderline Personality Disorder.
    I am 94 pages into a book one of my closest friends gave me last year for my birthday. 233 pages of non-fiction that I was reluctant to pick up, because it hit too close to home. The book is called Hurry Down Sunshine By Michael Greenberg; and like I said before, it’s non-fiction, non-fiction about a father going through the trials and tribulations of the onset of his then youngest child's severe mental illness. A couple of weeks ago I was propelled to read it, because my laptop was in the shop, and I’ve become a slave to reading digital copies of books in place of real life printed paper. Don’t get me wrong, I love books, the smell, the feel of them, I even like shopping for them, and I don’t like shopping. So, I picked up the book and started in on it. Immediately I was nodding my head with the authors words, mentally checking off a list, that basically went like this.

* Yep, seen that.
* Totally heard that before.
* Uh huh.
* Yeah!
* Pshhh, totally!

And so on and so forth.

    I know mental illness isn’t some newfangled thing, it’s been with the human race since there was a human race. I’ve just never sought out other peoples stories where it comes to the secondary experiences with mental illness, i.e. the families perspective. Face it, almost all the best stories we hear about people with severe mental illness don’t always include their families points of view, and if there is one, it’s fairly minute, however they’re hardly demonised, but they’re certainly not glorified. I’m thinking of famous cases such as Dostoevsky, Dali, Pollock, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, Hemingway. I truly believe that the lack of the families experience being reported on, is because mental illness is all about the Me, and the Me is the person with the mental illness.
    My sister is the most selfish person I have ever met in my life. I’m not being mean, I’m being honest when I say that, because my sister literally cannot see things from another persons perspective, she has no empathetic intuition and can only see things through her experiences, and through the cloud her illness lets her see through, or sometimes not see through. It’s cold, it’s flaccid, and it’s not pretty, but my sister cannot think of any body but her self and how things affect her. I don’t know if it’s always been that way, she wasn’t exactly a bossy person when we were growing up, but I can’t honestly say that I can remember her comforting me, consoling me, doing things solely for me or for someone in my families benefit. Scratch that, she made me breakfast once when we were kids, cold scrambled eggs on a plate, that she brought up to my room at 7 or so in the morning on a Saturday. It’s sad and funny to think, but the only time I can remember her doing something for me, it was a cold plate of eggs at a very inconvenient time in the morning.
    Lizzie’s been in mental hospitals off an on since she was 15 years-old. That’s when she first went in; 15 years-old, just got kicked out of school, raging at the world, riddled with insecurities and an ever present rebellious nature, yet she somehow yearned to be part of the in-crowd, always vying for acceptance, but my sister was always weird, always. My mother told me that she was the only one of her children, who could occupy herself with one toy for hours  However, despite her remarkable ability to play solitarily and quietly, she was just fucking weird. She came up with names for imaginary creatures, she had fanciful ideas and games she’d invent. Now, yes, on the surface that’s quaint or cute, or whatever, but at many times these fantasies become all consuming, and disruptive at home and at school.
    I’m 94 pages into this book that made all of these thoughts spring to my mind. Do I recommend reading the book? Yes, I do, because it's compelling, heartfelt, well written and honest. The friend who gave me my copy told me that it was one of her favourites, I understand why she would want to share a favourite, but I wonder if she knows how much of my experiences were mirrored in Mr. Greenberg's. I guess I’ll have to ask her soon, otherwise I may go crazy.