The erosion of Hollywood production values

Last week I wrote about the three ‘tiers’ of online video production, arguing that striving for ‘old skool’ Hollywood production values could actually be to the detriment of engagement. Something caught my eye this morning that exemplified the dangers of this down to a tee, so I thought I’d share it with you. 

Oh and it’s a Ne-Yo video, by the way. 

How not to do it 

So nutshell: Ne-Yo’s done a new music video for his new song ‘Coming With You’. He’s hired some ‘dancers’, got hold of some boxes to stand on, and found a suitable location reminiscent of the Britney Spears’ ‘Sometimes’ video (circa 1999). 

And that’s pretty much it. It’s just Ne-Yo, standing on a box, which is on a Pier, wrapped up with some scantily clad women and a couple of jackets from the old Duran Duran wardrobe in the 1980’s. It’s clearly not the most high-budget R&B video of all time. 

And that, to be honest, is fine (The Sun closing down page three debate notwithstanding). The ‘digitisation’ of music has led to less revenue for the music industry, ergo less profit, ergo less money for Ne-Yo and his conglomerate to pump back into producing good content.

The problem is that rather than producing something that is relevant to its audience and budget, this video aspires to be something it can never be. That is a high investment, high production value and highly stylised video of the nineties or noughties. What we have here is a very bad imitation of a very high production value video that isn’t even really culturally relevant anymore in an age of social sharing and ‘the breaking down of the fourth wall’. 

How to do it 

“But what is Ne-Yo supposed to do!?” I hear you cry…in a way. “He’s an international R&B Superstar! Of course he needs to aspire to Hollywood production values!” [Insert any incarnation of ‘Eek’ emoji you like here]. 

But that’s kind of the point. By trying to be too slick and focussing on what it thinks it should be rather than the specific messaging it is trying to deliver, Ne-Yo’s video has missed the mark. It lacks the self-awareness and shareability that a modern day video must aspire to in order to build up empathy with its audience. 

I don’t know how much it took to produce: US$5,000? $50,000? $500,000? Who knows! But I do know that that budget would have been better spent shooting social media video content that would have brought a rawness and a freshness to the song. And that can be anything from fan footage, to behind the scenes, to concept shooting, to user generated content and beyond. 

When in 2012 Justin Bieber released the video for Beauty and a Beat with Nicki Minaj it was a bit of a silent revolution in the Music Video industry. It clearly had a large, traditional budget behind it, but rather than striving for Hollywood production values, Bieber’s video did just the opposite, incorporating modern online video techniques such as selfies, user generated content, leaked footage, improvisation, handycams and the illusion of ‘continuous’ filming with no artificial breaks or cut scenes. This artfully injected a realness and an approachability into the music video genre that you would expect from an artist that had risen to fame on YouTube. 

Ending on Ne-Yo, it is potentially unfair to pick on a single artist and a single video as exemplifying the dangers of striving for Hollywood production values in ‘post-UGC’ world. But the archaicness of such an approach is there for all to see. When even Hollywood budgets are themselves beginning to be put into producing film that is more immediate and more lifelike, more akin to the sort of videos that we see on our friend’s Facebook Timelines, it is undoubtedly a wake-up call to embrace more socially inspired content. 

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