The Latest Installment Of Short Attention Span Theater

I’d like to start today’s column with a shout-out to the pharmaceutical industry. Following a 48-hour stretch in which I participated in a range of nonstrenuous dad activities (bowling, power-washing, assembly of “big boy bed” for son), my back exploded. As a result, most of my recent waking moments have been spent in a muscle-relaxant haze, full of rainbows and splashy dolphins and happy pies and la la la la la la la la. I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day. Flushing the extra pills after I recover might be wise.

Since I remain unable to do much besides gape vacantly at whatever’s in front of me, it’s been a banner week for catching up on the video that’s been sent my way. Similarly, since I remain unable to string together more than three consecutive thoughts, it’s been a less-than-banner week for professional enterprise. In the interest of coherence, then, it’s time for another installment of Short Attention Span Theater. Today I’ll attempt to answer the big questions posed in and by three recent favorites, all the while managing my burgeoning chemical dependency. Enjoy, everybody, and tell the dolphin with the top hat that I said hey.

“Built For It,” Cat

Why? Because it deploys Cat gear in a way that simultaneously showcases its utility and coolness. Companies that manufacture big-ass machinery generally don’t produce brand videos, because individuals in the market for such objects don’t spend their afternoons jerking around on social media. The “Built For It” clips make a persuasive argument in favor of nontraditional media forays, for Caterpillar as well as for companies in the, like, mining or blacksmith trades.

How? Crash crash bang smash RRRRRRRRRR grind boom crasha boom. The clips are headlined by 600-pound Jenga blocks and Cat-branded smart phones immune to immersion in shallow pools or squishicide via steamroller. I would pay a goodly sum of money to hang out and play with all the toys at the warehouse-like facility in which these clips were filmed. I would subscribe to their e-newsletter if they had one. Boom boom crash crash. 

Good? My favorite brand videos are the ones that don’t feel overthought. To that end, here’s how I imagine the pitch meeting for “Built For It” went down: Person one - “Let’s smash the crap out of some stuff!” Person two - “Dude!” [Person two high-fives person one. They hightail it back to the testing lab, leaving a trail of testosterone in their wake.] 

“Maron” on IFC

Why? Because “Maron” returns for its second season tonight and it’d sure be swell if you watched. But also because comic Marc Maron’s garage, in which he tapes the great majority of his “WTF with Marc Maron” podcasts, is a nigh-legendary location among his listeners. For fans who know him well, this is like being invited into the Batcave. For novices, it’s a fast, punchy primer on what makes the guy tick and why he matters. 

How? By offering a kind of thematically ordered guided tour of the garage. We get a look at Maron’s guitars, fan art and addiction to vinyl. What we don’t get is anything resembling a hard sell for the show; clips may exist elsewhere on the site, but they’re kept quarantined from the videos. In this rare instance, selling the personality trumps selling the product.

Good? Whenever a personality performs in a TV show or movie as a version of himself, we conflate the fictional personality with the actual one. That’s why this concept is so appropriate: It delineates the character Maron (irascible, self-obsessed, keenly observant) and the actual living person Maron (roughly 15 percent less irascible, 60 percent more self-obsessed, 35 percent more keenly observant). Will non-fans who happen on the “Maron” garage tour videos become instant converts? Doubtful. But for anyone with a scintilla of interest in the man, the podcast or the show, it’s a gift. 

The Toronto Jewish Film Festival

Why? Because there are too many darn film festivals (says the guy who has watched precisely two movies on screens outside his living room in the last 30 months). Getting attention for the ones without “Cannes” or “Sundance” in their name is even more of a challenge in the current media climate than it used to be, and it used to be pretty challenging. The CinErotic Film Fest? The Love Your Shorts Film Festival? Hello?

How? By playing off common film tropes, like the tough-speakin’ gun-totin’ oater villain and the forlorn, frustrated artiste, and giving them a religion-specific spin. Any further explication I share here will spoil the fun, so just watch this and this. If there’s a funnier, selectively blurrier final shot in any web video this year than the one that concludes clip number two, I’d be stunned. The overall message conveyed: We know from genres and sensibilities.

Good? Beyond the obvious - plopping a sitting president between an A-list comic’s plants and having them exchange barbs - there is no secret recipe for virality. But entertainment properties hoping for likes, retweets and actual genuine actionable attention could do worse than to study the TJFF clips. Wouldn’t it be something if the films showcased at the festival itself were a fraction as entertaining as the clips promoting it.

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