Films' music-focused promotional clips are proving just as powerful online as they were on MTV decades ago.
After years of lackluster efforts in using music to generate lines at the box office, film studios are starting to wake up again to the viability of music videos as audience drivers for their films. Indeed, the revival of such clips may even play an important role come awards season.
On Vevo, in particular, there's increased use of film footage mixed with a handful of shots of performing musicians. It's taking static information-the name of a singer and title of a song-and making it part of the storytelling, simultaneously enhancing the image of the song and the film. A good video can sell a track and a movie's story line, add star power to a song's presentation and grab hold of an audience that doesn't necessarily sit through the end credits.
Pitbull's "Back in Time," which boosted "Men in Black III," is by far the strongest example of this marriage -- 38 million views online, a No. 11 single on the Billboard Hot 100 and a peak at No. 5 on Billboard's Digital Songs chart. Equally important was its timing-there weren't any other Pitbull songs angling for airplay -- and the fact that the film's recognizable characters were familiar and beloved. Not every film lands in that sweet spot, but it's an indication of how important a music video can be in raising a film's profile.
"Sparkle," which grossed $12 million at the U.S. box office during its opening weekend of Aug. 17-19 (according to Box Office Mojo), is a little out of the ordinary in that it has numerous performance clips. It's telling that at least four such videos were available on Vevo and YouTube prior to the film's release.
"Celebrate," the end-credit duet between Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks, had sold only 13,000 downloads prior to the film's opening, according to Nielsen SoundScan, but its official video was watched 634,000 times. More important, it connected the film's overall message of togetherness with a song that, in the actual movie, doesn't have visual accompaniment. The song operates as a bonus trailer for the film.
A month ago, I had the opportunity to vet videos prior to the nominations for MTV's Video Music Awards. I was struck by the variety of styles and artistic ambition in so many clips that essentially target niche audiences -- how many people will actually see the lovely Best Coast short story that Drew Barrymore directed? Or the affecting "Laura" video from Bat for Lashes?
A new degree of artistry is taking place at the music video level that TV is ignoring. Perusing the nominations for the VMAs, which will be handed out Sept. 6, there was an abundance of familiar songs and artists. Popularity has trumped artistry at a point where the ambitiousness of music clips may well be at a new apex.
With the migration to the Internet for music videos, an expanded realm of possibilities presents itself for the film and TV worlds. Advertisements for new dramatic series and sitcoms focus on the characters and stars, so why don't music shows emphasize the songs? One expects music for ABC's "Nashville" to be A-grade. Why not develop a thirst for the show's tunes prior to the audience entering Music City? NBC's heavily promoted "Smash" succeeded on its story line in its first season, while the music failed to click with audiences on any scale. There's opportunity and a young audience already gathered -- it'll be interesting to see who can tap it.
Notes: Speaking of music videos, the NFL Network is asking fans to submit homemade clips to accompany Cee Lo Green's "Thursday Night Football" theme, "I Love Football"...Jennifer Lopez is shooting performances with an eye toward a 3-D concert film titled "Dance Again"...Cliff Martinez's "Arbitrage" score, his first since "Drive," comes out Sept. 11 on Milan...The trailer for the Denzel Washington film "Flight" features 20 seconds of piano from Joe Cocker's version of "Feelin' Alright" and 90 seconds of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter"...Add Carl Reiner to the list of fans of Malik Bendjelloul's "Searching for Sugar Man" documentary about singer/songwriter Rodriguez. The comedy legend introduced the film with a standup routine at a screening hosted by TV producer Phil Rosenthal...Spike Lee's documentary on Michael Jackson's Bad, "Bad25," and Dan Algrant's "Greetings From Tim Buckley," a film about the days leading up to Jeff Buckley's 1991 performance at his father's tribute concert at New York's St. Ann's Church, will receive their world premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival...Peter Miller and William Hechter's documentary about songwriter Doc Pomus, "A.K.A. Doc Pomus," won the grand prize at the seventh annual Stony Brook (N.Y.) Film Festival.