Never Say Never: The Medium Is the Message (Post 1 of 2)

   (Part 1 of 2)

He’s sold five million albums. Had 10 millions singles downloaded. He’s just completed one of the highest grossing tours of the year, guest hosted SNL and is the untarnished idol of many millions of adolescent girls and probably not a few boys. He is Justin Bieber and his recently released (Feb. 14, 2011) documentary/concert film Never Say Never promises intimate access to the boy, his music and his phenomenon.

I chose to write about this trailer, not because I have much interest in seeing the movie, but because I was curious how the trailermakers and the marketing department were going to “sell” this hybrid, but by no means unprecedented film.  (See “Stop Making Sense” “Gimme Shelter,” “Truth or Dare,” or “Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds,” for other examples.) The challenge for a project like this—even, or especially with a young star– is how to integrate the flash and spectacle of highly produced performance footage with the workaday “reality” the documentary presents, both in its taping, lighting and editing.

It’s an appealing trailer and an effective piece of marketing/spin, at least to the extent that it is unlikely to prevent any interested fan from wanting to buy a ticket, whether a ticket to Mr. Bieber’s next concert or a ticket to the Justin Bieber documentary.  It’s release date of Valentine’s Day, 2011, (mentioned in the copy) is an ideal slot.  You (assuming you are a tween girl) and your 20 best friends might have spent a romantic evening with Justin, who would have shared his heart, his real life and his dreams, all for the price of admission.

I begin by trying to say what it is as a piece of a/v movie marketing.  Like the movie it advertises, it too is hybrid, composed of two differently edited, differently intended parts.  The first 85 seconds is a standard feature trailer with copy, story, footage, titles and stars; the remaining 25 second section, which follows immediately upon the final title and credit block, features the documentary’s director showing Bieber how the 3D cameras work that are being used for his concert performance.  Graphic cards drop over the footage, calling the viewer to action (“Be the first to see Never Say Never”), while Justin’s banal, unscripted astonishment at the  “sick”-ness of the effect, delivers the most compelling testimonial conceivable.   This two part trailer sells star, spectacle, story and technology explicitly, earnestly, and appealingly.

Filmmaker John Chu secured Bieber’s permission to document his experience during his Never Say Never tour in summer of 2010. In that capacity he had access to a wealth of visual resources to use for the film, resources which are then deployed in the trailer:  Justin “off stage,” Justin “On stage,” fans talking of Bieber, fans talking with Bieber, talking heads (all unidentified and not necessarily shown with their words) opining about Bieber, Bieber’s handlers, family albums, home video, news footage, etc., etc.

With respect to story structure, the trailer opens –counter to expectation—with a familiar, albeit sedate piece of concert music (J. S. Bach’s Air on the G-string, from his 3rd orchestral suite in D major) against whose adagio tempo, Justin appears in slo-motion spraying silly string and throwing popcorn at the screen.  Three cards punctuate this 15 second introduction:  “THIS VALENTINE’S DAY/ SEE BIEBER/ LIKE NEVER BEFORE.”

No, Bieber will not be performing the classics.  On the word “Never,” the screen flickers/strobes and we pause as a deep bass note reverberates and Justin’s eponymous hit ‘NEVER SAY NEVER’ begins to play.  We then see images of Justin as a boy making music. Notably, and per the promise of the copy, we see Bieber from various angles – sideways, diagonally, extreme closeup—and in physical contact with friends and colleagues.  Cards for Paramount and Surge Productions appear before the last words of copy, “In 3 D,” over-delivering on the promise of the “like never before.”

Thereafter, unintroduced, uncredited, uncaptioned, and often off-screen interviewees tell the story of Justin Bieber, his precocious talent, passion for performance and defiance of the odds against him. Indeed, there are manifestly two stories this trailer integrates:  the home movies and Polaroids tell the story of Justin the persistent, talented, precocious child;  the contemporary footage, whether captured in concert or offstage, shows JB as an accomplished performer and a strikingly normal teenager, whether he’s offering bland encouragement to adoring fans or hanging out with his friends.

But latently, and possibly more importantly, there is a third story, one no less interesting and central to the sell:  it’s the story of the fan—whether shrieking, sobbing and rioting tween fan or wannabe teen idol, who identifies with JB and whose efforts and ambitions the trailer validates.   The point of this, to underline the obvious, is that Bieber’s  social media stardom is ours; it demands our participation; it represents our homage and our importance.    (See the “Never Say Never” Official Trailer #1, which makes the case explicitly.)

(Consideration of this trailer continues in my next post.)

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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