Last night was date night and rather unromantically I took my wife to see Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation. I know, I know, we're late to the party. Romance-appropriate or not, it's surprisingly good! Name another movie franchise where each sequel is better than its predecessor. It's also very 2015 somehow. Which got me thinking on the way home – just what makes it so 2015? And then it hit me. It's the lack of computer effects, the real stunts, the long takes – the sheer physicality of the action. It's old school. It's authentic. Like bearded Hipsters switching to vinyl because Spotify somehow doesn't match their craft beer, this year Hollywood is moving away from CG effects and building sets, strapping actors to things and generally embracing the dust and dents of the real world after so many years of computer slickery.
Just a few weeks before Mission Impossible premiered, another franchise was stealing the show at Comic-Con 2015 by showing a video with absolutely zero new footage of its upcoming movie. It was Star Wars Episode VII, due out this December and helmed by uber geek J.J. Abrams. The subject of the video that caused nerdgasms throughout the crowd? A real desert, a real Millennium Falcon, real latex, real robots, real dirt – it was focussed on how they're making the movie with as few computers as possible to accurately match the analogue universe created by 1977's 'western in space' original (rather than the plasticy, computery 1999 second trilogy).
Watch the two videos below...
Compare that to...
... the fanboy outrage thrown up by the infamous Game Of Thrones 'walk of shame' finale scene earlier this year. Fans felt cheated by the computer trickery that so convincingly blended Lena Headey's head with the naked body of a stand-in, as her character walks nude through the centre of town to atone for her sins. The motivation for filming the scene twice, first with the main actress (clothed) and again with a naked stand-in was actually honourable – Headey wanted to concentrate on her emotional performance (it is quite painful to watch) and not let the self consciousness of being starkers cloud that performance. Even with the best of creative intentions, the fans' reaction of "it's not real, we've been betrayed!" is fascinating. But what about when more than just a scene lacks authenticity?
This year's computer effects laden The Fantastic Four has been the biggest superhero disaster since 2003's Catwoman. Costing $120m to make and $80m to market, it grossed only $26m in its first weekend which effectively killed it dead. Why? 'Soulless' has been the main theme of the critics' mauling. The sets, the scenery, the characters and the relationships all feel artificial and so, surprise, surprise – the audience couldn't care less.
So what does that mean for brand storytelling?
Well nothing – if that it is, it's being done right. This is just a case of Hollywood catching up with the power of authenticity. But if content isn't being true to its brand (yes, we're looking at you rival agencies!) this trend demonstrates the positive power authenticity can have in Content Marketing and all spheres of audience engagement. In short, keep it real people.