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Video, Part 3: Deconstructing the Montage

July 1, 2009

Montage is the central component of the visual language of film and video. It is the juxtaposition of images to tell a story visually, the meaning of which will depend on how they are cut together. This effect happens because our brain interprets the images individually and collectively.

A good example of how montage works is the first GM Reinvention television commercial. The type of commercial was not a surprising choice for GM and its agency, Deutsch, Los Angeles. Once the car company and agency decided that they could not stay silent during the bailout/government takeover process, a commercial using stock footage set to music with a voice-over announcer was the logical choice because of the short production time required and the potential payoff of a montage approach.

I may be one of a few writing a blog who actually thought the decision to do a national TV spot was a good idea. While ideally GM needs to first prove that they have changed, the longer they stayed silent, the more dead they were becoming as a car company.

So, take 60 seconds and watch the commercial again. I’ve put the commercial in script form at the end of this post so that you may look closely at how the montage was constructed.

As you viewed the commercial, both sides of your brain were barraged with information. It is appropriate that the left side of a script (see below) is the audio/narration, because that’s what our left brain makes sense of. At the same time, our right brain is working to interpret the images on the right half of the page. If a montage is effective, the images will create meaning potentially more potent than the words on the left side.

GM Reinvention begins by setting its current situation. The images used support the words: city skylines, GM building (looking up from ground-level which implies strength), new plants unfurling their leaves in time-lapsed photography, etc.

The second half of the commercial is mostly standard fare for car commercials with multiple shots of the remaining GM makes and models in artistic and performance scenes. Some of these shots and others are there for your left brain, simply communicating concepts like Hybrid and Fuel Cell.

But other images in the second half and throughout are not there for any logical denotative purpose. They are included to give you a feeling; for example, the six shots that occur on the one line, “This is not about going out of business.” These six shots are of astronauts, a boxer, a baseball team, a hand shifting gears, and a time-lapsed city street at night. All American images.

In fact, the entire commercial plays on the sense that GM is an American institution. If there’s hope for GM, then many Americans are going to believe that there’s hope for our country in this recession. So, we get American sports images–baseball and football–both of which are American inventions.

We see a torn USA flag waving violently but still hanging on in a storm, and a track runner with a prosthetic limb, both of which say we’re beat up but not giving up. And you have a shot of a statue of an iron fist with a very fast push into it on cue with music to say strongly WE’RE MOVING FORWARD!

By the end of this commercial, GM wants you to get their key message of reinvention. If they’re successful, your sense of American pride and patriotism will align with GM.

There’s more I could add, but it would take too long for this post. But I wonder. I wonder why some of the shots are in there. I am not sure why two Pennsylvania sports teams were included (although I could guess). I just don’t know what they tried that didn’t work.

But it worked for me. I thought the commercial was well done, offering lessons for using video in marketing higher education. But then again, I have not been angry at GM. I haven’t owned a GM car since 1993. Now if AIG ran spots, you might be reading a different sort of blog post.

Next up: Video, Part 4: College Videos, A Few Examples


Video, Part 2: Visual Storytelling

Video: Part 1: Setting the Bar Higher Than Viral


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