Friday, August 23, 2013

Communication Without Words

You've heard it said, that a picture is worth one thousand words. Often, you need only draw a picture or show an object and you can say more with that gesture than you could if you'd written out an entire paragraph.

What you lose by using images is control over the words that the viewer forms. What the picture means to you, what words are in your head, are not necessarily the same words that will be conveyed to someone else with a different set of life experiences to color their impressions.

"A Belfast Story" press kit

What do you see when you look at the items that were included in a press kit sent out to movie reviewers in the UK and Ireland?

If you're not Irish, you might see something you associate with criminals, but what is the significance of duct tape? The shamrock is the symbol of Ireland and that's a pleasant sort of thing, but the cassette tape? And nails?

If you happen to know something about The Troubles, or grew up in the era when loyalists and nationalists were busy setting bombs in an attempt to terrorize the other side into submission, what you see in the press kit is not a positive image.

Director Nathan Todd has apologized for the uproar created by the press kit sent around to promote his new film, A BELFAST STORY. His movie is not meant to inflame tension that exists to this day in Northern Ireland. He certainly did not wish to antagonize the critics he sought to woo, either, because his movie is all about life in Belfast after the peace accord that was reached thirty years ago.

The items in the gift packet were supposed to represent the two choices that the opposing sides in the endless war face with the end of armed conflict. On the one side, there is violence as represented by the balaclava and the nails you'd put in a bomb. Or you can study the family photos to get an impression of peace and harmony, a turning away from the conflict without rancor.

What Mr. Todd needed were a few words to steer his critic-viewers towards his interpretation. Unfortunately, they looked at the items in the press kit through the lens of their experiences, whether they lived in Belfast at the height of The Troubles or were looking over their shoulder every minute in London, wondering if the IRA was going to set off a bomb.

With the wrong impression created by the lack of explanatory words, Mr. Todd lost the good graces of a few critics. Instead, he provided them with a new filter, one that they will use when they watch his movie. That filter might alter their perception of the film, thereby skewing their reviews to the negative.

A picture may be worth one thousand words, but sometimes, a few words go a long way. It saves on all the words of an apology, as Mr. Todd has discovered.

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