Musings on the danger of using social media in movies
Within a short period of time I’ve seen two movies where usage of social media is an essential element of the plot.
In Frank Twitter and YouTube was used to build an audience for a rock band. In Chef social media basically rule the world. That’s where careers are built and ruined and if there’s anything you can take away from this otherwise lacklustre film, it’s the crash course in how to handle Twitter and Vine.
Two examples aren’t enough to call something a trend, but I suspect they’re not the only ones we’re going to see this year. And I must say that I’m a little conflicted about it.I can see what they’re trying to do there: be relevant to a young, contemporary audience. There are hundreds of thousands active Twitter accounts in Sweden alone, which is a very small country. 54 percent of the population is on Facebook. Of course social media matter and why wouldn’t they matter to the characters appearing in your movies, provided they’re not hobbits or elves living in a fairy tale land where messages are sent by magical orbs or butterflies.
But for how understandable it is that you include them, I think it also is a little risky.There are traps to fall in if you don’t beware.
One is that a middle-aged screenwriter may have an idea about how different social media work, but isn’t necessarily an expert user. It’s so easy to get some detail wrong. I’m not necessarily thinking of the actual mechanic of it, such as how long a tweet is or how people respond to or forward certain messages. That’s fairly easy to make a quality check on. What can be a bit trickier is to make it believable. Is it likely that a such and such tweet will catch fire in the way it does in the movie? Is the tone right? Does it spread at a likely pace? Or is it obvious that it’s sprung out of someone’s idea about social media rather than coming from their own experience? If you get it wrong, you’ll rub all those young expert users the wrong way with your clumsy attempts to be modern.
Another risk is that you’re tempted to make too much of a deal out of the social media. If it starts to dominate the movie rather than being a part of people’s everyday life, it gives the movie a silly, unbalanced feel. And it also signals: “hey, I’m a middle-aged person who just discovered social media, isn’t this a remarkable thing?” Very uncool.
A strong timestamp
But the biggest problem, of course, is that it sets such a strong timestamp on the movie. The development in this territory goes at a crazy speed and within a year or two so much can happen that the movie you had spiced up with that magic social media ingredient now all of a sudden looks hopelessly outdated. If telephones an computer design age quickly, it’s nothing compared to what social media does. And the question is: does it age with charm, the way that old cars or space pyjama suits from the 60s do? I can’t know for sure yet, but I suspect not.
My suspicion is that the filmmakers are perfectly aware of this danger, but it’s not such a big deal. They’re not aiming for making a new Brief Ecounter, which can be enjoyed by generation after generation of film lovers. They have their box office race running over a few weekends, and under that brief period their chosen social media isn’t likely to go anywhere.
I’m curious to see what we’ll think about today’s movies with social media in fifteen years. Will they have aged the way that You’ve Got Mail has? And if so, will they likewise have charm enough to make up for it?