Behind the smoke and mirrors

I've been thinking about image a lot lately - what it means, how important it is, what's behind it. The answer to the first question is pretty straightforward (it's how we're perceived by others), as is the assessment of image's importance (very). But, understanding what drives the public's impressions is more complex.
July 1, 2003

I’ve been thinking about image a lot lately – what it means, how important it is, what’s behind it. The answer to the first question is pretty straightforward (it’s how we’re perceived by others), as is the assessment of image’s importance (very). But, understanding what drives the public’s impressions is more complex.

It’s an issue that surfaced in recent months, as we at RealScreen considered how the magazine – and by extension ‘the brand’ – is perceived. For example, RealScreen has always focused on the international non-fiction industry. But, with a head office in Toronto and a major event in Washington, D.C., we constantly fight the external assumption (of non-subscribers, naturally) that North America is our only sphere of interest.

I have sung the refrain of ‘It ain’t so, Joe’ until I’m tired of the sound of my own voice. Maniacally pointing out various articles in the magazine hasn’t worked either – trust me, I know. The fact is, the most effective way to reinforce the image you wish to project is to consistently come up with the goods, and then be vocal about it in an organized manner – read, promotion and marketing. The latter is what we’re working on now. (If you’re also at this stage, see page 22 for tips on the power of packaging.)

That brings me to the perplexing approach adopted by many sports-footage rights holders, as discussed in this month’s report on stock footage (page 25). In the name of protecting the image of a team, league, organization or whatever, some rights holders refuse to release clips of fights and foul play to, say, a doc-maker working on a film about the relevant sport. I’m not talking about a one-time outbreak of fisticuffs on the links of the pro golf circuit (though I must admit, that I would love to see), but rather, images of the rough action not uncommon on the hockey rink or soccer field.

Are the rights holders counting on mass amnesia on the part of viewers who watched the games live? If not, the strict control over clips makes little sense to me. Marketing and promoting a squeaky-clean image isn’t going to work if there’s no evidence to support it. It’s not a moral stance, just good business sense. Reliance on smoke and mirrors is an old-school tactic, and today’s audiences won’t buy it.

The way I see it, these sports folks have two choices: get the athletes to play nice or recognize that fans love these games for what they are and play up the image that already legitimately exists. I could be wrong, but I think they’ll have better luck with the latter. Then again, what do I know? I’m a golf fan.

Susan Zeller


About The Author
Andrew Tracy joined Realscreen as associate editor in 2021, following 17 years as managing editor of the award-winning international film magazine Cinema Scope. From 2010 to 2020 he also held the position of senior editor at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he oversaw the flagship publication for the organization’s year-round Cinematheque programming and edited its first original monograph in a decade, Steve Gravestock’s A History of Icelandic Film. He was a scriptwriter and consultant on the first season of the Vice TV series The Vice Guide to Film, and his writing and reporting have been featured in such outlets as Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, MUBI Notebook, POV, and Montage.