All over the world, there will be dancing tonight--at least in households lucky enough to have a Showtime subscription. And that collective groove is likely what award-winning filmmaker Spike Lee--and a bevy of stakeholders behind the Michael Jackson brand--had in mind.
That's because a flattering documentary about the legendary performer--called "Michael Jackson's Journey From Motown to Off the Wall"--will debut on the cable channel at 9 p.m. ET and PT. According to many reports, Lee, the film's director, has highlighted Jackson's perfectionism as an artist and performer--leading up to the release of Off the Wall, Jackson's landmark 1979 solo album.
In other words, if you're seeking a rundown of the scandals that accompanied Jackson's post-Off the Wall career, you won't find them in this movie. "Completely absent from 'Journey' is any mention of Jackson's later status as tabloid fodder, from the allegations of child molestation to the accusations of general weirdness," notes the New York Times.
Lee, Jackson's estate, and Jackson's record label, Sony, all appear to be in alignment about the decision to paint a flattering portrait of Jackson as an artist. They were also in alignment about this for a 2012 documentary called Bad 25, which was about the 25th anniversary of Jackson's 1987 Bad album. "We made a conscious decision with these two films we've done to not deal with the other stuff and just focus on the music," Lee told The Daily Beast last week.
All of which is why you can learn a lot about storytelling from Lee's approach. Think about the decisions you and your marketing team are making, when you're creating short films or videos that represent your brand. First and foremost, you want to entertain your fans and customers. If they don't watch the video, what's the point of making it? But it's just as important that the video fulfills the marketing goal you've set out for it.
In the case of Sony and the Jackson estate, that goal is obviously to sell more of Jackson's music. And the best way to sell music is to stand out of the way and play it. The trailer to "Journey" excels at doing just that. I defy you not to dance--or tap your foot just a little--after watching the first few seconds of this:
Opinions may vary, but in mine, this short clip checks the two most important boxes of any marketing video: Will fans and potential customers watch and enjoy it? Yes. Will they be more likely to buy something by Jackson? Yes. Taking it one step further, you could even say that this clip goes a long way to restoring what Sony and the Jackson estate surely believe ought to be Jackson's dominant brand attribute: his overall artistry, honed through hard work.
It's not so different from what established brands are doing with films. For example, last year, Patagonia, the $575 million outdoor apparel and gear maker based in Ventura, California, released Defined by the Line, an eight-minute documentary about climber Josh Ewing, who left his corporate gig to protect public lands in southeastern Utah. Patagonia also released The Fisherman's Son, a 29-minute documentary about Chilean surfer Ramon Navarro's rise from humble beginnings to the peak of the surfing world--and Navarro's growing influence as an activist preserving a surf spot on Chile's coastline from commercial development.
To hear Patagonia tell it, the movies were a way to further spread a longstanding mission of marrying outdoor sports to environmental activism. "This effort in filmmaking ties back to a couple of key pursuits for the past 30 years," Hans Cole, environmental advocacy and campaigns manager, told me.
The upshot is that a film is a great way to build or buttress a brand. But for the film to work, it has to appeal to the targeted audience. And just as Patagonia's films have relied on extensive footage of Ewing and Navarro kicking ass at their various outdoor sports, Lee has wisely stocked "Journey" with plenty of performance footage, showing Jackson at his artistic peak, "from the early days of the Jackson 5 to the Jacksons' 1981 "Triumph" tour, according to the New York Times.
You get the picture. Now, go make your own!