Thank goodness for word of mouth marketing.
I almost missed out on – what I believe to be – my favourite movie of the 2020s so far. All because of, in my opinion, a considerable misrepresentation (or underselling) of the film.
At the top end of a long-awaited week away from my desk, I was casually scrolling through my Netflix feed to find something, anything, to while away an hour or two.
The very first item at the front of the trending tab was ‘Bo Burnham: Inside’, described by Netflix as “A musical comedy special shot and performed by Bo Burnham, alone, over the course of a very unusual year.”
Almost everybody I know has self-inflicted red lines that they will not cross regarding movies or TV programmes, regardless of the various accolades they may have accrued.
My Dad refuses to watch anything with subtitles, for example, or with a hand-drawn animation style. For instance, I imagine any of the works of Makoto Shinkai would be like Kryptonite to him.
Here at Bear Content, Martin used to turn his nose up at anything based on a true story or that contained a flashback; for reasons that he can’t now fathom.
With that being said, I pride myself on having few (if any) red lines for the media that I consume. My music tastes are wide and varied, as are my tastes with film and TV. But I’ve always had an issue with comedies.
I like to laugh (who doesn’t?), but the idea of a form of media created with the sole purpose of eliciting giggles from me puts me immediately on edge.
Perhaps it was a by-product of the years spent at my school-time job, working at a local comedy club and getting to see the symbolic wizard behind the curtain — how the sausage gets made — all too often, that ruined the magic of comedy for me.
The idea of spending my valuable free time taking a risk on ‘Inside’, something that – from the Netflix description alone – wouldn’t be my first port of call, caused me to scroll past it nonchalantly.
After the usual hour of scrolling Netflix’s endless catalogue, my phone buzzed. I got a message from my good friend Jack, asking if I’d heard of the comedian Bo Burnham, saying:
“[Inside is] well worth a watch. [Burnham] has a history of mental illness. He stepped back from performing a while back due to anxiety, and his latest is a very raw, but still funny, window into his life during the lockdown.”
And just like that, ‘Inside’ was immediately back on my radar. This sounded way more “me”.
Word of mouth marketing (WOM marketing) is when consumers talk about a product or a service to their friends, family, and other close relationships. WOM marketing is one of the most potent forms of advertising, as 92% of consumers trust their friends over traditional media.
If it weren’t for Jack dropping me a personal recommendation to watch ‘Inside’, it probably would have fallen from my radar entirely.
In the corporate world, consumers are more emotionally wedded to a product when they feel they are listened to by the provider.
It’s simply no different for creative products and ‘escapism media’ (like TV, films, music and games). If we as an audience respond emotionally to the creator of said product and the messages or mindsets on display, we’re more willing to spread the word and tell others why we reacted so strongly to them.
Since Jack’s recommendation a week ago (and for reasons I’ll soon delve into), I’ve watched ‘Bo Burnham: Inside’ 3 times. The very reason I’m writing this blog is that I refuse to shut up about it!
I’ve had the (excellent) soundtrack album on heavy rotation since the moment the credits rolled, and I won’t be turning it off anytime soon.
I’ve also done extensive research on where to buy the cheapest vocoder.
I’ve picked up my guitar again for the first time in months.
I’ve even dusted off my old MIDI keyboard and fired up GarageBand for a brief tinkle on the ivories.
In short, I’m inspired.
And it’s all because of my emotional response to this “special” and my willingness to preach about it.
I can only apologise to those who’ve had the displeasure of bumping into me in the last seven days, as I’m sure I’ve been insufferable in my endless endorsements of Burnham’s masterpiece.
But that’s WOM marketing doing its job. One person tells you about a thing, you tell everybody you know, and the snowball begins to roll. Free advertising at its best!
One of the most heated arguments I’ve ever had was with a friend who said that if a horror movie fails to make you jump, it is – by definition – a bad horror movie.
I’m a staunch advocate in the belief that a movie or TV show can be great, outside of our individually prescribed biases of what that genre can, or should, be.
A recent example of this is an Australian psychological horror movie that I recently watched called ‘Relic’. Not a single conventional scare was to be found in its 89-minute runtime.
It was, however, an emotionally raw, supernatural metaphor for a family unit being rapidly torn apart by dementia and learning to love the person at the centre of that syndrome despite that perceived inner darkness.
If that isn’t horror, I don’t know what is.
The core question I always fall back on when cross-examining my peers is: “…but was it good?”. Just because a horror film isn’t scary doesn’t mean it’s terrible.
Similarly, if a comedy doesn’t make you laugh, it isn’t a bad movie.
‘Inside’ provided precisely one gigantic belly laugh from me, but that didn’t matter, because ‘Inside’ is a good movie.
As stated previously, ‘Bo Burnham: Inside’ is written, shot, edited and directed solely by the man at the centre of it all, in his home, throughout the pandemic.
‘Inside’ begins as an energetic, playful and bouncy self-satire that delves into well-trodden themes of white privilege and the God complexes that so often plague comedians en masse.
Without spoiling too much, eventually, things descend into a never-ending, lethargic, furious and dark reflection of a self-loathing truth that will surely strike a chord with almost every single person in the audience in the wake of the last 18 months.
What happens when you can no longer fill your time with busy work, and you’re instead forced into (what should be) your place of comfort to spend time with yourself?
What happens when you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see reflected?
That near-universal feeling of claustrophobia is being underlined with exceptionally deft hands here.
It’s unnerving, heartbreaking and disturbingly familiar.
One of the most empowering things about ‘Inside’ is that any of us could have achieved it.
Certainly, Burnham is a veteran in the game when it comes to writing music and creating comedy (and having Netflix as the wind beneath your wings can’t be understated), but there is nothing superhuman about him.
The idea that you or I could have created ‘Inside’ – or done something similarly exceptional with our time during a year locked in – is a bittersweet one, both inspiring and soul-crushing in equal measure.
Even now, I find myself thinking back to crucial moments in the “special” and thinking to myself, “Why didn’t I think of doing that?”
I was frequently baffled by how Burnham repeatedly utilised his time, creative intuition and relatively simple pieces of kit to achieve the results that he did.
His lighting rig was an array of different GVM RGB LED panels and a mix of standalone kit lights. In layman’s terms, nothing exceptional.
As a professional video editor (and occasional musician) myself, the aspect of ‘Inside’ that I identify with the most is the creative process and the unspoken solitude of it all.
In terms of video editing, all too often, I’ve spent hours at a time perfecting the tiniest detail. Be it cutting to the beat, making fades precisely 2 seconds long or going to great lengths to ensure that a promotional piece ends precisely on the minute mark.
Editing is an arduous, solitary process that often goes unsung.
A professional editor once told me that the best cuts in a movie or TV show are the ones you don’t see!
I think part of the reason I keep going back to ‘Inside’ is the “how” of it all.
How did one person set about taking on the monumental task of writing, filming and editing this project?
How did one person manage to condense a year of creativity into an 87-minute long production?
How much of it was planned? How much of it was a happy accident?
As much as I’d like to have answers to these questions, I think that knowing the “how” would somehow ruin the magic. So there we are back at my anecdote about the comedy club again.
Occasionally, Burnham breaks away from the glossy sheen of the music videos that are the backbone of ‘Inside’ to show us the real him.
One shot, in particular, has stuck with me. Burnham is sat at a desk in a pitch-black room, illuminated only by the glow of his laptop. Scrawled ideas for “funny” songs adorn a whiteboard to the side of the room.
This is the creative experience that I know all too well.
So often, we’re all guilty of getting wrapped up in defining what it is that we do, especially in content creation. Bear Content’s brand refresh earlier in the year was brought about (in part) because of this.
The issues that can arise from putting precise labels on what you put out into the world can sometimes lead to your brand losing the gaze of a potential client.
This is why I feel that to define ‘Inside’ as a “comedy special” is derivative.
It is a film. It has cinematography, an original (fantastic) score, a typical 3-part structure, soaring highs, and crushing lows.
It’s also a documentary — an intimate portrayal of one man’s ongoing struggle with his mental health and how his ingenuity in setting out to create a “thing” and eventually deliver it was simultaneously his purpose and ruination.
It’s also a perfect time capsule of the here and now.
A “comedy special” to me immediately conjures images of a bubbly personality on a glitzy stage (think Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow), and I think that’s what turned me off initially.
I have nothing against those types of shows or the people who enjoy them, but that to me screams easy-to-digest Saturday night fluff. ‘Bo Burnham: Inside’ is certainly not that.
But then how else would Netflix have marketed it? Perhaps they were aware of the phenomenal ace they had up their sleeve and didn’t want to give the game away before people had their chance to watch it, putting their trust instead in the power of WOM marketing.
If that was Netflix’s plan, they’re courageous. It’s a risk to put all of your chips on WOM marketing working; you need to have a good enough product to warrant such an emotional response.
It’s a real lightning-in-a-bottle moment, and betting that it’ll happen.
To think that summarising ‘Inside’ in (what I view as) such a derivative manner almost had me nearly scroll beyond this true masterwork – because of my own unconscious biases towards what “comedy special” means to me – is worrying.
I wouldn’t call ‘Bo Burnham: Inside’ a comedy, but it certainly is special.