The IBD-Team

On January 23, 1983 my father, brother, and I found a comfortable spot on the floor in front of our non-flat-panel, non-high-definition, console television, and watched the beginning of one of the greatest television shows in the history of television. My father had prepared us for the debut (along with a copious amount of testosterone-geared commercials filled with explosions and one liners) and needless to say my brother and I were excited. The A-Team was destined to become our family’s favorite show (my mother was outnumbered and Magnum, P.I. was so 1982).

I still watch A-Team reruns to this day because it is important to remember if you have a problem and if you can find them you can hire the A-Team (much like the authors of IBD, minus the mohawks, toting 2.9 GHz computers instead of M-16s, but still sporting sleeveless shirts).

When I heard that A-Team the movie was coming out this summer, my emotions were mixed. I initially thought about how the Incredible Hulk was ruined in the 2003 film (but somewhat revived in 2008 version) but then I was reminded (by myself) how my love the comic book X-Men was revived after the movies of 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009 and the one coming out in 2011. I also was reminded (again by myself) that I was in dire need of a hobby, a friend besides Paul, and that I should read something besides comic books.

So why is it that directors, producers, and movie companies continually re-make movies, or in this case turn a classic TV show into a modern movie? I had to have this question answered, and now I feel compelled to share it with you in this post. Once I learned the answer it seemed simple (much like when I learned how to change a diaper after our third child) and has universal application. Here it is: People love characters, there is an audience for everything, and people like what’s familiar but like to anticipate the unexpected.

People love characters. The A-Team is filled with them and viewers fell in love with Hannibal, BA, Murdock, and Face. Movie goers and visitors to your site are willing to support something if they have a relationship with your site or characters involved. There is no doubt that the interpretive profession is filled with as many characters as the A-Team. In fact I’m pretty sure I worked for Hannibal at one point in time, worked with Face, supervised Murdock, and dated BA. (That looks a little strange in writing but is really true.)

Building relationships with our visitors is just above the importance of meeting their basic needs. Relationships are founded on trust, consistency, and honesty. Relationships with teachers, bus tour organizers, or your basic walk-in visitor can be the foundation for successful mission fulfillment. It is not only about what you can do for them but also what they can do for you. They can come to your programs, spread word on Facebook, and contribute donations of time or money to your site. Keep your communication with them on a personal level when possible. Drop personal thank you notes in the mail from time to time. Don’t always email them even though it is easier and faster than giving them a call occasionally. Personalize their approach to the work they do by sharing it with staff so that they can compliment and give credit when credit is due through PDAs (don’t worry you don’t have to touch them – public displays of accomplishment). If they have a relationship with the interpretation site the visitor will benefit.

There is an audience for everything. I’m not sure what the exact demographic make-up is of the A-Team movie audience is (I’m actually afraid to find out since it may hit a little too close to home) but the research has been done. There’s an audience or it wouldn’t be produced. Interpretive sites need to remember that as well. There are audiences for various programs and media that may not fit in the mainstream. I’m not saying that visitors may show up saying “I pity the fool for using those binoculars higher than 10x on this tour” for you birding program but perhaps we should go out of our way to offer programs to special-interest groups who may or may not visit our sites. Not as focused as muscular men who wear large amounts of gold chains and are afraid to fly but perhaps groups such as runners, motorcyclists, or homeschoolers are audiences that should be specifically catered to. Focused approaches to underserved audiences can be successful at building visitation, support, volunteers, or members.

People like what they are familiar with. By making a movie like the A-Team, Hollywood is making a safer bet on something familiar to the available audience. There is something comforting to humans about being part of something that you already have a connection to or prior knowledge about. I find comfort in blogging about topics that few care about. The concept of familiarity is best illustrated by Disney. The Disney theme parks are built around familiarity. Visitors have seen the movies and get to experience them in a fun, unique and unexpected way. Disney has found some success with this model.

The caveat to this approach is that participants like to see the familiar in unexpected situations. That’s where the story, technology/media, or theme comes into play. Interpretive sites can transform information, stories, and mission into memorable experiences. Again, the Disney approach is a proven success at adapting stories into rides, presentations, and drinks that cost $9.50. Much like the Disney Imagineers, it is up to the interpreters and interpretive designers to use creativity to make those experiences possible. If you work at a historic site host an overnight camp out on the site that explores the paranormal. If people come to your site for birding create a challenge that combines a team approach and physical elements. If you are designing new exhibits for a visitor center add an element that can relate to a specific group by using QR codes.

In the great words of the late George Peppard (Hannibal Smith), “I love it when a plan comes together.” Interpretation can be the glue in that plan or, in the A-Team’s case, the plastic explosives. Oh yeah, and for the record Tron, Red Dawn, and the Karate Kid should have gone untouched as well.

Slumdog Millionaire, in a box

This confession will most likely not be a surprise to most of you. I collected comic books right up until the time I got married. My getting married later than other friends was directly related to my comic book collection. I loved reading comics as a child and as a young adult. Okay I still like them. While growing up my mother was simply happy that I was reading anything, so she supported my subscriptions and collecting of comic books. My wife did not support me in the same way, but did get behind the effort of selling them on eBay.

One of my favorite elements of comic book collecting was the organizing and preserving of back issues. I had the collection placed on acid-free backing boards, in acid-free bags, in acid-free boxes, and stored them in an archive-quality box within a room with consistent temperature, humidity, and limited exposure to light. I had them in alphabetical order by name, followed by numerical order by issue. To me, there was something reassuring about keeping the comics a certain way at that point in my life. The sad part is that I still find reassuring feelings in keeping things a certain way. Now that I put that into type, I realize how abnormal I am.

Why do things have to be a certain way? On IBD we deal with many absolutes about how things should be and the way things should be designed or produced. Rules are good, right? But in the book IBD we include a section on breaking the rules. I have this constant battle waging in my head. Part of me likes consistency and structure, the other part likes breaking the rules and stepping outside the grid or what is readily acceptable. Sometimes you just have to mix prints and plaids.

Keeping within the topic of graphic design elements in movies that Paul started on Monday, it excites me when movies aren’t a certain way. Slumdog Millionaire breaks the mold in many different ways. I’m not here to talk about the non-linear storytelling, universal ties, emotional and intellectual connections, truthful approach or amazing performances that made the movie great. The movie is great and if you haven’t seen it, rent or add it to your queue soon. I’m here to take on the unusual use of subtitles found in the movie. Wait, please don’t leave. Subtitles are an interesting topic. I’m sure of it. Especially when presented in a comic book style.

The first things that come to mind for me on the topic of subtitles is a type set in sans serif that is hard to read, in a small point size that is yellow or white, found at the bottom of the screen. I also think of really bad movies that make poor use of subtitles stand out even more. Things don’t have to always be a certain way and Slumdog Millionaire proves that point even within the typography used in the subtitles. The first noticeable change to the Slumdog subtitles is that they are not rigidly centered at the bottom of the screen, but are placed more appropriately near the person speaking. In a style reminiscent of comic book typography, minus the use of Comic Sans, the change brings the watcher’s eyes up to where the action or emotion is actually taking place. It makes it easier to watch, keep up with what is being said and by whom, and process the dialog along with the acting at the same time. It just makes sense.

As with most things, I was behind on seeing the movie and we watched it at home. If you haven’t seen it or have a copy, here’s something interesting and fun to do. Pause the movie during one of the scenes with subtitles, get really close to your television set and recognize that the director chose a typeface that has serifs. I live in a small town and what is considered fun is relative. I wish I knew why the director chose this typeface or that I had something more to add here but that’s all I’ve got. The typeface is not aggressively serifed but more passive aggressive serifed. It works fine.

Much like my comic books, things are better in boxes, but colored boxes?  The third drastic difference that Slumdog took in the realm of subtitle greatness was placing the text in text boxes filled with color. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of text in color-filled boxes. As much as I like things in boxes, in most cases I prefer type free from the confines of a box, filled with various levels of saturation. In this instance, it worked because the color helped on different levels. Primarily, the color boxes improved legibility in scenes where type could have easily been lost. Without the boxes the text would have just been difficult to read. Secondarily, the colors echoed the mood of the scene. The colors used seemed to be picked from elements of the scene and fit in aesthetically and reflected what was taking place.

I’m pretty sure I now know why Slumdog won the Oscar for best picture; it was the subtitles. I no longer read comic books, but when I’m at Barnes and Noble and tell my wife I’m headed to the graphic novel section, she has no idea that I’m perusing the comic books.