Touched by a (NASCAR) Angel

For my video remix project, I took the film Talladega Nights (Adam McKay 2006) and transformed it from a comedy into a Hallmark heartfelt classic. The inspiration for my project came from the Klosterman reading, This is Emo. While reading the section about women foolishly desiring to fall in love with men like the characters in John Cusack movies, my girlfriend was sitting right next to me watching the Hallmark Channel (hopefully she never reads this post). Not only was she watching the Hallmark Channel, but her favorite movie (and favorite word) is Serendipity (Peter Chelsom 2001), which coincidentally featured John Cusack as the male protagonist. It appeared that Klosterman was right when he said “countless women…are in love with John Cusack” (Kosterman 2). When our project assignment came out, I said to myself, ‘Ah ha! I know exactly what I am going to do. I am going to remix my video to expose the ridiculousness of those Hallmark Channel movies.’

Finding the right film was one of the most crucial parts to getting my point across. I needed a film that people would be astonished by the transformation. I needed a film that could be warped into a melodramatic Hallmark. As I picked through my sparse film collection in my dorm room, I was lucky to find the perfect film. There it was, Talladega Nights, the epic comedy starring Will Farrell as a NASCAR driver. In Talladega Nights, as is also the case in Hallmark films, the actors and plot fit a certain mold that can be applied universally. They are genre films. In his article, Sobchack references a book by Geduld and Gottesman in which they define “’genre’ as a category, kind, or form of film distinguished by subject matter, theme, or techniques” (Sobchack 196). Additionally, Sobchack further adds genre films “differ fundamentally from other films by virtue of [their] reliance on preordained forms, known plots, recognizable characters and obvious iconographies” (198). Talladega Nights is the predictable adventure comedy in which half of the film explains the protagonist’s downfall and the other half covers his ascension back to the top. Similarly, Hallmark movies spend the majority of their time identifying an emotional problem (usually love) for the protagonist and then culminating with a happy, feel-good ending. Thus, while these two movies, do not fall within the same exact genre; they do in fact contain similarities because they are both in essence genre films.

The key way I turned Talladega Nights into a Hallmark movie was through plot. I turned the plot 180 degrees to make the original storyline nearly unrecognizable. In my remix, the protagonist, Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell), is a hot shot NASCAR driver. A great wife, loving kids, and a devoted best friend, Ricky has the perfect life. However, his desire to win and be the best blinds him from appreciating the most important people in his life. In an instant, everything is taken from him as he is tragically killed in a brutal wreck on the racetrack. To add to the drama, before Ricky Bobby can earn his wings and become an angel in Heaven, he must complete a quest. Ricky must help a perfect stranger (Gary Cole) defeat alcoholism and save his life before it is too late.

This is a photo of Ricky Bobby, the NASCAR Angel. Photo can be found by following this link.

This is a photo of Ricky Bobby, the NASCAR Angel. Photo can be found by following this link.

While the plot was key, film techniques such as shots, transitions, and music selection were equally important to the transformation. While researching films (and by research I mean watching the nonstop Christmas nightmare currently airing on the Hallmark channel) I noticed similarities between the film techniques used. The movies seemed to make frequent use of medium to close shots. According to Bernard Dick’s reasoning behind closer shots, their frequency made perfect sense. Dick explains that a close-up “can reveal a particular emotion a long shot might not capture” (Dick 53). These Hallmark movies are extremely emotional and dramatic. It would not make sense for the director to zoom all the way out to show emotion. Closer shots reveal facial expression and eye movement, which are great indicators of emotion. I chose to use close shots to augment the dramatic feel. For example, when Ricky is on his deathbed, the camera is zoomed in, only showing his face. The viewer can see the life fading away from Ricky’s eyes. Also in that same deathbed scene, I chose to use subjective camera to show the viewer Ricky’s final images from the world. Subjective camera, according to Dick “offers a one-sided take on reality” (Dick 56). In a haze, as life is slipping away, Ricky gets one last look at his wife. This view is very sad and in my opinion an objective camera would not have depicted the same overwhelming feel.

With transitions, I noticed the Hallmark movies end their scenes with dark fades. Fades can be used to “mark the passage of time” (Dick 71). Dick’s interpretation is entirely right when referring to Hallmark movies. Fades were used to end scenes and usually the next scene opened up with either a different time of day. I similarly used fades to show a break in time. This film covers a period of months and it would be impossible to fit all that footage into the trailer without using fades to show the time lapse.

In Hallmark movies, the music can be characterized as either soft rock or soothing. By contrast, Talladega Nights mostly uses either fast paced rock or Deep South country rock like Lynyrd Skynyrd or Mountain. I changed the music to fit that Hallmark category. For the first half of the video, I used jazzy elevator music to play over the scenes. During the second half of the video, I used the song Bitter Sweet Symphony (The Verve 1997). I felt like those choices fit the Hallmark genre and complemented the switch from comedy to drama.

Photo from music video of Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve. Photo can be found on the Bitter Sweet Symphony wikipedia page

Photo from music video of Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve. Photo can be found on the Bitter Sweet Symphony wikipedia page

Because the plot switch was so significant, I largely relied on text to dictate the storyline to the viewer. Turning Ricky Bobby into an angel would have been hard to show with the clips available from the original film. Without text it would have been nearly impossible to show the viewer the genre change to a Hallmark movie.

Symbolic signifiers were also utilized to help the viewer understand the storyline. While text worked great in some parts, I wanted to make sure to include enough video footage. Most of my clips did not include dialogue, so I relied on symbols to determine meaning. According to author Marcel Danesi, symbols are signs “designed to encode a referent by convention or agreement” (Danesi 27). For example, in the scene when Ricky died, I used audio from an ECG (electrographic cardiogram) to indicate that Ricky was dying. Instead of telling the viewer through text or through another character, I used a symbol. Similarly, I never mentioned that Ricky Bobby needed to help a stranger to become an angel. I merely mentioned that he was on a quest to earn his wings. However, wings are a symbol for angels. Symbols were an important alternative to using text to dictate the plot.

The biggest problem I ran into while creating the recut stemmed from creating the right change. Originally, I was just going to turn Ricky Bobby into a father figure after the crash. In my eyes, that did not bring out a complete genre change. It took me a long time to come up with his quest for getting angel wings. Luckily, I started early and had plenty of time to play around with ideas. When doing a project like this one, the more time that you give yourself beforehand the better. Picking the shots was relatively easy, but I had a hard time finding music and sound clips. I tried songs from multiply artists and styles, but it was difficult to find clips that fit and transitioned well from scene to scene. I think the biggest downfall to my project was the music and audio. I liked the music that I picked, but I am worried that I could have picked better samples.

Overall, making the video took me about five or six hours in the Communication Lab. While it was time consuming and frustrating at times, I really enjoyed being able to play around with the software and create the finished project. In my business and economics classes we don’t often get a chance to do creative projects like this one and I thoroughly enjoyed the change in pace.

Danesi, Marcel. Messages, Signs, and Meanings: A Basic Textbook in Semiotics and Communication. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2004. Print.

Dick, Bernard F. Anatomy of Film. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1978. Print.

Klosterman, Chuck. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print.

Sobchack, Thomas. “Genre Film: A Classical Experience.” Literature Film Quarterly 3.3 (1975): 196. Academic Search Complete.

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