web analytics
 Harbeer Sandhu

Little Fluffy Clouds

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

Last week, the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau (GHCVB) released a “soundtrack for the city,” composed by one Jeff Walton and performed by the Houston Symphony.  For those who don’t know, GHCVB is the entity behind the Houston is Insipid/Enmired State of Mind campaign.

Now, I’ve been called a “hater” more than a thousand times because I have high expectations and high standards for what should be shown/heard/read in public — especially if it’s done with public money (like this video).  Forgive me for saying this, but we have a real bad habit in this city of blowing smoke up each other’s asses and giving each other high fives and an “A for effort.”

Bollocks.  That’s not doing anybody any favors.  How far is an athlete going to go if her coach is just constantly reassuring her, “You tried, honey, and that is phenomenal in and of itself!  Great job!”?

Like any other city its size, Houston has its plusses and its minuses, and I get that GHCVB wants to attract conventions and tourists to town to boost hotel revenues.  That’s where GHCVB gets their funding, after all.  But here’s the rub-let’s face it, they are *never* going to market the two things that really make us stand out on the (not just national but) international scene-our rap music and our experimental noise music.  (A third would be the art cars, but GHCVB is not too scared to promote those.)

Anyway, here’s the video.  Check it out, then we’ll look at some other videos:

In case you got bored and couldn’t watch the whole thing, here are some “highlights”:

“Many of the familiar numbers were inspired by things that happened to us in this great town.” - bearded guy from ZZ Top

“Growing up in Houston you’re exposed to bits of inspiration, if you will.” - some other dude, possibly an actor raised in Houston

“To me that’s everything, it’s just the feel of the lifestyle.” - not-bearded guy from ZZ Top

One word:  generic.  To the point of meaninglessness.  These statements mean nothing.

I’m going to paste more commentary about this video at the bottom of this blog post, but in the mean time, let’s watch some more videos.

If this new Houston promo video looks familiar to you, maybe you’ve been watching the Netflix original series House of Cards, whose opening credits give Washington, D.C. a similar treatment.

Or maybe you saw this promotional, time-lapse video for Sacramento, CA.

So..apparently this is a thing.  “Down to the shot of the empty ball field,” says my source for the Sacramento video.

I watched these three videos, side-by-side, with a friend last night and she really liked the Houston video.  When I showed her the other two (House of Cards/DC and Sacramento), she said “I bet all of these videos make the people of their cities proud.”

So there is that.  I guess Houstonians can watch this time-lapse video of clouds and cars and feel proud, except wait a minute:  Houstonians are not the target audience for this video.  This video was not made for you and me, friends, this video was made to sell our city to corporate people who decide where they’re going to do their convention next year.

Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s imagine that we are PR people for the Globex Corporation and we are trying to plan our next convention, so we bring in a consultant to help us through this process.  We are sitting around a board room with the lights dimmed as this consultant shows us a series of promotional videos made by various municipalities to market themselves…and they all look the same.

Do you get what I’m getting at?  Nice try, GHCVB, but you failed, again.  So here is some of the banter I read on Facebook in regards to this video last week:

A hilarious waste of money. Look everyone, we have elevators! cars! trees! an airport! sunsets! museums! editors who can make things go in fast-motion! and… oh my god…. 5 celebrities!
Just seems incredibly generic and soul-less to me. How about real Houstonians that live and work in the city be interviewed? How about showing our incredible diversity? Beautiful parks? Proximity to the coast? Delicious restaurants? I’m sure this is a tool to lure conventions and visitors to the city, but there is literally nothing about it that would make anyone say “oh wow, THAT’s where I should hold my next global conference of blah blah” or “damn, I’m going to bring my family here on vacation”.
I didn’t see the Rodeo. The ballpark was included… but not the Dynamos or Rockets people care about. How about our inviting Katrina refugees to stay? Or the Art Car Parade? Or beer can house? Or FPSF? Or pics of the edgy theatre company where Jim Parsons got his start? The crazy-cool Asian communities along Bellaire- Caninos farmer’s market.
it was sunrise and sunset shots of our horrible traffic, could-be-any-city Dowtown, and a bunch of who cares quasi-celebrities…Oh and a bunch of clouds moving very quickly…
My bigger question is how do they plan to use it. It’s far too long for a commercial.
in an attempt to be as fair as possible, I’ve watched this a few times now. And the more I watch it, the more I totally agree with you [X]. All the celebrity quotes were banal truisms-not a single one spoke to our uniqueness as a city. I maintain that the film itself is beautiful, but the whole thing could be used as “urban landscape” stock footage, and that really makes me sad…I know how to emotionally manipulate through art, and that is what this video does- sweeping musical scores, dramatic camera pans, etc.
As a marketing piece, I’m unclear on its goals and application… but hey, it’s pretty…
Where are the strip malls? The parking lots? The billboards? The toll roads? The two-hour commutes?…
It doesn’t really capture the Houston I love most. The eerie glow of the refineries along the ship channel, the neon lights and signs in Chinese and Vietnamese along Bellaire, the diversity of Canino’s farmers market on a Saturday morning, rockabilly bands at Last Concert Cafe, kids splashing in the fountains at Discovery Green, blues bands at Etta’s, the pool outside Rothko Chapel, Rice University’s courtyard, art openings at the Station Museum with mariachis, light rock at Big Top, the carnival and cookout at the Rodeo, sweet lassis at Bombay Sweets… When you look at this gorgeously shot video, do you see that Houston?

I don’t. But then, is that a Houston you can easily package and sell to tourists anyways?

Also, I love the celebrities speaking in the video, but on the whole, those celebrities don’t represent Houston for me. Most of them haven’t lived in Houston for decades. When I think of Houston, I think of the roller blade dancer, the Flower Man, the Montrose wizard, Steve Klineberg, Omar Afra, Dan Fergus, Monica Pope, Tamarie Cooper, Rick Lowe, and many more. It’s beautiful, but I’m just not sure it tells the truth…

[For the record, let me state unequivocally that the person(s) talking up FPSF and our illustrious editor, Mr. Afra, has zero affiliation with Free Press Houston or Free Press Summer Fest.]

Before you go, for a funny take on such cookie-cutter, generic videos with intensely corporate aesthetics, check out the video below.  It will have you in stitches, guaranteed.

In today’s high speed environment, stop-motion footage of a city at night, cars turning quickly, makes you think about doing things efficiently…and time passing.

Here, just for kicks, is another of my all-time favorite videos featuring a humous spin on stock footage.

No, wait, let’s end this with a question.  If you were making a video about Houston to sell our city to out-of-towners, what would you include?  Of all the cities you have visited, what stands out to you as a unique (or rare, if not singular) selling-point about our fair city?  Leave that in the comments.

  • SheMuses

    Did you do any research on the film makers? Are they from Houston? Also I’d like to add that at least Walton and the orchestra folks are mostly from here…& that includes Leesa Harrington-Squyers on drums.

    • Harbeer Sandhu

      Hi. Thanks for your comment. I did not — all I know is that the film makers are friends of Mark Austin and it hurts his heart to hear any critical commentary about the five-minute commercial.

      I don’t know what Walton and the orchestra folks being from Houston has to do with anything, to be honest. Does that mean I should judge it differently? Does that make it OK that the people with speaking parts in the video are very obscure celebrities spouting generic pablum?

      Let’s get back to a relevant question: If you were making this video, what would you depict to appeal to an out-of-town, convention-planning audience?