“I can’t believe I’m wasting mental energy thinking about this stuff”, says eurovicious in the comments to last week’s staging and lighting post. He was referring to a debate with tpfkar about whether it helps or hinders an act’s vote to end on a plinth having started off at stage level. (They agree that coming down off a plinth is good, and staying on one for the whole song is bad).
We fondly imagine that somewhere in X Factor HQ is a book of lore containing the accumulated wisdom of staging effects on voting support (“Plinths, when unhelpful: (i) when very high – see Masson, Melanie; (ii) when isolating group members – see Vibe, Nu”). We further fondly imagine that producers read these posts and chuckle about how little of that lore we’ve yet guessed.
As the comments to the last post indicate that many of you share our enjoyment of wasting mental energy thinking about this stuff, here are some observations and speculations on week 2’s show.
Up first, Old Bailey (courtesy of Dean, there’s Louis’s line written for this week: “Hey, Screwbo! Screwbo! I’ve got a new name for you. Old Bailey! What, what? It’s a compliment!”)
The cogs are whirring, as if inside a giant clock:
Is the suggestion that time is running out for Sam?
Now where have we seen red-and-black cogs and time imagery before? Ah yes:
That was Christopher Maloney in week 9 last year, when time was indeed running out for Sam’s fellow former cruisehip entertainer.
Sofabet’s resident wordsmith Dug described Kingsland Road after their auditon as the “acid trip hipster quintet of doom”. Their staging recalled the first part of that description:
On the whole, despite being under the Strictly bus and sandwiched between two big hitters, we thought the staging was pretty positive. Those spotlights are shining in the right direction, at least. And the overall effect was fun.
Now, what on earth are they up to with Nicholas? Two lines of black-clad women shuffle past him like zombies. On the big screen behind him, throughout his performance we see more people with their backs to him, walking away.
I know this was setting up the love interest at the end – the one Sharon called the “pediophile” – but, but…
There’s one time before on Sofabet when we’ve referred to a striking visual of dancers turning their back and walking away on an act:
Wagner! It was only a brief moment in the overall routine, but – surely not coincidentally – it was the one they chose for the reprise. That was one of the 28 tactics we spotted that producers used to get the much-missed Brazilian out in week 8. (That was a year before Richard Betsfactor went public with his red and black theory, or – as you can see from the above shot – we could have added a 29th).
On the other hand, great lighting again for Nick, as it was last week – drawing viewers’ attention to him, rather than scattering it away from him:
If we had to bet, we’d say the thinking with the zombies and turned backs wasn’t to plant any negative ideas about Nicholas, but rather a cool high-concept music video type idea. It was a demo-delighting song choice, perfectly delivered, and Nick remains catnip to all ages of female demographic and the act we find it hardest to envisage falling short of the final.
Before we leave Wee Nick, let’s rewind to Sam’s VT. Now, who’s that enthusiastically celebrating an England win at Wembley?
Wonder how many people noticed that north of the border?
On to Abi. It’s funny to think that less than two series ago, we’d not yet been enlightened to Richard Betsfactor’s “star crazy” theory, and now we’re debating in the comments whether Abi’s week 1 dress was decorated with stars (connotation: she’s a star) or flowers (connotation: she bloomed briefly in late summer but, as the nights draw in, she’ll need deadheading). Many thanks to Lake for settling the debate by finding the actual top.
Abi this week got pink umbrellas and giant raindrops. Pink umbrellas and giant raindrops. Um… does it mean that Abi’s wet? That she’s as much fun as a rainy day? I suppose you could link it to last week’s imagery, with a roof of light over her head, as hitting a theme of shelter – but that’s a bit tenuous. We’re not sure what to make of it, other than it overshadowed the vocals:
In the comments, Tim B reckons “She was TRAPPED/suffocated by the pink umbrellas for a good proportion of the song. This reminded me of Jade Ellis caught in the spider’s web last year”.
Shelley now, and what goes up (on an articulated lift) must come down (on a giant diamond ring):
In the comments, JScouser reckoned “that silly white box he was on” wasn’t good treatment for Sam Callahan. We have to disagree. As plinths go, it was about as small as you could imagine – it didn’t feel like it was disconnecting Sam from the audience, but making him stand out:
And everything else in that staging looks like it has positive connotations. Guitar cases surrounded by fairy lights: authentic musicianship meets Christmas. What’s not to like? That big-screen image of golden guitar strings and frets stretching away to a sunrise was gorgeously evocative, too, especially when the strings started slowly moving and shedding golden sparks. Helpful, surely:
We mustn’t forget that last year’s acts apparently considered camera angles to be as important an indicator of producer favour as lighting. Generally, the thinking is that lots of close-ups are good as it helps you to reach out through the camera and make an emotional connection to the audience, while lots of wide-angle shots are bad. Short of sitting through performances with a stopwatch – rather too much of a waste of mental energy even for us – this is hard to assess with objectivity. But it did seem to us that Sam got quite a lot of opportunity to do this:
Tamera gets a backdrop of smoke. PCP-coated marijuana smoke?
Perhaps next week’s visuals will involve teenagers sneaking furtively out of Boots.
In theory, so many negative connotations you could draw about Luke’s staging. Sunset – it’s the end of the day for him. Boat – stranded, beached, adrift, “sailing home” as joeohouna said in the comments. Lighthouse searchlight – he’s lost at sea. And yet, the overall effect didn’t feel negative at all. Quite the opposite – it felt warm, welcoming, languid, relaxing. And the main lighting is directly on him:
We’re not sure what to make of the fact that the judges hung a lampshade on the boat in their comments, just as they had with the walking dead after Nick’s performance and did repeatedly after some of the more entertainingly absurd Christopher Maloney stagings in 2012. Does that undercut any subliminal effect? Is this kind of thing always scripted or sometimes ad-libbed? Theories welcome.
Hearts for Rough Copy. It seems pretty clear what that’s supposed to convey:
Not so for Hannah, who had the most intriguing staging of the night. We open with a shot of four Hannahs created by a corner of mirrors. We then widen out to take in another two mirrored Hannahs, this time ghostly and distorted:
Then they stick her on a big, long box:
And give her a backdrop of spinning shards of broken glass:
Here’s a positive way of reading that as a visual representation of the song’s lyrics: initially self-conscious, surrounding herself with mirrors and not liking what she sees reflected back, Hannah gains confidence in her beauty, symbolised by walking down a fashion catwalk. The spinning shards of glass are shattered mirrors, indicating she no longer cares about what they reflect back to her.
On the other hand, the effect of the opening mirror scene felt like the opposite of what you would do if you wanted to convey the idea of someone being authentic, whole and real, while the shards imagery backs up the sense of fragmentation, with hints of danger. The fashion catwalk, meanwhile, reopens the plinth debate.
What are your thoughts on the above, and what else did you spot? As ever, do let us know below – and do also listen to Richard and Daniel on the new episode of the Betsfactor podcast, which Richard has just now uploaded to iTunes. Don’t be deceived by episode 3 not yet being visible in the iTunes store – apparently it can take a while, but if you go to the iTunes website, click “view in iTunes”, and then subscribe, it should download. For those of you without iTunes on your device, alternative instructions here.