Subtext vs Text in Video

Sub * text:
    The underlying or implicit meaning. A message which is not stated directly but can be inferred.
Subtext is the meaning beyond what is said or shown.
Take this snippet of Dialogue:
Man: Whats wrong?
Woman: Nothing, why do you ask?
On the surface the words mean one thing, but how the lines are delivered may change the meaning completely. If the woman is sarcastic, then we know there is a lot wrong. If the man in threatening and the woman fearful, then we see into their relationship beyond the words.

But subtext can be much more subtle. A candid moment may give a peek into a documentary subject’s state of mind. A beautiful setting juxtaposed with an account of a terrible tragedy provides contrasts to the horror of the story.

As a part of my job I have been involved in a lot of promotional videos. They have taken a lot of forms, but one thing is almost universally true: there was no subtext in them.

In a promotional video, everything is spelled out. You don’t want to leave anything to chance. You want to drive home the point, hit the call to action and get out.

But art is different. Movies and films are art, and art has subtext.

One of the major flaws in many Christian movies is that we eliminate the subtext, converting it to text. We tie it all up in a bow. Everything is fully explained, as though we are afraid someone will interpret the subtext incorrectly and fall into heresy. Non religious films or TV also can fall into this trap, although it’s normally accompanied by a heavy handed messages- like the ones in the CW DC Universe shows. The writers/directors/creators of this content are most concerned with people finishing the show with clear messages than allowing their work to speak for itself.

But that’s not art, it’s promotion or worse, propaganda. And audiences are smart. They see through it, see it for what it is. Audiences will put up with this, to some extent if they 1. agree with the messages, or 2. really like the characters or premise of the story. Audiences who do his will likely remember the message more than the art of the video.

So that’s the question: Are we promoting a message using story and video? Or are we telling a story about a subject and letting that story speak into the lives of those who experience it?

Are you making a promotional piece or art?