Determining the status of the characters (any of the voices) in a radio commercial can give it focus, help define the relationships and make it more interesting. This is an application of a principle from improv.
Status is pecking order. The person who is lower in status defers to the person (or object or pain or desire) who/that is higher in status.
Sometimes status is inferred by social position - for example boss and employee - but mainly by the way the characters interact. If character A behaves in a way that indicates that A will stand up for themselves, then character B must adjust, establishing A’s high status. If A interacts in a way that says A is willing to go along, doesn’t want responsibility, that’s low status. A boss can play low status or high status. An employee can play low status or high status.
Status can bring great dynamism to a spot – there can be jockeying for status position – changing, aligning with others, etc. This is what lends interest to the spot.
1. Status is based on threat.
2. You can only play high status to a perceived unthreatening entity/force.
3. You can only play low status to a perceived threatening entity/force.
You can raise or lower status in four ways: a) Raise yourself: “I just got back from finishing in the top 10% in the Boston Marathon.” b) Lower someone/something else: “You’ve never run a marathon before, have you?” c) Lower yourself: “It was really difficult for me, I almost didn’t finish the race.” d) Raise someone/something else: “You probably would have had done much better than I did.”
In some countries – the UK for example, people’s accents clearly define their status, position or class. In the US that definition is less obvious from listening to accents. It’s defined more by the words and attitude of the characters.
1) Techniques for raising status: a) Slowing down your speech, speaking authoritatively, with certainty. b) Speaking in complete sentences. c) Interrupting before you know what you are going to say. d) Inserting ‘ummmm’ at the end of sentences. e) Talking matter-of-factly about things that the other person finds displeasing or offensive. f) Giving or withholding permission. g) Evaluating other people’s work. h) A high status person can be more ‘vulnerable’ than a low status posture, because the high status person is not threatened and can afford to be relaxed and vulnerable.
2) Techniques for lowering status: a) Speeding up your speech. b) Speaking in halting, incomplete sentences, trailing off, editing your sentences as you go. c) Inserting ‘uhh’ in front of sentences. d) Beating around the bush when talking about something that will displease the other person. e) Avoiding responsibility. f) Needing permission before being able to act.
Status is Everywhere
Status is everywhere because relationships are everywhere. And there is no status without relationship, but there is no relationship without status.
A character can play high or low status to the advertiser, product or service, or to pain, obstacles, or to other characters. Play with changing status. Each experiment will make your commercial more interesting, and hopefully more compelling. More on this in our next exciting episode.
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