Tag Archives: Detroit

Imported from Detroit – Chrysler 200 Super Bowl commercial

I thought the hands-down best commercial during this year’s Super Bowl was the 2-minute ad for the Chrysler 200 featuring Eminem. Brilliantly written and produced with a pitch-perfect narration by voice-over artist and Michigan resident Kevin Yon, the commercial shows downtown Detroit in all its glory as Eminem slowly drives the new Chyrsler 200 through the Motor City.

The soundtrack begins with ominous low electronic rumblings and sound effects. Then, at about the 40 second mark, the instantly recognizable guitar-riff from Enimen’s song "Lose Yourself" (from the 8 Mile album) is layered on top. Finally, the addition of a gospel choir at the commercial’s high-point adds a sense of triumph to mix. It’s a brilliantly constructed soundtrack.

Camera shots create a poetic montage inter-cutting Detroit’s gritty industrial landscape, with American flags, modern factories, boarded up buildings and Diego Rivera’s mural of factory laborers (from the Detroit Institue of the Arts). Shots of snow falling on downtown buildings add to the creation of a tough, resolute image. We end up at Detroit’s historic Fox Theatre. The marquis out front reads “Keep Detroit Beautiful” Inside, Enimen takes the stage in front of the gospel choir and confidently utters these words, “This is the Motor City and this is what we do”.

All of the elements; the voice-over performance, the text, the soundtrack, the camera work, Eminem’s passion, work toward a climatic celebration of Detroit. It gave me chills the first time I saw it.

Known as the Motor City, Detroit was built on manufacturing and as manufacturing has left the US economy, outsourced to other nations with cheaper labor costs, Detroit, like a lot of smaller manufacturing towns, has suffered. Suffered greatly. Must the American economy be so bereft of manufacturing? Are we right to just cede this important segment to emerging nations with cheaper labor costs?

The "Imported from Detroit" ad reminded me of a video produced last year by filmmaker Scott Smith. Scott’s company, River Run Productions, created a film for the trade organization Opportunity2 called Advanced Manufacturing in Southern Iowa. Scott used UniqueTracks’ music as underscore for this 9 minute industrial film.

The film shows one way manufacturing can exist in the American economy. Actually the advanced manufacturing, using robotics, laser optics and other high-end technologies shown in this film, are probably best done in America. The idea of factory work being associated with dimly lit, dirty, over-crowded spaces is not the reality in these high-tech manufacturing plants.

Scott adds, "Iowa is known for its farming, but in Southeast Iowa, where we shot the video, 30% of the jobs are in advanced manufacturing. I didn’t even really know what advanced manufacturing was before I produced this video. I learned that everywhere you go you are surrounded by the results of advanced manufacturing. And once I realized that advanced manufacturing involved welding and robotics I knew I’d have some cool visuals to play with. Then we began looking for stories that would be of interest to the intended audience of middle school and high school students. And because of that young audience and the interesting visuals we wanted to find some high energy music that would help drive the video.

Note: Scott used primarily rock music from UnqiueTracks albums Speed Demons and Modern Rock.

I grew up, on the other side of the Detroit River, across from Detroit, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Both cities are manufacturing towns whose economies are linked to the making of cars. By the mid-1970s, when the automobile industry first bottomed out, almost everyone I grew up with in Windsor had left the city. As a boy, I watched from across the river as Detroit burned as fires swept the city during the riot of 1967. In a way, this event seems to be the flashpoint from which Detroit never fully recovered.

The "Imported from Detroit" ad succeeds in attempting to show the human side of a city that has, as the ad says, “been to hell and back”.

I am grateful to Scott Smith for his contributions to this article. Scott W. Smith is an old film school grad who after living in Miami, Los Angeles, and Orlandio ended up in Cedar Falls, Iowa in 2003. He and his company, River Run Productions, have worked on a variety of projects over the years including commercials, web videos, promotional DVDs, short films and documentaries. They’ve also provided camera support and field producing for various groups including the national TV programs The Montel Williams Show and The Doctors. In February, Scott added two Addy Awards to his shelf full of hardware that also includes two Regional Emmy Awards.

I enjoy reading Scott’s blog articles on his site Screenwriting from Iowa

This is what TomCruise.com said about the blog last year: "For a more off-beat look at writing, the Screenwriting from Iowa blog provides screenwriters with a slightly removed take from the Hollywood norm. Scott Smith blogs about how people outside of Los Angeles can have their stories told and sold for production in TinselTown. It’s inspiring for those of us around the world who aspire to Hollywood magic without having to live in Hollywood itself."

I thought the text to the "Imported from Detroit" ad was incrediblly well-written. I could not find out who wrote the copy but this text and it’s delivery by Mr Yon really pack a punch.

Here is the full text of the ad
I ‘ve got a question for you. What does this city know about luxury? What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about the finer things in life? Well I’ll tell you. More than most. You see it’s the hottest fires that make the hottest steel. Add hard work, conviction, and a know-how that runs generations deep in every last one of us. That’s who we are. That’s our story. Now it’s probably not the one you’ve been reading in the papers. The one being written by folks who’ve never even been here and don’t know what we’re capable of. Because when it comes to luxury, it’s as much about where it’s from as who it’s for. Now we’re from America. But this isn’t New York City, or the Windy City, nor Sin City and we’re certainly no one’s Emerald City.

This is the motor city. And this is what we do.
The Chrysler 200 has arrived
Imported from Detroit.

Music mentioned in this article:

Speed Demons Speed Demons V2
Speed Demons, Vol. 1 Speed Demons, Vol. 2
Modern Rock V1 Modern Rock V2
Modern Rock, Vol. 1 Modern Rock, Vol. 2

Remembering the album as its own art form

Don Was co-founded the eclectic ’80s band Was (not Was) (hit single – Spy in the House of Love) before becoming a highly regarded record producer having produced Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones. He is currently writing a blog for MetroTimes in Detroit.

I am originally from Windsor, Ontario (Canada) just across the river from Detroit. It was a cool place to live. That area of the country gets a lot of bad press even from its own local media but it has a great history and, to me, is one of the hidden gems in North America (the Detroit River!) – but that’s another story.

Was’s post celebrates records, that is, vinyl LPs. Not only the fidelity of LPs but also their artwork and the space they allowed for the artist to credit those involved in the making of the record. He uses Frank Zappa’s 1966 release of the Freak Out! LP as an example.

It was a double album with an amazing gatefold jacket that retailed for $4.99. Inside there were extensive liner notes written by Frank Zappa that changed my life. In a subsequent interview, Frank said that the Freak Out! album package was designed to be “as accessible as possible to the people who wanted to take the time to make it accessible. That list of names in there, if anybody were to research it, would probably help them a great deal.” He was right: The first time I heard of Charles Ives, Willie Dixon, Captain Beefheart, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Eric Dolphy was when I read that list of 150 random notables.

The article underlines what recording used to be at its best – what records used to be at their best. How an album could be its own art form, not just a loss leader or a promo to get you to go to the live show and buy t-shirts. The album – the music, the artwork/design and packaging – could be it’s own artistic experience.

Was celebrates how albums of the past listed all the people that worked to create the project. Much like a movie that lists its credits at the story’s end, the LP had the room to print not only song lyrics but also the recording studio and engineer, the mastering studio engineer. I can remember reading the names, Hit Factory, Record Plant, Power Station, as a kid. They seemed like far-away temples to me.

The digitization of audio was originally lauded and welcomed by musicians and audio engineers alike. It seemed to make the work of recording so much easier. But today, 25 years into digital audio, there is a different perspective amongst many musicians and audio engineers. There is an on-going argument about the fidelity of digital recording and the use or over-use of digital audio techniques (i.e. brickwall mastering). Most devastating to the actual commerce of the recording industry, digitization has allowed exact copies of recordings to be freely copied and the Internet has made those copies available to millions.

Downloading music has also affected the album as an artistic entity. Here’s Dan Was again..

If Zappa released that same music today, we’d browse the 30-second samples on the iTunes store without the benefit of reading those mind-blowing liner notes. There’d be no context or depth to the whole experience. It’s no wonder that kids don’t wanna pay for music anymore – downloading a file of zeroes and ones for 99 cents has the same cultural allure as ordering a Ronco Veg-O-Matic from an 800 number.

It’s tough to find out who produced and engineered the music and you can forget about finding out who did the cover art (that cover art having now been reduced to 2 inches square at a resolution of 72 dpi)

The transformation to digital audio and electronic delivery has transformed how we consume music. There are benefits. Ease of storage is one. But we have traded a lot for that. Sound fidelity has been cheapened along with the whole experience of what an album is.

I had a talk with a young man recently and he was telling me about the 1000s of songs and albums he had downloaded mostly through file-sharing sites. These included several modern classical albums like performances of Steve Reich’s “Music for Eighteen Musicians” and some Philip Glass instrumental works. I thought to myself, yes, but how well do you know this music. How many times have you listened to it.

In fact it takes time to really listen to music. Especially challenging music. Like reading Tolstoy. It’s an investment of time. Really digesting 1000 recordings should take years. We seem to have become very good aggregators of music but we have forgotten or we simply don’t have the time to be good listeners. For me, it’s more important that someone really know 10 pieces of music than to sport a library of thousands of recordings.

“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” – Hebert Simon
Recipient of Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics and the A.M. Turing Award, the “Nobel Prize of Computer Science”


(I took a cognitive psychology class with Prof. Simon while at Carnegie Mellon in 1978)