The windshield: TV’s second screen

Life_on_nbc_iii I was watching the NBC series Life on TIVO last night.  It gets better and better.  About half way through the present episode (the one about angels), Damian Lewis and Sarah Shahi are traveling in a car talking about shooting a suspect. Reflections play on the windshield.  (See the line of blue on this image of Shahi.)

Windshields are worth watching.   How come?

1) The naturalistic conventions that rule TV continue to insist that certain kinds of artistic representation are forbidden. 

2) This forces directors to smuggle things in to story and onto the screen.

3) One way to do this is to put your characters in a car in motion.  Driving is an an ordinary event from everyday life and therefore welcome on the screen under the "naturalism" rules.

4) Good things happen when characters are in motion.  The world gets more voluptuous.  Color, shapes and city scapes stream in the background.

Grosse_point_blank_ii 5) Better still, shapes and colors stream across the window.  See, for instance, the scene in Grosse Pointe Blank when John Cusak is driving into town (eyes right).  A flock of birds streams across his windshield.  In Out of Sight, as George Clooney and Ving Rhames sit in the car before climbing the hill to break into big house owned by Albert Brooks, the windshield virtually steals the scene.   Windshields are active. 

6) Windshields give us a screen built into the screen.  But this second screen adds light and color, as it were, accidentally.  The Director can dismiss this as a natural or accidental artistic event.  The viewer can dismiss it too.  He or she can see through to the event taking place inside the car. 

7) So windshields are a very discrete way of making the signal richer and more visual without sound the "art alarm," the one that says, "hold on to your hats, we’re going to get all creative here."  Windshields have a take it or leave it quality, there if you "like that sort of thing," and more or less invisible if you prefer the naturalist convention.

8) Contemporary culture is getting more complex and creative.  And the windshield is a good way of enriching the signal.  This is also the future of branding as we learn to take one big signal and break it out into finer messages for smaller audiences. 

9) Now if only we can find a way to built a third screen into that second one…


I am not sure who gets the credit at Life.  One or all of the following parties:  Rand Ravich, Far Shariat, Dave Semel. 

3 thoughts on “The windshield: TV’s second screen

  1. botogol

    Now, Grant, there you go again: darn well *noticing* things.

    Very good, yes. It’s one of things that I feel I almost knew myself, but didn’t quite notice.

    A third window? Look no further than the wing mirror.

    Ok, you’re right: it’s not used in the same license-to-be-arty way; more prosaically it’s normally device for showing the audience something that the character can’t see. Because it’s behind him.

    Perhaps one day we’ll have GoogleAI where we can search for car passenger +”image on windscreen” +”mirror refelction

    Until then I guess an example of the window within a window within a window…will be hard to find.

  2. Mary W

    Robert McKee (the screenwriter — his workshop and his book are great btw) would probably say that windshields are a convenient tool for a director to use for whatever image systems (ongoing visual metaphors) s/he is employing throughout the movie/show.

    As you say, a windshield can be portrayed as a mirror (reflection/reflective, visual/psychological), or as a wall/separation/curtain (between people inside and world outside), or as a container for friendship/family/intimacy, or as a kind of magic layered-meaning machine that shows intentionally-chosen reflections overlaid on the people inside.

    Sunglasses, being a kind of portable windshield for the eyes, also are used by directors a lot. Aside from communicating character traits (via their design, or the way the character uses them), they can also be used as part of an ongoing image system — ie when sunglasses are repeatedly used as a visual indicator to convey a meaning such as hiding, or emotional remoteness, or authority.

    Sorry for the long post…you can tell I like getting all meta over movies/TV. 😉

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