What do tears of joy, eggplant and Santa have in common? Apparently nothing, and you’re now also wondering why I’m asking that question on a film blog. (But not really, because you read the article’s title.) Well, they’re all emojis.
In a groundbreaking, surprising move, Oxford Dictionaries even made the tears of joy emoji their word of the year for 2015. Sure, we’re all using emojis (do we have a choice when it’s automatically in our phones?) but are they that big, though?
You tell me: Instagram had to ban the eggplant emoji because it was invariably featured with content that didn’t match their terms and conditions, you can search Instagram posts by emoji, and Facebook’s latest update lets us “react” to posts by emojis.
Linguists have taken ahold of the matter, and as it turns out filmmakers can learn a lot from using emojis. Here’s how.
1. You’ll improve your communication skills
Film is a collaborative medium. You’ll have to make 2000 decisions per day, even before the camera starts rolling. All your collaborators will come to you asking you whether you think the door should be green or blue and you’ll find yourself too overwhelmed to remember that the door was actually supposed to be red. It goes without saying that any shot featuring that door will end up on the cutting room floor, anyways.
And if there’s one thing you have to be great at -other than telling a story- is communication. You have a vision, you have to explain it. You’re dealing with people, act accordingly.
What’s the difference between “That’s not necessary.” and “That’s not necessary [smiley face]”. It’s less harsh. Of course, I’m only saying that, provided you want to manage people’s feeling’s and in some sense don’t we all just aspire to be robots?
2. You’re learning a new language
The latest edition of SXWS held a panel called “The linguistic secrets found in billions of emoji”, in which researchers explained their findings from analysing all the data of emoji usage throughout the world. Apparently, the world is crying [tears of joy], the French have a (predictably) [broken heart], and Scandinavians love themselves some [Santa].
Emojis account for 4.6% of our conversations. It’s a language that has both formal and informal qualities. And it’s far more elaborate and creative than that time when Barney found his one night stand from a question mark.
3. You’re learning about visual storytelling
Filmmakers tell stories visually, in a way that, hopefully, goes beyond the mere dialogue, and when images are striking and are the driving force of the storytelling. Emojis are able to convey some of that. For instance, take a look at this list of the nominees for the Best Picture Oscar in 2015.
You get that the movies they’re referencing are Birdman, Boyhood, Whiplash, American Sniper, Selma etc… Of course, you don’t get the intricacies of the narrative, but that’s probably due to Twitter’s 140-character limit rather than the shortcomings of the language. For instance, here’s how Andy Murray told of his wedding day in one elaborate tweet.
That’s visual storytelling.
4. You’re learning about voiceover
Voiceover is one of the things that many filmmakers will fail at. One textbook example of successful voiceover is Sunset Boulevard. The same kind of process is used in Annie Hall, in the famous scene during which subtitles show us what the characters are actually thinking. There’s what happens, and there’s what’s really happening. It’s definitely not about a scene and the voiceover describing what’s happening.
There’s a difference between: “Want to come over?”, “Want to come over? [smirking face]” and “Want to come over? [eggplant]”. The first one implies tea and a friendly chat, the second one implies sex and the third one doesn’t imply much because it doesn’t leave anything to the imagination.