Season 2 of A&E’s hit drama “Bates Motel” opened last Monday, following a launch campaign with a uniquely “artistic, cinematic flair,” said Guy Slattery, A&E EVP of marketing. That flair came courtesy of entertainment branding agency Loyalkaspar, who, “since the debut season… has been a true creative partner in branding ‘Bates Motel’ in an emotional way,” continued Slattery.
For Loyalkaspar, emotion was at the core of a second-season launch concept that followed a first season spent “introducing viewers to this world that was new and strange,” said Geoff Bailey, a creative director at Loyalkaspar and co-director of the project with Daniel Dörnemann. “For Season 2 we really wanted to put them in the shoes of the characters and see the world through their eyes.”
To go from outside the characters to, as the summary of its conceptual platform puts it, “Inside Looking Out,” Loyalkaspar spent long hours crafting a “moment of recognition,” said Bailey, for principals Norma, Norman and Dylan. “We believe there’s always a single image that should encapsulate the heart of a spot… That one image that, even if it’s an on-air spot, the rest of your narrative flows out from.”
In Norman’s spot, that moment comes when, in the middle of a taxidermy project, he makes eye contact with the raven he is stuffing. For Norma, it comes while she’s making the bed in one of the rooms, her eyes filling with horror as a spot of blood seeps up through the taut white sheet. And for Norma’s other troubled son, Dylan, the moment happens as he loads a handgun in his room, looking at it and reflecting on what his life has become.
In the promo at the top of this story, those character spots were edited together for a longer, narrative group tease. The easy effectiveness of the sequence belies the fact that taken individually, Loyalkaspar imbued each spot with its own unique style intended to represent the worldview of its respective character. This approach is perhaps most noticeable in the Dylan spot, which Bailey described as Loyalkaspar’s attempt to imagine “what Hitchcock would have done if he had lived to see the shaky cam.” Almost documentary-like, the restless camera creates a frenetic, harried energy. “We wanted it to feel like Dylan was a man on a mission and we were trying to catch up to him,” said Bailey. “So you felt the energy and propulsion of the world that he’s becoming involved in, which is the criminal world of White Pine Bay, and then to really contrast that with the stillness of his life in the Bates’ home.”
In contrast, the camerawork is fluid and precise in the Norman teaser, seemingly mirroring the tone of his methodical taxidermy work, but punctuated with flashes of violence. The violence isn’t overt but contextual: a quick tightening of a stitch amidst the feathers; a pushing of a pin through the raven flesh. The cuts are few but abrupt, breaking the rhythm of an otherwise rather still sequence just enough to unsettle the viewer, but not jar them.
That unsettling fluidity continues in the Norma spot, where it is elevated to a beautiful lyricism through exquisitely smooth camera movements and dreamy lighting. There are no abrupt cuts here, but by inserting disturbing imagery – blood seepage – with the same flowing loveliness as the rest of the spot, Loyalkaspar creates the feeling of “a dream that turns into a nightmare,” said Bailey.
Loyalkaspar utilized a similarly nightmarish approach for a slightly more elaborate promo called “Requiem.” Shot back in LA, the spot intersplices slow-motion, sun-drenched footage of Norma and Norman in a seemingly peaceful place with scary, gory shots from upcoming episodes. The composition of each “happy” moment is “very unbalanced,” said Bailey. “There’s always something in the frame that makes you a little uneasy even if you’re not consciously aware of it.”
To aid the process of getting into the heads of each character, Loyalkaspar traveled to the show’s primary shooting location in Aldergrove, British Columbia for the shoot, allowing them to work closely with a production design team “whose daily life is knowing the ins and outs of these characters,” said Bailey. “Down to what books are on their shelves, what they put on their bedside table. You can draw on all of that knowledge to broaden out the world of the spot.”
Additionally, aside from overlays and other transitional tweaks in the editing process, Loyalkaspar created the necessary effects for the style of each spot in-camera. This choice, said Bailey, “flowed from the idea that we wanted to have a really unique, authentic, human point of view for each of the spots. There’s just something that never seems quite real in post… we wanted that level of realism in all of the spots.
“The second thing is,” Bailey continued, “there’s a side effect to doing things in camera that forces you ahead of time to make choices about what you’re going for. What do you want that blood to look like when it seeps through the bed, and what does it mean to Norma at that moment? And what should you take away from it? All those discussions help you be clearer about what you’re trying to say.”
Choosing to film these small, quietly creepy scenes with a cinematic level of craft and nuance, Loyalkaspar cannily captured the confusing stew of emotion that makes “Bates Motel” so compelling. While visual cues such as the flickering blue neon signage of the title help “Bates Motel” resonate visually, the strongest part of its brand is the characters themselves, and “the balance between the terrible things that sometimes happen to them or that they sometimes do, and the fact that they’re also really empathetic,” said Bailey.