In July at JibJab, we are 100% focused on Christmas. In August, it’s time for Year in Review. Clearly a lot will happen between August and December 31, so we start with three simple goals. First, identify a tune that will be well suited for a “list song” (a song whose lyrics will be comprised of a fast moving list of events). Second, compile a list of the events that have happened so far so we have some material to play with. Third, find the “hook”.
This year we went through a list of about twenty songs. One of them, “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze”, really jumped out. “That’s Obama!” What better metaphor for the fresh, young President playing high stakes geopolitical games than a man flying through the air, hoping he can grab onto the next ring, and suffering devastating consequences if he misses.
We were energized by the idea of meshing the Year in Review with a political voice, something we hadn’t done since 2005. With a list of events from the year, the song melody and lead character in mind, we set out to find “the hook”.
The hook is the elusive few words that will be so catchy and memorable that it fuses into people’s brains and has them singing it for days, weeks, or years to come. This year’s hook, “So Long to Ya, 2010” came pretty quickly. It just felt like how our caricature of Obama would say goodbye to a year that didn’t treat him very well. While it’s not overtly rude (e.g., @#$% you, 2010), under the surface, in the way he sings it, you know the year can’t be over fast enough for him!
With the hook in the bag, the month of September and October are spent playing with lyrics. We like to have a 90% lock on lyrics by mid- October so we can hit the ground running in November when the team rolls off of the Christmas productions. This year, in mid-October, we were plagued with a sinking feeling that Obama, by himself, was having a hard time carrying the song. That’s when we came up with the idea of turning it into a duet, adding a foul-mouthed Joe Biden as Obama’s sidekick. It made us laugh and it opened up a whole universe of new gags.
With a ‘Year in Review’ there is always the uncertainty about what is going to happen between the time you write it and the time it is produced and released. Until the very end, when we have the voice actors in the booth, we are ripping out lines of lyrics, adding new lines, and tweaking the lines we have to better fit the stories. For example, prior to the mid-term, we knew the Dems would get an ass whopping, so we wrote the line “Yeah, you pummeled us good in the mid-term”. The real-Obama gave puppet-Obama a much better line “You shellacked us real good in the mid-terms”.
Even after the lyrics are recorded and there is nothing we can do to change what the characters sing, there is always the chance to get in last minute visual gags. For example, in late November, when Obama took a basketball to the face, we couldn’t get the vocalists back in the booth, but we could have a basketball fly onto the screen at the end and knock Obama off his perch! Good times.
Writing year in review videos is a unique challenge, but nothing compared to the heavy lifting of visual production that is yet to come…