Q&A with Travis Greenwood of Movie Heds

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This headline from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is among Travis Greenwood’s favorite examples of headlines from the movies.

Travis Greenwood is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. He recently started a Twitter account called Movie Heds, which collects newspaper headlines from movies. In this interview, conducted by email, Greenwood discusses the origins of Movie Heds and some his favorite cinematic headlines.

Q. What inspired you to start Movie Heds? What are you hoping to achieve?

A. The roots of Movie Heds can be traced back to a previous job with a pair of partnered e-commerce sites, one of which had an identity anchored around movies and pop culture. Among other responsibilities, I was charged with developing special content projects -— what some might call linkbait (not to be confused with its more defamed cousin, clickbait) — and this included shareable things like illustrations, tutorials, and “supercuts,” or videos edited around movie tropes.

(A playlist of said videos can be seen here; my favorites remain the two at the top, which are cobbled together from the best seen-on-screen T-shirts.)

While none of these really broke out in a major way, most racked up view counts in the five or six figures and surfaced at places like Digg, io9, VICE and Sports Illustrated. But for every video I made, there were probably at least three or four that never made it past the conceptual stage, and one of them was … wait for it … newspaper headlines.

For whatever reason, I kept returning again and again to the idea this year, but I was hesitant to act on the impulse because these projects can be time-consuming to research and edit and the genre has lost its luster — fewer sites cover them now. And because newspaper scenes can be kind of static, I wasn’t sure a 3- or 4-minute clip consisting entirely of them would be all that compelling.

But that’s when it hit me: a Twitter feed, publishing two to three times daily, would be a better format for this kind of content. (Plus, the debate around “fake news” gave it a topical and convenient peg, but that’s mostly just for yuks on my end.)

After a bit of research, I settled on the current handle, penned a pithy little bio and started posting, and well, here we are. It’s been fun to watch a community come together around the account! It’s a bit of insider baseball, so I’m not sure it’ll ever attract a mass following, but the early returns have been promising.

As for goals, this is largely a pet project, but it’s also one that, depending on the potential employer and role, I’ll include in my portfolio to showcase my editorial skill set (I currently freelance as a writer and editor for Cuteness.com on the trending animal beat, but I’m hoping to transition back to full-time work in 2018).

Q. What makes an effective headline in a movie?

A. Ah, good question … and I’m not sure I have the authority to say. While I’ve been writing and editing on the web for 10+ years now (with bylines at publishers like Spin, Yahoo, and BuzzFeed) and can turn the occasional gem, I don’t actually have experience working in print.

But that’s where the community comes in. One of the feed’s followers, @LeCineNerd, is a professional copy editor, and she routinely shares technical critiques that touch on things such as style, formatting, layout and the like. While this was unexpected on my part, I totally welcome insights like this that afford a closer look at how professionals would approach the challenge of creating prop newspapers.

It’s interesting because a lot of the older examples — like this one from “Rocky III” — feature filler text and elements that are completely off-topic or unrelated and were probably splashed together by the art department in a pinch. My guess is that the filmmakers never expected the audience would look deeper, but in the age of streaming and Blu-ray, when every frame can be frozen and inspected, these things fall apart under closer scrutiny. Newer films seem to have course corrected for this but you still find some strange juxtapositions.

Q. What are your favorite movie headlines?

A. My favorite prop headlines skew funny and would include “Goofy Cleared Of Spy Charges” from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Disaster Seen As Catastrophe Looms” from “The Iron Giant” (a fantastic sight gag that works in context — the character reading it pulls the paper close as a futile defense in the face of a crashing wave, which is mirrored on his sunglasses — and is itself a callback to something similar in “Lady And The Tramp”), and a pair from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (“Drunken Billionaire Burns Down Home” and “Billionaire Absconds With Entire Russian Ballet“) that are funny little asides but help flesh out the world-building.

I’ll also always love the one from “Old School” because it provides denouement for Jeremy Piven’s character (an obnoxious college dean who gets his comeuppance) and it’s one of the first headlines-in-film that I really noticed.

Q. You’re focusing on print examples so far. Do you expect to include digital headlines or tweets in your collection as news organizations move in that direction?

A. This is actually something I’ve been wrestling with internally. I’m interested in curating a balance of headlines in all of their various forms (in part because directors use them in so many ways), and this includes print, photocopiesmicrofiche, digital and whatever other forms they might take.

Aside from one scrolling headline pulled from “The Matrix,” I haven’t included digital headlines in the programming yet, but that’s just because I’m working through a long list of movies with print heds. Look for more of these as the project matures!

Follow Movie Heds on Twitter and see examples of Greenwood’s other work at his website.

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