Cinematic Corporate Videos: Revisiting Stanley Kubrick’s The Seafarers

Cinematic Corporate Videos: Revisiting Stanley Kubrick’s The Seafarers

Some time ago, I wrote a blog post about lessons corporate videographers could glean from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Seafarers” – an industrial film Kubrick made for the Seafarers International Union (SIU) long before he became one of the greatest American directors of all time.

I’ve since had conversations with two authorities on the film: Alexander Pietrzak, the executive producer of The Seafarers DVD and film historian Dr. Frank Tomasulo, who discovered the “lost” Kubrick film while producing a series of training videos for the SIU in the 1970’s.

I wanted to share some of the insights from my conversations:

  • Dr. Tomasulo described one of his favorite images from the film, in which a group of seafarers leaving a vessel walk from a shadowed area into the light as they approach the Union Hall. According to Tomasulo, the movement from left to right and from darkness to light psychologically “convey[s] positive sentiments to the union.” The narrator (noted broadcaster Don Hollenbeck) reinforced this same idea in his voiceover: “A seafarer coming ashore no longer needs to feel cut adrift…he has a place to go.”
  • I’ve previously written about the tracking shot in which Kubrick employed a dolly to showcase activity in the SIU cafeteria. Through repeat viewings, Pietrzak observed that the mirrored pillars in the cafeteria were covered with brown paper on their camera-facing side so not to reflect the camera in the shot. An interesting piece of trivia, it also demonstrates something inherent to video production: despite the best preparation, there will always be issues that pop-up on set requiring impromptu problem solving. For me, this makes production exciting.
  • Pietrzak told me how painstaking Kubrick had been in his exhaustive research to deliver a final product that would exceed the SIU’s expectations. Prior to production, Kubrick interviewed members of the SIU to ensure the video would satisfy his client’s goal –to showcase the benefits of joining the union.

Many videographers, like myself, who work in a business environment come from a film school background, and may initially feel constrained by the corporate medium. Personally, “The Seafarers” has inspired me to challenge the distinctions between industrial video and the narrative form. Kubrick proved there was space within the corporate video to employ (and experiment with) cinematic techniques and compositional principles. While it is important to be innovative, be it through camera movement or composition, making sure your video is telling the client’s intended story must always take precedence.

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