It’s a cute idea. A magic piano in a Chicago Amtrak station. As strangers walk by, a player-less piano starts changing its music to match the moment.
The idea, well executed, would have made for a wonderful viral clip. Unfortunately the reactions were not those of innocent bystanders in a candid-camera style viral video. They’re painfully fake reactions by actors who were cast for the production. I’ll take you through some moments that tip us off, but here’s an article that plunges into the Reddit conversations challenging the legitimacy of the clip. Amtrak and its producer, Rob Bliss creative, made this deception obvious by forgetting to remove its casting call for a video in Chicago’s Union Station with a “magical piano around Christmastime that seems to be truly alive.” One example provided in the notice was that an actor might “play ‘Chopsticks’ … and we turn it into a duet,” which is precisely what happens to a young girl as the video opens.
So I proclaim the Amtrak Magic Piano video the worst “viral” video attempt of 2013. The problem, of course, isn’t the fake piano. We kinda figured there wasn’t a magic piano. The problem is that the video itself is a fake candid-camera style clip. And instead of admitting it, Bliss and Amtrak are further burying evidence of the stunt by removing the casting information.
People love pranks for the wonderfully innocent reactions from strangers. It’s the basis of a lot of my most-viewed videos, and the basis of prank channels like Improv Everywhere. But people do not like to see fake reactions in a video that masquerades as a viral prank. And Reddit users don’t much it when companies get busted and then try to erase their tracks.
So what tips us off in the first place? Let’s do the scene by scene:
- Girl playing chopsticks has almost no reaction at :28 seconds when the magical duet that occurs. Her “mother” at :37 seconds realizes her reaction is just as disingenuous so she covers her face.
- At 1:00 a business man gets frustrated in convenience proximity of the piano. As the music becomes tense, his hand stays up in a token gesture of frustration. People don’t hold their hand up like that when they’re frustrated, and if they do it’s for a brief moment. He somewhat convincingly barks at the piano at 1:07, but that’s a much more severe reaction that would have occurred naturally. In real life, the guy would have almost subconsciously walked away from the noise to keep focused on his call.
- At 1:25 a fat man approaches and almost convinces us he’s amused. But when he kicks into a manic blues dance at 1:44 we’re painfully aware that the moment is staged.
- By the time two other musicians stumble upon the piano (a trumpet player and a harmonica player) I could no longer continue watching.
- I scanned toward the end, and shouldn’t have been surprised to see Santa shooshing the piano at 3:33. I think that was actually the real Santa, though… not an actor.
- Don’t fake a candid-camera style video.
- If you decide to ignore lesson one, don’t post auditions publicly.
- If you get busted for faking it, admit it. Don’t try to bury the evidence from Reddit folks. They’re smarter than that.
- Don’t pretend it’s not sponsored… acknowledge Amtrak in the video itself.