This week's special got me to thinking about brand names, specifically, brand names that have become so associated with their products that they are used in referencing any similar product. That's a little hard to understand, I guess, so allow me to toss out some examples Coke, Kleenex, Band-Aid. Get the idea? If a friend asks you to hand him a Kleenex, chances are he won't be upset if you offer a Puffs tissue instead; and if your child falls and skins her knee, she probably won't care if it's not a Band-Aid brand bandage that you put wound (as long as it has one of the current, cool designs on it -).
In a way, the fact that the general public accepts brand names such as these as representative of an entire class of similar products is a pretty big compliment to the trademark owner. After all, companies like Coca-Cola and Xerox spend millions of dollars on advertising to make their products into "household words". The irony is, they often spend millions more trying to prevent the use of those household words in reference to any product but their own.
Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope (a weekly newspaper column of weird facts and everyday mysteries) suggests that words like Coke, Xerox and zipper are similar to words such as sandwich, Frisbee and Braille. Names for everyday things that come from the person first or most associated with them (Louis Braille, William Frisbee) are called "eponyms". Mr. Adams suggests that this term could also apply to things that are named for the brand most associated with them, and I am inclined to agree.
The Dupont Corporation first created Mylar in the early 1950's. It is a clear polyester film that is very strong, resistant to many chemicals and a wide range of temperatures. Mylar is used in many applications, from packaging materials to electronic components and, of course, the entertainment industry. What we in the theatre usually call Mylar is actually a metal foil laminated between sheets of Mylar. The resulting product is highly reflective, like a mirror, yet it is flexible, and more lightweight and durable than a glass mirror would be.
In the entertainment industry, mylar is most often used to create lightweight mirrors that can be easily moved and that won't shatter if handled roughly. However, the highly reflective properties of mirrored mylar films make them perfect for eye-catching special effects, as well. Mylar streamers and confetti shimmer and sparkle in the lights as they fall, catching the audience's attention with a display that can be literally dazzling.
Mylar effects can be used just like any of our other streamers or confetti products. They can be dropped from bags or balloons, or loaded into cannons and fired high over the crowd. There are really only a few basic things to remember when working with Mylar effects.
First, be aware that Mylar streamers or confetti may be heavier than the same product made from tissue paper. This means that you may see reduced distances when firing from a cannon, and will possibly notice the products falling faster than their paper counterparts. Most people will concede, however, that this reduced 'air time' is an acceptable trade-off for the look that you can create.
More importantly, realize that a metallized Mylar film will conduct electricity. When setting up a shot using Mylar products, take into consideration the location of electrical devices and especially power lines. We have had reports of entire neighborhoods losing power because performers accidentally launched Mylar streamers onto power lines. While it's always a good idea to check out the area in which you intend to fire any effect, it is vital that you do so when working with Mylar.
So pick up some Mylar products, grab a Coke, make a Xerox of this article, and head down to the theatre to create your next spectacular effect. You know what I mean.
(Mylar, Coke, Xerox, Kleenex, Band-Aids, and Puffs, are registered trademarks of their respective owners.)
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