“Shakespeare’s plays were written to be performed to an audience from different social classes and of varying levels of intellect. Thus they contain down-to-earth characters who appeal to the working classes, side-by-side with complexities of plot which would satisfy the appetites of the aristocrats among the audience.” (http://www.literature-study-online.com/essays/twelfth-night.html)
This quote describes today’s moviegoing audience.
As movies age, like every other art form they are reaching very different audiences than the ones with which they began. Children today would yawn at an image of an approaching train, rather than run from the theater. Like the late symphonies of Mahler, A-list films are becoming more bombastic and closer to spectacle. Lincoln clocks in at a pulverizing 150 minutes. Les Misérables at a punishing 157 with no hope of an uplifting interlude for a cocktail or a bathroom break. And the sums involved are staggering. Boxofficemojo.com reports that Marvel’s The Avengers has grossed over $1.5 billion dollars.
As movies face increasingly effective competition from games and online content, it’s time to rethink what we as screenwriters are doing to capture then hold our audiences.
When I look at the success of movies like Taken and work from Tyler Perry, I see the wisdom of the above quote. A balance of the simple and the complex isn’t pandering. It’s good craft that has a shot at becoming art. Audiences are hungry for imaginative, well-executed genre work. Genre provides familiar conventions and themes. Our imaginations rearticulate genres and make them relevant and fresh. This should be a relief. It means that our art doesn’t have to raise to a Potemkin or Matrix level of originality but it has to be richly imagined and and beautifully crafted. That’s more than enough of a challenge.
So… who are you writing for? What assumptions are you making about your audience? It should go without saying that the days when you could write only for others just like yourself are over. Globalization includes you and your world, fellow scribe.
Imagine your audience better and you’ll automatically get a little bit closer to Brother Bill and Chorus of the Writing Elders.