Saturday, February 14, 2009

Behold, the Only Thing Greater Than Yourself.

Everyone needs to start somewhere and it could be argued that your first feature length film is more of a learning experience than anything else. Hopefully a filmmaker making a first feature film would have numerous short films behind them before embarking upon production of a feature.

That said, why not make your first film a great film? Why throw caution to the wind and ride on hope that there might be enough people in the world who think exactly like you do? 

The sad truth (to a lot of artsy types) is that films are NOT made for the filmmaker. Sorry, but...

You don't make a film for yourself. 

I mean, you CAN make a film for yourself, but, you better be paying actors and crew and for locations and feeding everyone and for everything else. Because if you ask people to work for free or for low pay and you think you're making the film to satisfy yourself, you probably won't be making many more films.

Before setting out on the long and arduous path of warfare that is "making a movie," you HAVE TO ask yourself one very important question:

Who am I making this film for?

Before you spend months of your life (and a crew's life) prepping a feature. Before you spend a year shooting and post producing a feature. Before you alienate hordes of people and piss off your family. Before you spend a lot of someone's money. Before you jeopardize your health and mental well being. Before you spend a year or more trying to get your film into festivals, consider the one and only thing that should drive every single decision you ever make regarding the film:

The audience.

YOU, as a filmmaker, whether you're a director or a director/DP, or a producer, need to ALWAYS consider the audience because it is they whom you are making the film for. YOU work for the audience. Consider that the audience is your boss and you need to satisfy them at all costs or lose your job (meaning never make a film again or at least for a long time).

Here's a list of who your audience most definitely is not:
  • Your friends.
  • Your family.
  • Your co-workers.
  • 300 people who share your passion for some arcane subject matter.
WHO your audience is is something you need to identify well before you find or write a script for a film. I know it might take some or all of the artistry, sense of adventure, or coolness out of the process of filmmaking, but if that's what you're into and you think I'm being silly, seriously consider taking up painting, sculpture, or basket weaving, and give up on the idea of making movies.

There are already slews of filmmakers who make films for themselves. The job market is already saturated with ego-blinded, ignorant unemployed filmmakers, so why join the ranks of the unemployed if you don't have to?

Making a successful film is not unlike choosing a career path in that you start with a natural interest or even a passion for something, you then get educated, then get a job, ultimately then becoming an active, profitable member of society doing a job that you love. 

As a filmmaker or hopeful filmmaker, you cannot let your ego or your ignorance get in the way of The Film because if you do, a prospective audience will not like you or your film and that's a bad thing because you NEED the audience like a fish needs water. Think of the audience as oxygen. Think of the audience as food. Think of the audience as your very future, because as a filmmaker, without an audience for your film, you have no future, you have no life, you have nothing. 

After deciding: I will make a movie.

Determine: WHO will I make a movie for?

Go down to the local costume store, buy an owl costume, go home and put it on and then stand in front of a mirror and ask yourself WHO - over and over again. Do it! I'm serious. You'll thank me later.

Once you determine who the (hopeful) audience is, you then have the most valuable tool possible to use in making a film because you can base every single decision you make for the film on the perceived needs and desires of that audience. How easy would it be to make a film for ONE person who was paying for it and for whom you could identify their exact needs and desires? 

So, WHO is the audience? Is it your peers? If so, then you are in the unique position of having intimate knowledge of what your audience likes and hence can act on those likes with more authority. Is your prospective audience older, more well-to-do upper class people? Do they even watch movies? Maybe not. Is it young teens? If so, you better understand their unique and ever changing sensibilities. Is the audience EVERYONE? That makes it easy. Not.

Sure a wide audience is ideal for a film. It means mucho sales and rentals IF you manage to make an awesome film (that gets distribution, that doesn't have to compete with other similar films), but, it means your film needs to meet the needs and desires of the broadest spectrum of a population and that generally means you will be competing with studio films with movie stars in their casts and very multi-million dollar budgets because that's what the mainstream is used to.

Good luck with that.

The wide audience means "mainstream" and the mainstream is used to watching 80 Million dollar movies. Do you really think you can compete with an 80 Million dollar movie? It's not impossible to do. It's been done. But if you're shooting for a wide audience and you fail in making a film that a wide audience likes, you might not have ANY audience at all for the film.

So, identify an audience based on either a handful of scripts or script ideas you might have OR identify an audience based on whichever cross section of society you feel you can relate to the best. Either way, make sure you have an intimate knowledge of what they like and go out and make them a great film. 

©2009 Chris Santucci

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