Saturday, December 1, 2007

Thinking About Audience

I was reading a client script this morning when a character lifted up a piece of glass and realized it was a diamond. The writer was thinking about the clues being laid down for the plot, but there's another, equally important thing going on here. You're telling the audience what the main character can do. She's got a special skill for observation -- and it tells them how to watch her. My second thought was that I wasn't sure how you'd really nail the audience knowing the truth about the glass issue. And if it was important enough, then that needs to be really nailed down. Seems like a small issue -- but if 30% of the audience misses that point, then 30% aren't sure what to watch for. And you're sunk.

Script consulting is often like being a professional audience. It's a lot of fun, of course. But it makes you think about how people watch stories, and how clever audiences have become. It's not hard to get a little depressed that Disney can market a spoof of a fairytale to children.

Once upon a time I was a graduate student of Russian Literature in the fairytale kingdom of Stanford University. I spent my days deconstructing large books and wonderful plays. If Disney made a movie about it, I'd be the horrible ogre strapping these helpless tales of beauty to the rack. And in the end, the beauty and grace of the stories would cause a magical transformation in me, and I'd be free to love and not analyze.

I remember writing a paper on the very beginnings of drama in Russia. The Russian Orthodox church had banned drama (and in fact most art forms) outside of its own use until the end of the 1600's. So when the new audiences saw these new plays, they were absolutely, utterly caught up in them.

The plays were all very safe topics -- mostly strict allegories and morality tales. But the new audiences didn't know there was supposed to be a third wall there. They didn't understand that the audience stays on one side, and the players on the other. They would surge in outrage onto the stage when Greed would attempt to seduce Modesty. One of the first to really examine a human character was about Judith, a heroine from the Bible. Guards were needed to protect the villains from the audience. Early performances often devolved into riots. Drama was real.

Think about that at the multiplex tonight.

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