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Audience Collaboration - An Overlooked Storytelling Force

July 02, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 173

In the film industry, the audience is often look upon as only consumers, and box office receipts are the main barometers of a movie's success. Yet there is another measurement often overlooked that of audience engagement. How deeply are they involved in the characters and their story? Were they entertained? Were they fulfilled with a truly dramatic experience and satisfying ending?

These questions relate most to how well the audience collaborates in the telling of the story. What role did they take in reflections, expectations, contemplating decision points and options, along with the identifying the overriding intentions and emotions that force the action? When the audience is intimately involved in the selection process, the story's plot and the character's choices, the audience cares and tunes into the pressing issues of the scene or the story. They keep asking that most desirable question, "What's going to happen next?"

Choices are the driving forces that make drama work. The audience is persuaded by them and they judge them whether they are good, bad, or indifferent. When the choices draw the audience deeper into the story they are no longer spectators, they become participants. They embellish and imagine things well beyond the technical limitations of filmmaking and take the story to otherwise unobtainable heights. If they are truly invested in the story, they revel in their participation.

In quality films, the audience is always participants for they add to the storytelling experience. Filmmakers used time-tested dramatic techniques to generate this creative partnership, one that encourages engagement. As spectators, they have little to do. However, as participants they are involved in the process, actively asking questions, making assumptions, searching for answers.

There are several reasons to seek collaborative arrangements. First off, many story elements can be produced for much less when the audience is allowed to imagine and fill in the blanks. Otherwise, creating every facet of the story would be too costly. Besides, given the right clues, sounds and character reactions, the unseen visualized in the audience's mind can have far greater impact than an actual rendition.

Another reason for collaboration is that when the audience is deeply entrenched in the story and its characters it is more likely to spread a positive word of mouth. When they invest intellectually and emotionally in the film, they champion its success. This marketing aspect is often overlooked, as it does not fit neatly into a numerical spreadsheet. Both the creative and marketing teams often ignore this storytelling force. In addition, to incorporate this entity, it must begin with story development and continue through assembling a creative team, straight through production, marketing and distribution. Every step along the way, one must keep asking how the audience will share in the telling.

The most compelling reason for collaboration is that it ups the entertainment value of the movie. As participants, the audience shares in the telling, and their contribution rewards them. They become a part of the storytelling experience. They invest with their assumptions and intuitions and it makes that all-important question, what's going to happen next, more satisfying.

Collaboration likewise adds value to the filmmaker's reputation as a provider of quality movies. With the purchase of a ticket, moviegoers assume they will be entertained for two hours. When they are not, they go away unsatisfied and may never know why. All they know is that something is missing. Sometimes it is the lack of opportunities for audience involvement. When the audience is not fully engaged in the film, the results are less than favorable. For the filmmakers and their creative team, addressing this issue is paramount to producing a quality product.

So how does one get the audience to collaborate as storytellers? There is no single answer. One must acknowledge that audiences react and interpret stories in personal and often unexpected ways depending on their background and circumstances. One cannot predict exactly how they will respond. Some viewers will commit to narrative speculation, personal emotions, or philosophical arguments. Other viewers prefer linear narratives, coherent messages and music telling them how to react. The first group is participants; the second group prefers to remain spectators.

How a film opens reflects on the level of participation. The opening scene sets the tone and genre of the production, and informs the audience what to expect the rest of the show.It also hooks the audience into the story and its characters. When the opening scene presents a pressing question, it gives the audience permission to take part. It activates their curiosity by asking a question.

How does one move the audience from being spectators to being participants? The general answer is, give the audience something to do. This requires tweaking the story, the acting, and editing to move the audience into an engaged mode. Speculation is a key solution. When there is uncertainty or multi-pathways in story directions, the audience speculates where it might lead. This uncertainty must also be given space to ruminate in the audience's mind. It may be the character's indecision or contemplating options. This space could be a subtle eye movement or a lengthy pause. Another device is delaying options and resolving them in a later scene. Taking the time and space to weigh decisive story points allows the audience to render its choice. It allows them to participate.

Another factor is the how much the audience cares about the characters and their story. When we feel and identify strongly with the struggle of the main character our involvement increases. Likewise, when the story has strong caring ingredients we are more likely to collaborate in its telling. These caring ingredients are sympathetic character(s) in heighten jeopardy earnestly struggling to reach a worthy goal against formidable opposition--winning or failing with a satisfying resolution. Caring about what happens is a key factor to a productive collaboration.

Another consideration is the ambiguity/clarity aspects of the character's intentions and emotions. Not all story characters are up front about what they want or feel. This ambiguity sets up questions, possibly suspicions. Are these characters honest or do they have a hidden agenda? On the other hand, when the story and its characters are on point, revealing everything truthfully and literally, there is little for the audience to do. Such a presentation creates minimal dramatic inertia, as there are no undercurrents, no secret agendas. However, when questions arise, even minute ones, engagement will increase. When questions regard the survival of a sympathetic character in a do or die situation, involvement jumps dramatically. Thus caring ingredients, character duality, speculations, and delaying solutions are all factors that invite audience collaboration.

Questions invite collaboration and when we weigh good against evil in the inevitable contest, we have the ultimate question, who will win. This love-hate relationship polarizes our emotions, especially when there is formidable opposition and evenly matched opponents. In an epic contest, the tide swings back and forth with each opponent taking the upper hand. This tittering outcome creates deeper involvement. In addition, when special skills or a variety of strategies come into play the match becomes more appealing. That's because the outcome is contested on several levels, on strengths, special skills, and strategies. The audience is engaged both intellectually and emotionally.

Quality films can also change how we think and feel, especially on hot button issues like race, war, and religion. When a movie challenges our belief system, our assumptions, we began questioning ourselves. This creates a self-appraising type of collaboration. Films can also inspire, inform, and take us to fascinating new worlds. They can also allow us to live vicariously in the worlds and lives of people beyond our reach. Pursuing these filmmaking opportunities invites deeper participation.

Comedy is where audience collaboration flourishes. Here content encourages vocal responses in the form of laughter. In addition, laughter facilitates more laughter and makes the humorous aspects larger. The audience becomes participants in this celebration feeding on their own exuberance. However, good comedy does not come easily. It requires a much more disciplined, stylized, and precise style of acting. This is also true of the writing, directing and editing. For the audience to share in this humor, they need to be manipulated in an almost formulaic way.

Many of the same collaborative principles apply. For instance, in the opening scene some sort of business, behavior, or dialogue should reveal that what follows will be comedy. In addition, confirm that the audience is knowledgeable about the subject matter. If they don't understand it, it's unlikely they will comprehend the humor. Comedy, at its best, comes out of the dramatic truth of the situation. A character has an obstacle to overcome, a connection to make, or a need to be satisfied. And when it's expressed, clearly, emphatically with conviction, the laughter will fall into place.

Humor has a rhythm and pacing that sets up the gag, plants vital information, and climaxes with a surprise ending. When the audience tunes into this rhythm they anticipate the payoff. Emphatic deliveries and well-placed pauses tell them what is important and where to laugh. There is space for them to comprehend and appreciate the joke and while manipulated, the audience becomes highly motivated collaborators and willing participants.

In selecting a creative team, seeking people respectful of the audience and its collaborative powers should be a key consideration. When applicants are asked questions about the audience's response or desired response at various points in the story, there should be knowledgeable replies. Is the applicant aware of various means that invite collaboration? In addition, have they shown in past projects the ability to seek audience participation? While these traits apply to writers, directors, and editors, actors, in particular, should be resourceful in this area. The ability to portray the thoughts and feelings of the character along with creating dramatic questions are essential attributes. In assembling such a team, collaboration may seem a minor hiring consideration. Yet, it could lift the film from mediocre to a quality breakout film, one that comes in on budget.

Audience collaboration in film presents a problem in that the movie is completed well before any screenings. As such, the creative team must project what will invite collaboration. As mentioned earlier, this is an ongoing process from development, to production, on through editing, marketing and distribution. When both the creative and marketing teams are knowledgeable about audience collaboration, decisions can be made that bring this storytelling force into the foal. If overlooked, it may be too late to correct once the production wraps.

While this article covers this subject in a minimal way, it shows how the audience can enhance the story provided there are engaging elements, space, and payoffs. By exploring some of the opportunities, benefits, and collaborative means, it opens the door to producing better movies.

The influence of the audience and its role in the storytelling process has been a key factor in Erik Sean McGiven's professions as a writer, director, and drama coach. Much of his writings reflect on this entity, and the creative potential its awareness holds. Additional writings on acting and other topics are available on his website McGiven works in the entertainment industry as a writer, producer and production designer.

Source: EzineArticles
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