Monday, March 21, 2016


We are a media savvy lot, aren't we?

In our living rooms. At the cinema. On our phones.

Tiny enclaves of expertise, forming around the warming campfire of our own personal tastes.

And in this participatory culture, why shouldn't we have a voice? The audience is now regal. Our whims are sacrosanct. Dance for us, monkey, or we'll ruin you with the power of indifference.

The screen industry has responded, of course. Choose your own adventure. Gaming. Interactivity. Immersive storytelling. Virtual Reality headsets. All burgeoning subsectors of the industry, catering to the active audience.

God is clearly dead, in the storytelling world at least. The proletariat are in charge.

And they have no idea what to do about it.

Truly. Like the dog that finally catches the car, the audience have discovered that ideas are often far superior to reality.

Take the example of a filmmaker colleague of mine. She screened her film some months back, and has been engaging with her audience ever since.

Bemusingly, a pattern has formed in the feedback.

The majority enjoyed the film. An experience was had. Feelings were felt. Everyone wins a prize and goes home.

But another large proportion of her audience felt the urge to provide a commentary on the crafting of the film. No filmmakers, mind you, just regular viewers of screen stories from all walks of life.

"There should have been more to it", these audience members proclaimed.

"We should have seen what happened after the main guy made contact."

Playing the role, I of course asked: "Should we have?"

What followed was a thoughtful, intelligent and articulate "NO".

As it turns out, the filmmaker had attempted what this section of her audience was suggesting. There was more footage that had been shot, and in the end her team made the decision to exclude it.


Because the film didn't work when it was labouring to show every second between the scenes. The elegance of the story was lost, as it meandered to fill every blank in a viewer's imagination.

So, they cut it down.

And it worked, the majority said. But why this vocal counter-reaction?

It's actually quite simple: the audience doesn't know what they need.

I'm sorry, that might sound arrogant, but it's true.

Oh, the audience knows what they WANT. Absolutely. But not what they need.

The work of crafting a story, of filtering moments of truth and beauty about life through the veneer of a journey, must be left to the hands of a craftsperson. It takes science. Wit. Nuance. Anger. Love. Pain. Frustration. Humour...

It is why we exalt artists. What makes their abilities special.

If you are truly engaged with a story, you want to know every detail. What happened after X vanquished Y? How did Q readjust to life after the perilous journey to L?

Who cares?

X probably went home and napped. Q became an undergarment manufacturing spokesperson.

Story ruined.

All because you wanted more. More information. More detail. MORE.

But this is where the great storytellers leave you.

They draw you in. Make you care about these characters, in a world of their creation.

Then, you embark on a journey.

Until finally, if the artist has skill, they cut to black. Leaving you satisfied, but wanting more. Like a perfect meal, where you could have gorged yourself to nausea, but quit at satisfaction instead.

I know this seems counter-intuitive. Just 'GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT!'

'They' are wrong.

Don't begrudge this feeling of unrequited desire. The want to follow the protagonist as she completes her quest and returns home for a crumpet and a lie down. It's a natural yearn for someone who has been moved or changed by a story.

It means you're a human being who connected to the zeitgeist, even for the briefest of moments.

Don't spoil it. Use that grey fleshy thing behind your eyes. Appreciate it.

This is art, not a supermarket catalogue.

You're alive.

Savor it.

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