As we continue to plan our development and release strategy for “Inside-Out, Outside-In,” we are struggling to come to terms with our relationship to the eventual audience of the film. It doesn’t take much reflection to come to the realization that 20th century definitions of the word “audience” no longer apply. So, I’d like filmmakers to consider how greatly things have changed in terms of the audience’s consumption of media and then build your film in accordance with new realities (or at least in awareness of them).
First of all, in 2017, practically every human being in the United States under the age of 50 is a content creator and a content curator, because of social media. In days gone by, people identified with their profession – maybe they were a bricklayer or teacher or doctor or cop – and to a great degree, left art to the artists. They certainly – for the most part – didn’t conceive of themselves as part-artist (perhaps some of them did, who had a painting hobby or the like). But now, almost everyone in America is part-artist. They are part-actor-photographer with the selfies they share on Instagram and part-writer with their Facebook posts. They are part-curator with what they choose to retweet on Twitter and part-filmmaker on Snapchat. And building followings in these various platforms affords status in a similar way that authors used to receive from being on a best-seller list or winning a prestigious literary award. Perhaps it’s a cruder version of that sort of status, but on some level, achieving a higher status and more cultural influence is achieving a higher status and more cultural influence. And now, what anyone expresses may legitimately, in terms that data can measure, accrue status. In 1950, artists and filmmakers and fashion designers might affect how the culture perceived this or that issue or trend. (Think of the style influence of Audrey Hepburn). But now, social media “winning” could easily strike a bricklayer with an iPhone (I have MANY friends who would follow a hot shirtless bricklayer on Instagram), who could accidentally launch a new catchphrase or look. We’re all actors now.
In one way, this is great. Why shouldn’t everyday people have a shot at influencing their own culture through what they express? Why should only elite-level artists have this potential to influence others culturally? Maybe, in the past, artists have abused the privilege and overestimated their insight and observations of life compared to non-artists. So perhaps, the scales are evening up…and for the first time.
Some artists have responded to the democratization of cultural influence by trying to make their work less accessible to the common man. This impulse for abstraction grants the artist the ability to retain feelings of superiority and greater economic power from his creations. Accessibility is all too easy to interpret as the “part-artist” energy of the prosumer, so artists work double time to make their work abstract and intellectual, sometimes for the sake of vanity rather than purity of purpose. After all, if everybody’s expressions are equally valuable, artists would have an extraordinarily difficult time getting paid (which is already happening, of course). Then, there are other artists who pander to the masses even more, by making their content shorter or more shareable, more focused on viral potentiality. This is just base greed, a desire to brazenly profit off a new set-up before bothering to understand the implications of technological change or the purpose of artistic ventures in the first place.
So what is a conscientious artist to do? Some well-meaning artists try to deny the changing landscape and hold onto the past. But this seems foolish – times they are a’changing and denial/obstinance serves no one. Others become so overwhelmed that they retreat from the landscape altogether but this seems like, well, weakness. As artists, we must meet the challenges of our time and, hopefully, provide some insight for others to do the same.
So, knowing all that, I think the best model for the future is thinking of the audience as fellow artists and to see your project as a mission to create something together. This is especially true during the phase of the project when your film touches the audience directly. Their reaction should be incorporated as part of the story of the work itself. We no longer live in a world where people sit in a darkened theatre, let the film soak into them and leave, a grateful and changed audience. So why pretend we do, even if that sort of arrangement used to grant incredible status to the film’s creators? Now, your audience is making the experience with you – and deserves much of the credit, too. Yes, your feature film is the most intense part of the experience created, but it is no longer the only show in town, even in terms of the experience of said feature film.
How do we successfully co-create something with the audience? This is where creativity and ingenuity come into play. For my current film, Guys Reading Poems, we’ve created a series of open mic poetry readings in Los Angeles as a way for our audience to express their own poetry, not just watch the selections we included in the film. And sometimes, we find gems that are superior to what we make ourselves, such as the poem “Millennium” by Elena Secota. So we then double back and use our growing audience to turn a spotlight onto Ms. Secota, a fellow co-creator of the “Guys Reading Poems” experience. This provides a positive feedback loop that truly serves both our film and the community – as equals.
So what’s our co-creating strategy for “Inside-Out, Outside-In”? To be honest, I don’t know yet. They call it brainstorming because it feels like a raging thunder crossing back and forth in your head. But eventually – and hopefully soon – we’ll land on a good idea. And then, you can be part of the film…and share in its accomplishments.
In the meantime, I offer you “Millennium” by Elena Secota.
Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).