Well, I’m going to finally do it. Just for this week, I’m going to finally stop nagging you all about audience building and talk about the one thing we all go gaga over when it’s done well. And something we all seek to do better with every project….and that’s, tell great stories.
But particularly with young filmmakers, there are some myths (which are actually traps disguised as myths) about crafting a great story that can hamper a filmmaker’s vision and are sure bets of not having an audience come with you on your cinematic journey.
Below are 5 myths or traps to avoid as creators.
Myth #1: “My idea has to be completely original”
Well cupcake, there is no such thing as a completely original idea and you don’t need to be Jesus’ special little snow leopard to spin an epic yarn.
There are easily 200 DRACULA films that have been made throughout cinematic history. Each written and/or directed by as many filmmakers. NONE of them are the same and they each have their own original take. We’ve seen this story a million times but each time it’s told from a completely unique angle. Your take is original in-and-of-itself.
I personally have been asked to reference a ton of different shows or movies and never once was the final project accused of being unoriginal.
Myth #2: Don’t imitate
Bullshit! Steven Spielberg is the biggest thief of them all. He admits it freely. He’s looted the creative coffers of John Ford, John Houston and Alfred Hitchcock with no apologies. Just look at all the INDIANA JONES movies. The big difference, it was done through his own eye, his own life experience, so it comes off as uniquely ‘Spielberg-ian’.
Quentin Tarantino snakes whole shots from the best kung-fu movies and western epics with no apologies.
Lean into your influences and let them guide you. Standing on the shoulders of giants is a must as a creator.
Myth #3: “The Audience Won’t Know”
Audiences are smart as f’ck. They’ve watch thousands of films and years’ worth of digital content. They know when something doesn’t ring true.
Great stories hit us in a very deep and very old psychological center. Like it or not, the heroes journey has been the lynchpin of cinema for almost a century and there’s a reason for that.
Don’t forget that humans have been telling and watching stories since the dawn of human-kind when cave people used the shadows sprayed on the cave wall by the light of their fires. They would tell the story of their hunt or how the sun is carried across the sky by a turtle. It was necessary then and still is today. Stories are how we figure out our world.
So, trust that they know what the need and give it to them.
Myth #4: “I want the audience to know exactly what’s going on so I don’t lose them”
People go to movies and watch web series’ to see if they can solve the puzzle. If the puzzle was already put together when you opened the box it would cease to be fun. If Romeo and Juliet had just talked for ten minutes at the beginning of the play and figured out a plan, there would be no reason to watch the play.
We sit in dark rooms and watch images sprayed on vinyl so we can ask ourselves the questions, “will they get together or not”? “Will the criminal get caught”? “Will our hero get home after being stranded in the middle of nowhere”?
Leave them guessing and you’ll have them talking at the diner afterwards. Do that, and the experience of watching your content will last long after the end credits.
Myth #5: Build it and they will come
Okay, I couldn’t make it through this article without mentioning audience building. It’s officially a compulsion.
Just making the stories you want to see is only one half of the equation. How many times have we all made our opus only to be let down when no one watched it.
The good news is, is that if you love it, chances are there are millions of fans who also love that genre of web series or film. You just need to go out and find them before you start making that one huge thing. Instead make a thousand little things (micro-content) that act as breadcrumbs leading them to the final prize.
Don’t just show them the finished cake, let them see the ingredients, let them get to know the chef. Let them know why you baked that cake and why it’s an important cake. Give them context for months before ever showing them even a trailer.
In the end, People need to tell and be told stories. It’s how we discover our place in the world. If you manage to master these simple concepts, your stories will resonate more deeply with audience and maybe someday other filmmakers will be imitating you.