How To Capture Your Film's Audience
1. Watch Your Audience
I mean this quite literally. One way to become a better filmmaker is to watch how an audience responds to your first films. Gather a group of friends, or ask to screen your film at a local event. During the screening, sit at the back of the room in a corner out of the way and watch people’s faces. Watch their expressions. Are they laughing at the bits they’re supposed to laugh at? If not, why not? Do they start to look away or down at the floor at certain points - that might mean they have lost interest. Why? Did you story get confusing? Or boring? Or is it too serious? Does it need some comedic moments to lighten the scene?
I feel that my productions have only started to hit home in the last couple of years because I stopped focusing soley on what I wanted to make and started to look more at how my films made other people feel. I realised that when I was addressing dark topics, I needed humour to keep the audience involved.
2. Base Your Ideas on True Stories
If you look at many popular films, you will find that a lot of them are based on true stories. True stories seem to work well for audiences because they carry an inherent authenticity about them that an audience can sense.
It’s hard when writing fiction to make it feel real, but if you have a true story, because it really happened, you will spend less time trying to make the story plausible and more time on communicating the story itself.
I bet there are people you know who have incredible true stories that would make amazing film ideas. If you just do a bit of digging, you will almost certainly find some treasures. Be careful about getting permission when telling a true story, if the person is alive you must get written permission.
But you can also find true events and use the event to weave it into your story. Some true stories are similar for a lot of people, you can base your story on a few different true stories and then change names and locations and make it your own.
I find one of the hardest parts of writing is creating the structure, the foundation of your story. That means the plot line, not the details but the overall journey of the character. It takes such a long time to get that right, but with a true story, it already exists. You can heighten dramatic moments and reorder events, but because it really happened, you have a foundation to work from.
Most importantly, true stories, when translated to the screen have an inherent truth to them that an audience can feel even without being told it’s based on a true story. It’s just one of those spooky things that you can’t turn into a formula.
3. REHEARSE! Rehearse...
...and again, I say rehearse!
When you have your scenes, get your actors together and try and get as much rehearsal time in as possible. The time spent in rehearsals makes the dialogue better as you work out better ways of saying lines. It gets the actors more comfortable with each other and therefore able to sink deeper into their roles.
Rehearsals can help you to hone the performance so you can plan your shots separately based on your rehearsal and it gives you time with the actors that gets stolen away from you on set.
Rehearsal is not used for learning all the lines and movements, although it can be helpful for that. It's main purpose is for the actors to discover who their characters are and where they sit in the story and what dynamics and emotions they should be brought across in each scene. Firming up performance like this before you go to shoot can really make the whole film miles stronger and therefore entertain your audience and hold their attention even more.