When you’re writing a script, it’s absolutely vital to keep your target audience in mind. There really is no point writing something they don’t want to see.
Of course, frequently, your target audience doesn’t know what they want to see and it’s up to us to try and persuade them; but the maxim remains true – you’re not writing to please yourself, you’re writing to please them.
And by target audience, I of course mean the director and/or producer – they are the initial target audience for your script. You may think the target audience is 16-24 year olds (whatever the fuck that actually means) but in reality you’re writing what the producer or director thinks 16-24 year olds will like.
If you’re writing comedy it’s not about what you find funny, it’s about what they find funny. If it’s a drama, it’s what they find dramatic. If they think the dialogue’s stilted because they don’t believe people talk like that, there’s no point playing them the recording of your friends’ conversation you’ve lifted verbatim …
Well, actually, that might work. Or they might just think you’ve got freakish friends and fire you by association.
Anyway, the point is: you’re writing to please the people who have hired you.
Obviously, in an ideal world you can pick and choose your projects and collaborators so carefully you will never write something you’re only half interested in and you will all instantly agree on the best way to make the film.
In the real world, you occasionally have to bow to the will of someone who you fundamentally disagree with. The real skill, of course, is to find the middle ground where everyone is happy. Which is tricky.
Particularly since producers and directors tend (and I stress tend since there are no absolutes here) to think very differently.
Hopefully, you’ll all be focussed on telling the best story at the script stage – but best is an ambiguous term and everyone will have different ideas about what it actually means.
For a writer, that tends to mean the most coherent, emotionally moving story. Whether that emotion makes you cry or makes you hang on the edge of your seat as giant robots knock the fuck out of each other – writers tend to be all about making sure the characters’ actions and the plot make sense.
Producers tend to think in terms of selling the movie and what elements they can beg, borrow or steal. If they can film in Puerto Rico for free – one of the scenes needs to be set in Puerto Rico. It adds production value. If they know four female and three male actors who are interested in working for next to nothing – then that’s who has to be in the story. If the producer bumps into Brad Pitt and he says he loves the project, wants to work for free, invest in it and let you have his house as a location – then guess what? The best way to tell the story is for the 19 year old female protagonist to become a middle aged bloke living in LA. Or wherever else Brad Pitt may have a house.
Possibly the only time this isn’t true is when it’s an adaptation – I can imagine a producer turning down Julia Roberts in those exact same circumstances if she wanted to play Batman (then again …) but if it’s a completely new project – the producer (hopefully) understands what it takes to actually get the film financed, made and sold.
The director, on the other hand, tends to think in terms of images and will give you instructions like:
“I don’t care where it’s set, who’s in it or what happens, but I really, really want a dog with a fridge for a head. I think that’s a great image and really opens up dramatic possibilities.”
It doesn’t open up dramatic possibilities at all – it just makes life really fucking complicated; but they have this image in their head and they want to see it in the film. They think in pictures, whereas producers think in numbers.
And please don’t get me wrong – neither of these things is a bad thing and I’m not saying either side has no interest in any other element because if they’re good at their job they will be interested in everything which goes into making a script great from characters to plot to motivations to arena and whatever; but there frequently can be a bias towards a certain type of thinking.
And this is why it’s really important to keep your target audience in mind. By all means talk about why a character is doing something or how this smoothes the weird transition from act one to act two; but remember to frame at least part of your ramblings in a way your target audience can understand.
If you want to tell a story about a depressed sofa who’s fed up with people sitting on it all day – then tell the director what it could look like and how certain images really leap out at you, while you’re telling the producer how many people love sofas, associate with sofas and what kind of merchandising deals you could do with DFS.
This stuff isn’t that difficult but it’s taken me a while to work it out. Sometimes it’s easier to get your idea across than others and I think when someone’s struggling to see the beauty in the idea it’s because you’re using words which don’t make sense to them.
Telling a writer he has to have a talking sofa in the film because you can get a great merchandising tie-in is unlikely to fly. Telling the same writer about the characterisation of the sofa and how it fits into the plot will get him salivating.
Well, probably not; but you get the idea.
Now, can anyone think of a title for a talking sofa movie? I’ve got this great contact at Habitat …