In the film industry there is one very specific place where creativity meets business: the market. It’s the place where scriptwriters, filmmakers and producers have the concrete chance to secure a budget for their projects, or find co-production opportunities that might open new international doors to develop their films. It’s also the place where, in the space of a few minutes, creative teams pitch their stories in front of a selected audience of decision makers and investors: a small arena where you can literally smell fear and excitement.
Last week I spent four days in Germany at Connecting Cottbus, the East-West co-production market at the Film Festival Cottbus, focused on East European Cinema. As alumni of the Torino Film Lab Audience Design programme, Juan Morali and I were invited to represent the international laboratory that supports emerging talents through training, development and funding activities. Our aim was to introduce the concept of Audience Design by working on two selected projects and showcasing the sketched strategies to engage audiences and raise awareness on stories at an early stage of development.
After reading the scripts and checking material already available, such as mood boards, the process behind designing strategies usually takes place over several months. Given the format of this event, we only had a few hours to work with the members of the teams after a preliminary exchange of emails.
On Wednesday 5 November Juan and I worked with them in a closed workshop: writer/director Anca Damian and producer Roxana Garet from Romanian production company Aparte Film applied to Co|Co with the drama In Perfect Health; producer Jamila Wenske from the German One Two Films and director Thomas Sieben were developing the political thriller The Vegetable Lamb.
We used tools and techniques to brainstorm a first set of ideas, which we later developed into a more coherent vision for each film. On 7 November, while publicly showcasing the results, we tried to provoke our audience and challenge some prejudices and old habits that, according to us, are well-established within the film industry. We felt the need to do that when we realised that the reaction of the audience during the previous days was the one we have usually experienced in the past: everyone wants to know more about how to engage audiences, but there is a mix of fear and laziness in facing the reality of a business that is changing very quickly.
We were not the only ones discussing audiences at Connecting Cottbus. On Thursday Peter Buckingham from SampoMedia ran the workshop “Talking About Films From an Audience Perspective”, delving into technology and users’ needs, while stressing the importance of Service Design. His presentation led to the same reactions that we had experienced so many times while talking with writers, director, producers and exhibitors: no one wants to hear the word “marketing” and people involved in the art-house scene still believe in the romantic concept of the artist who produces art outside the rule of the market.
In our presentation we clarified what is for us the key element of Audience Design. Both Juan and I believe that the script must be treated as intellectual property that can be expanded through different channels to reach very well defined communities. Each of those potential audiences needs to be considered as part of a major discourse surrounding the story and Audience Design is a process and a method at the core of which lies the preservation of the integrity of the story.
We also addressed issues such as old-fashioned demographic age segmentations, the fear of digital media, a general industry reluctance in dropping established protocols and business models, as well as the dangerous “egocentric culture” which affects so many creatives nowadays, who refuse to acknowledge the impact of interacting with fans. Whether you like it or not, the process is already in place: people are talking about you and your films. Simply ignoring the conversation will only damage the opportunities to develop your next project.