Seeking progress is masochism (or the paradox of audience)
The lights are dimmed. The theater is nearly full. The title of the film appears, and my palms sweat.
It’s been 2,5 years since I’ve seen my film „Prometheus Rising“ on the big screen. Back then, I was proud. But this time … it hurt. I was not prepared for that. But the audience tells you everything – if you are just willing to listen.
Isn’t it so, that very often we make up ideas in our heads, and work on projects that we never show to audiences? An audience is truthful. It’s ruthless. It can make you, or break you.
Let me explain.
My film was accepted to be screened at the fantastic festival in Berlin, the „Genrenale“.
I’ve been part of the festival last year already when I pitched my TV series project „Nibelung“ to a professional jury and a large audience at the ARRI Genre Pitch.
So let’s talk about pitching first. Because this is your first attempt to win an audience.
1. Pitching is not bragging – it’s exercise!
It has been a very enlightening experience. Pitching is something a creative should always do. Pitch to your spouse, your friends, your parents. Don’t annoy everyone with your crazy ideas. But if they are eager to hear: pitch it!
Often, creatives are very secretive about their „ideas in progress“. Even if they’re asked specifically, they restrain from telling about the project. I know I do. But why?
Maybe I’m insecure about my ideas. Maybe I just feel like bragging. Maybe I’m afraid of a negative reaction to an idea that I hold so close to my heart and that contains a piece of me.
But no matter the reasons – it’s still a stupid strategy. We are creating for an audience, after all. We should be eager to hear their reaction to our projects. We should be ready to incorporate what they have to say, and also to get the word out about our work in progress.
So, what is a pitch? It’s a short summary of your work or idea. Make a particular emphasis on the word: short. Don’t go into the details here. Let your work speak for itself. Practice summing up your idea in 2 to 3 sentences, in a way that intrigues your audience, and makes them want to hear/see more.
Unless, of course, you are a pitching to producers. In this case, you should pitch your story idea from beginning to the very end. For them, this is not a teaser. They need to know the whole idea to understand if it works. Still, this shouldn’t keep you from making it as intriguing as possible.
Keeping it short is hard. Very often we as creators are so enveloped into our project that we lose sight of the big picture. This is why pitching is such a good exercise. It forces you to return to the basics of your idea; it helps you to think about the premise, and not to lose sight of what is important.
Having pitched your idea, pay particular attention to the reaction:
Have you made your idea clear, or is the person confused?
Can they relate to the topic? Do they look interested, or are they just faking interest? Are they asking more questions? Have you intrigued them?
So – Pitching is practice! Pitch to as many people as you can. And if you ever get the opportunity to pitch to professionals, value it, and make the most of it.
Pitching my TV series idea in front of the professional jury was an invaluable experience. I got remarks and corrections that helped me shape the idea and change it into something unique.
But the criticism, in front of a large audience, it hurts. Because this is the truth about progress: Praise and approval caress the ego, but honest criticism is what will help you become a better creator.
2. Let your ego be whipped once in a while
So, let’s return to the movie theater in Berlin.
Once the ten painful minutes of my film were over, I realized that I have grown.
I saw the audience’s reaction with perfect clarity.
It dawned on me that while my film was visually compelling (the reason why it was probably accepted for the screening), the story could not make an impression. It was far too complicated for a short film and failed to create momentum. The audience did not react the way I wanted to.
Yes, it felt like whipping. What could be worse than having your audience laugh up their sleeves while you want them to burst into tears? I felt mocked. I felt whipped.
But at the same time, the realization that I knew WHY it did not work made me understand that I have grown. There were so many story moments where I was angry with myself for not having done them differently.
Two years have done by, and I realized the impact of learning the craft of storytelling. You never learn enough. You just grow with every single knowledge you acquire and implement.
So in a way, seeking progress is some kind of „masochism“, because outgrowing yourself is painful.
And while the audience can support us and tell us that we are on the right path, it can also destroy us if we failed. Your audience is merciless.
But mercy is not what you want, is it?
You want them to react honestly because you want to touch the deepest parts of their hearts. And how could you know if they faked interest or emotion? A whipped ego breaks us first but then makes us strive for more.
So again, remember:
- Exercise pitching!
- And let your ego be whipped by audiences once in a while
This is the way to grow your creative and storytelling skills!