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Old December 22nd, 2005, 12:11 AM   #1
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Audiences prefer risk and failure to playing it safe

I recently took a theatre improv class and was amazed at an interesting storytelling phenomenon that occurs with a live audience.

It's better to fully commit to a crazy idea and fail, than it is to play it safe and bore the audience to death. I learned this really fast, improvising scenes in front of a live audience. Audiences really appreciate storytellers taking risks to entertain them, even if you fail, and especially if you fail spectacularly. Playing it safe, just alienates the audience, but they love it when you take a risk, because it's entertaining whether you succeed or fail. I remember reading somewhere that's why Indiana Jones is such a compelling hero. He fails spectacularly at every risky adventure he takes up for himself, but audiences love to watch him trying.

I think that's the appeal of independent films, it's easier to fully commit to a crazy idea and risk failing spectacularly, when you're hampered by a lack of resources. Hollywood movies have so many people guarding the "investment" that it's difficult NOT to play it safe and disappoint the audience. It also makes me really appreciate the high end Hollywood filmmakers who are able to take the big risks when the investment is so astronomical. It takes a lot of chutzpah to really go for it when the you've got millions riding on your decisions.

I also think that's why there's a certain appeal to B movies. Many times they don't successfully hit the mark, but it's still more entertaining to see a filmmaker go for a crazy idea and fail, than it is to see an A movie that aimed too low and hit the mark.

Kinda makes you wanna go out and really go for something crazy don't it?
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Old December 22nd, 2005, 08:15 AM   #2
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Interesting point.
My last short ended up looking tentative, maybe for this reason. I wasn't trying to play it safe, but I was trying some different things with the camera and blocking. It didn't really work. But hey, the only reason I'm doing shorts is to learn.

I have much more experience with theatre than film, and the last short looked very stagey, whereas previous ones did not.

But as I re-watch it, it does look "safe". I still think the idea is good and will play well, but I need to recut the five minute short to at least 3 or 3.5 mins and rescore the jazz score with a faster, driving beat.

My current project, a CSI satire, is definitely not safe. It's pretty out there, even though the humor is intentionally subdued. But it was the most fun I've ever had shooting and it's some of the best performances I've ever directed. Not that I've done a lot, but progress is progress :-)
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Old December 25th, 2005, 04:36 AM   #3
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what do audience's care about?

Audience's want you to take risks, both in the stories you tell and how your characters are dealt with. However, in that, there are levels of realism that people will allow in films, breaking that rule and you fall into melodrama or absurd comedy.
case in point is the infamous use of young twenty somethings as hardened criminals or cops investigating a vicious crime...very rarely is this believable because the actors do not fit the role. It's a safe story because its a familiar to those brought up on the millions of cop shows that have played out on TV, each one worse than the lost.
The story has to matter to the characters, when it does, it will matter to the audience, this is only a result when the story matters to the writer. Take risks, be daring, walk the line and never fall back into "oh, this is easy"

Quote:
My current project, a CSI satire, is definitely not safe. It's pretty out there, even though the humor is intentionally subdued. But it was the most fun I've ever had shooting and it's some of the best performances I've ever directed. Not that I've done a lot, but progress is progress :-)
my post has nothing to do with putting down satires of cop shows, simply because they are designed as satire...I was referring to the "play it straight" expressions..satires are excellent and cop shows are fair game and so full of possibilities to mock them
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Last edited by Quito Washington; December 25th, 2005 at 04:39 AM. Reason: typos...
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Old December 27th, 2005, 11:49 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Quito Washington
Take risks, be daring, walk the line and never fall back into "oh, this is easy"
Not only walk the line, go for it, and cross the line into unknown territory, commit to the idea and stay with it. Walk the tight rope that you as the story teller laid out for yourself no matter where that rope takes you, even if it hangs you.

What I noticed in the improv class is that we have this internal editor that clamps down really, really fast and kills "crazy" ideas quickly. That's where the fight is when you're creating a story. If you edit the story as it's being created you'll edit out all the good stuff, because editing tends to get rid of everything that's not "safe".

On the other hand, if you're thinking to yourself, hey that's not right, that's just too weird, I don't know what this is, or everyone's going to think I'm a maniac, that's exactly when you're on the right track, and it's also when it's easiest to run to the comfort of the internal editor and play it safe, many times without even realizing it.

The real risk and entertainment live on the edge of what you think you know, when you just to go for it - especially when you think it's nuts.

In the class I kept killing these great characters I came up with, because I was too scared to go with them. I was afraid people would think that was me. So I made the characters safe and you could hear crickets chirping in the theatre.

When I let the characters live and just went for it, I ended up playing characters that I judged to be weird or scary or socially demented, but it entertained the hell out of the audience, because even I didn't know what the character was going to do next.

One character that came out of nowhere was this creepy stalker who was out on a date with his next door neighbor, I just improvised against my partner and that's what the scene became. Her character made the unexpected choice, that she actually enjoyed being stalked and the scene went completely haywire after that. We had them rolling in the aisles.

Neither my partner nor I would have chosen those roles in a million years, but we had good motivation, because not entertaining a live audience is like sitting in an electric chair that you can't get out of. Get the audience interested and entertained and your sitting on cloud nine.
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Old December 27th, 2005, 11:59 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Wisniewski
Not only walk the line, go for it, and cross the line into unknown territory, commit to the idea and stay with it. Walk the tight rope that you as the story teller laid out for yourself no matter where that rope takes you, even if it hangs you.
that's it exactly, i had more than enough (and more than enough of) people telling me my first feature I release was a mistake and that i should not release it and that it would kill my career and all sorts of things, and of course, none of them had released anything and were all waiting for that "pie in the sky" chance of somehow being discovered by someone else and getting a check to film their movie...
almost believed it, almost bought it, and then i watched Citizen Kane again and thought "wait, he was told this was a mistake, he was told this was not going to work" and 50 years later, its voted as one of the best films of all time...
no, am not saying in 50 years my feature will be considered in that same respect, what I am saying is that he would never have gotten where he was if he had played it safe...and I'm not going to play it safe...while my next one will be as quirky, i understand that i need to bottle it in a consumer friendly vase...while still keeping true to my ideas and get them out there.....
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