(Yes, I *know* this is a screenwriting blog, bear with me).
So anyway. I always used to buy my tea tree shampoo at a big-named store around the corner from my house. Then suddenly, inexplicably, they stopped stocking it. I asked them why. Apparently I was the only one who bought it. Harumph. No matter though, ‘cos a discount store across the road from the big-name store started stocking it, so I bought it there instead.
Fast forward three months… And I hadn’t bought anything in that big-named store. NOTHING AT ALL.
Y’see, this would not have been a big deal to them if I had *only* bought the shampoo. At 79p a bottle, a big chain like that could probably have afforded to lose my business. EXCEPT I didn’t *just* buy the shampoo… Just being in the store, I discovered other things I needed to buy as well, like cotton buds, nappies or baby wipes. Not just essentials either: I would buy chocolate, lipstick, body spray and once, a hair dryer.
In other words… That 79p would typically turn into £10, £20 and occasionally: BEYOND.
Then yesterday I was walking past the big-named store and the manager happened to be outside. “Hey,” he calls after me hopefully, “We have tea tree shampoo now?”
He noticed I didn’t come in the shop anymore and figured out why – and solved the problem. It worked too: yesterday I bought some shampoo and £13 of other stuff I remembered we needed while in there. Score.
I think screenwriters and filmmakers can learn a lot from this retail manager. Go on Twitter or Facebook and very often you will find writers in particular talking down the notion of audience, claiming they’re lazy, spoon-fed or stupid. Audiences just need to step out their comfort zone, right? Let’s throw off the shackles of genre, let’s fragment the narrative and de-categorise all this shit! We can GROW AS ARTISTES and the audience can GROW WITH US!! W0000T!
Audiences KNOW WHAT THEY LIKE – and they like to be ENTERTAINED. Underestimating this is any writer’s or filmmaker’s fatal flaw. Audiences are not lazy and they’re not stupid; if they’re ever spoon-fed, it’s the writer or filmmaker’s fault, not theirs.
So GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT, like I wanted my tea tree shampoo – and they will get on board with you, like I bought all that other stuff. But that DOESN’T mean you have to sell out to do so! There’s so many ways of presenting your story, you CAN dress up even the worthiest of themes or messages in ways an audience will find palatable and ultimately enjoyable.
You don’t HAVE to “dumb down” and the audience doesn’t want you to. That’s a fact. Of course, if you WANT to write dumb, crazy fun shit, why not? Just give the audience what they LIKE, not what *you* think is “worthy” – save that for the layers underneath.