The following is an email I sent to a brilliant filmmaker that had a film shown at our festival. And was really angry / shocked / and disappointed about the polarizing reaction he received. Some people loved his film as others didn't. And he questions today's movie audience thinking they have been dumbed down. Here was my response:!
This is a very interesting email and it gave me a lot to ponder. Most times when I receive an email like this, its filled with more emotion than actual intelligence and logic. So therefore you can't really take it that seriously. But your email wasn't like that. It's filled with an emotional reaction, no doubt, but it's also written with more of a logical tone where you are speaking from the heart but without any scattered feelings of anger and insecurity.
You're right on a lot of fronts, but it's not that simple.
Remember that 120 people in the audience talking about your film doesn't gage your average movie audience. On a different night with 120 different people, your film would of gotten a completely different response. And that's the magic of our event. But it's also the flaw of it too.
I personally loved your film and so did about 25% of the audience there. And I'm sure that you know by now that that's probably your audience - about 25% of the population. You're not making populist films as you know, so I wonder what you expect. You learn a lot doing this festival month after month with a new crowd each time. The #1 thing that I've learned is that people have a hard time in their daily lives and watch movies to be entertained. They want to laugh, be engaged emotionally, and also figure things out while the main character does. It makes them feel good.
In today's world you're either working for a large corporation and are just a number in the mothership of its existence, or you're working for a small business living week by week never being able to get their heads above ground. Either way, you are anxiety filled about money and losing your job. And we all know that the unions are losing their power year by year and job safety it not what it was.
And today's younger generation are in the midst of a new change in our society from a shift to the manufacture world to the technological world. A large invention has been created that has changed the streamline of mankind and if you study history it takes about 2-3 generations for people to get back into the regular flow of things. So the people under 25 (your future movie audience) have so many things going on in their world, there is no possible way for them to think deeply at one thing at a time - aka your film. They are much smarter than us, but spiritually and emotionally they are hampered.
So when it comes to movie entertainment, people these days just want to feel good. They don't want to do much thinking while watching to feel good - they want the filmmakers to do all of that for them. And if you are paying attention to society, you can't blame them.
So in summary, you're only going to get that 25% with your film and the other 75% will feel uncomfortable and/or bored when watching it. But you’re 25% ahead of most other people.
It's like the 1940 movie Sullivan's Travels. It’s about a filmmaker who is making populist films for the studio and now wants to make serious films about society ala ____. He ventors off to see life during the 1930s (similar time to today - shift in society ideals from farming to manufacturing industry which lead to the depression) and loses himself in the mix. Later in the film he realizes that most people today just need to feel good for at least a little bit and his populist movies help them laugh and feel emotion for the characters. So his travels take him completely 360 degrees and he's left make to making the same movies because he knows the world needs them more.
But there's always going to be an audience for your films and probably your legacy will be around longer than say Hangover part 2. Because your film has depth that crosses generations. But please don't expect everyone to like them and you can't blame them either. We're all STRESSED OUT! There is a lack of a safety net and most of us are scared shitless. So a film like Hangover 2 or a Tom and Jerry cartoon is exactly what we need.