Email questions I often receive from filmmakers usually include general advice on the filmmaking process; not that my opinion matters more than anyone else's. After all, I think how we each receive cinema is really dependent on each individual's experience. We're not the Borg collective; at least we shouldn't be.
I usually don't reply to those kinds of questions because they are often so general or broad that an answer would require pages and time to compose.
But in thinking about it further this morning, it hit me. My general response to those general questions would be, as the title of this post states: make me feel something.
Easier said than done, I suppose. But that's really what it comes down to for me.
The feeling doesn't have to be positive either; just tickle me more than a little bit – whether you make me laugh out loud, cry, angry, sad, happy, frustrated… something… anything. There's nothing worse, in my humble opinion, than walking out of a screening, feeling indifferent, or apathetic to what I just saw and experienced. A shrug is not what you want from your audience – at least I don't think so.
The question then is, how do I ensure that my audience does feel something?
You really can't guarantee anything, to be frank, until you actually show it to an unbiased audience. But I'd also say that if, as you're writing it, it makes YOU feel something, chances are, that same feeling will be felt by others. The question is how universal that response to your film will be – in essence, how many people will agree, and whether you care how high or low that particular number is.
An answer to the first question – how to help ensure that your audience feels something – I would suggest being bold, brave and provocative. Go there with your story – to that place where you are maybe scared to explore, or think others might consider strange, bizarre, "too much," too honest, too anything. But don't do so just to be gratuitous, or as a gimmick. The saying that reality (or truth) can be stranger (or any other like terms) than fiction, is true. Just be honest (especially if it's a personal story), and/or make sure it all makes sense within the confines of the narrative.
I receive several emails weekly alerting me to new and upcoming films, but very few of them actually elicit much of a reaction from me, because (and this is just my opinion of course, no offense to anyone) a lot of the work tends to look and feel the same. Very little actually stands out; and I think that's because many filmmakers try to emulate existing formulas. It's as if their intent from the beginning is to create something that they think Hollywood would want; but the problem there is that they are usually working with budgets that are far less than the average studio film, thus the results just don't resonate, and the films instead look and feel like cheap knockoffs.
I'd suggest that's the wrong approach. Instead – and I think there is indeed a precendent for this – take risks and you just might find that Hollywood will come calling. The precendent I speak of are all the young filmmakers who were bold, brave, unique, with their own voices, who made their first films independently, those films earned them lots of attention, and eventually they went on to sign with agents, and are now making multi-million dollar feature films backed by studios.
I'm certainly not suggesting that this method has worked, or will work for everyone, but if I were writing a script for a film right now, I wouldn't be thinking of what current title or style of filmmaking I could emmulate. We are already influenced by what we have seen, so you can't entirely escape that. But I wouldn't do so (be influenced and try to copy) intentionally.
As an indie filmmaker, this is probably the absolute BEST time for you to experiment, because once the studio system swallows you up, your freedom and control goes right along with that.
This was actually going to be a much shorter piece, so in closing I'd say again, be bold; take risks; go there; be provocative; experiment, not only with ideas, themes, and genres, but also with styles of shooting, editing, sound design, etc; know the rules and then break them; be fearless. And be personal. They say that there's nothing original anymore, but the best way to be original is to be personal.
I'd like to think that they goal for most is to make your project stand out from the deluge; not to blend in.
All of this being just one man's opinion of course…