Making a Monster: The Importance of Audience Feedback
In college I majored in fine art. One of the questions that teachers always asked in critique was “How do you know when you’re done?” It was implied that the artist’s job is to have a deliberate dialogue with their work. If the artist was doing it “right” the piece would tell them when it was through with them. Then the artist could show the piece to the world. That is also the theoretical process in creating a feature film. Our process with the film Four Eyed Monsters was only slightly more collaborative in that we continued to make adjustments to our film after every screening based on how each screening felt as we watched it with an audience. We stopped making those adjustments once it lived online. All in all the experience was: we worked on the film until it felt finished, not perfect, but as good as it could be. The creation of the video podcast was radically different.
Creating the video podcast was a dialogue with the viewer not with the end piece itself. We would create a rough episode, have several versions of it, maybe show it to a few people, get feedback and kick it around some more and then release it. It was much like the process described above but once it was released there would be an audience reaction. People viewing the episode would comment, question and sometimes write to us personally. They would argue with one another online about things that had happened. In some instances individuals reacted by writing songs or posting artwork. We would often reach out and ask questions about some people’s reactions and we would have direct correspondence with many of the viewers who wrote to us.
We were able to evaluate how clear we had been in our storytelling and what intended and unintended reactions came to light. The responses played an integral part in how we constructed the next episode, which was usually little more than a rough outline and a pile of clips in a Final Cut Pro timeline. An episode would say something, the audience would say something back and the next video was a direct response to what we had heard them say. Through this process our storytelling ability and technique was sharpened and honed at a much faster rate than when we created our film. Both were huge learning experiences, of course, but making the episodes and having our work evaluated constantly throughout the process forced us to learn fast.
Our audience ceased to be something abstract and they became a collection of peers with whom we were loosely collaborating. We were dialoging with people who were genuinely interested in the content and the conversations that we were having were relevant and helpful to the creation of our content. Of course anytime we put anything up on the web we would also get the usual scum bag comments instructing us to “suck balls” and other bizarre suggestions, but we learned to filter those out. People that actually took the time to write something authentic and continued to watch the series were the people who we were really creating for and with. Another interesting byproduct of the personal connection we were making with our audience was it created a more forgiving audience. People who watched our feature film after having watched the podcast series were more responsive to the characters’ experience, the messages and the themes we were trying to articulate, than people that hadn’t watched the video podcast. It was as if they were able to skip past evaluating the film’s worth as a film and just experience the ideas and emotions because they were already past watching the film from a place of judgment.
What I learned from this experience is the connection we were able to form with our audience creatively impacted our work. Our audience fed the work. Sure, building an audience helped us proliferate the work but the most exciting aspect of the video podcast was how the audience directly inspired and informed our filmmaking process.