No Fooling

“My Bowling Ball Jumped the Track.” In a stretch, that line could almost serve as an alternate title for the Coen Brothers’ ‘The Big Lebowski.”
“My Bowling Ball Jumped the Track.” In a stretch, that line could almost serve as an alternate title for the Coen Brothers’ ‘The Big Lebowski.” Actually, it’s the result of a quick creative brainstorming session at our workshop in Fairbanks March 17th. The idea was to come up with a story concept that could be executed by students in a local 3-D computer animation class. The result, after everyone had thrown in their contributions, was the story of a lonely bowling ball, studiously (and comically) avoided by most of the pins as he made his way speedily down the lanes every day, who was nevertheless ultimately befriended by one brave and adventurous pin. And really, isn’t that the story of each one of us?

Sometimes we as artists can get caught up in wondering if our story ideas truly translate to others- if they will be watchable, entertaining, moving, to our audiences. We can get hung up on an idea of creating “pure” art, works that adventurously reflect a highly personal interpretive vision, and the degree to which we should incorporate the audience’s expectations into our style sometimes effectively blocks the project’s forward progress. Whether this delay is subconsciously desirable I’ll save for another post. In addressing the audience question, though, I believe we can move forward simply by answering this true/false statement: “I will be screening this for others and care if whether they are affected by it.” If the answer is no, no worries- we can proceed however we desire. If the answer is yes though, we now have a much more difficult effort in front of us- how to resolve our creative vision for an audience of unknown diversity. Ask yourself “What language will I use in the spoken or text elements of the piece? Should I use ANY language? What cultural groups recognize the audiovisual languages- the signs, symbols and metaphors- I am including?” In the workshop above we discussed the ubiquitous sound effect of a needle skipping suddenly out of a vinyl record groove. Several teenagers in our group readily understood the usual intent of this device- a sudden stopping or changing of subject, mood or understanding- even though vinyl has long ago been replaced as a common media type. We can readily use this device in productions reaching audiences impacted by western media, but the devices’ unique nature, combined with commonly-accompanying audiovisual techniques like a radical change of sound content, visual freeze frames, sudden edits, zoom ins and the like, likely translates well beyond that cultural reach.

If we concentrate on creating stories that are meaningful to ourselves as artists, stories that truly effect us and move us emotionally, we stand the best chance of translating that emotion or idea to our audience. Any dishonesty in this regard will be sensed and evaluated, and ultimately affect their emotional involvement in our work. We must ask the key question- how does this story make me feel? When we honestly address this question and fearlessly pursue the answer creatively, we have a prayer of connecting with our audience in a meaningful way- wherever they are.