Tuesday, September 23, 2008

LDS Audience Improvement

I have a question. It may be an old question, but I think it bears repeating. I suppose I'm asking this in tandem with this post from A Motley Vision. My scope is narrower as a result of being specific to this blog's audience. The assumption I'm basing my question on is that Latter-day Saints tend to view cinema in largely the same that the world presents it. We may or may not be more discriminating in what we will partake of, but we generally go for the same things in terms of what motivates us to see a movie and what reasons we give for thinking it worthwhile. We, as a people, tend to consider film watching a pastime - a break from the other parts of our lives. We go see movies for fun or for something to do and we think we had a worthwhile experience when the movie was exciting, we laughed a lot, there were cool special effects, the acting was good, we cried, there was some moral lesson, the company was enjoyable, and/or suchlike. I know there are strong opinions otherwise held by some who read this blog, but I'm speaking generally. This is my basic assumption.

It seems to me that a lot of thoughtful LDS filmmakers would like to change the way audiences approach the viewing experience. There is an apparent disconnect between the intentions of those who make the films and those who view them. My question is this: should this disparity be resolved and, if so, how? How can the LDS audience be improved?

We talk a lot about improving the art and the artists, but it seems to me that neither will flourish as readily without an equally improved audience. With whom does the onus for changing the perceptions of the audience lie? It is, in my opinion, a necessarily gradual process, but I was hoping we could have a discussion about that and what you all think can be done.

9 comments:

etigg said...

I cannot think of a better way for the folks who made LDS 'films' like Church Ball and The Home Teachers to improve the content and character of their craft than for them to establish a blog focusing on this topic.

Th. said...

.

I think I know which AMV post you're referring to, but the link is missing.

Bryan said...

Control the viewing experience. I think we can take a page out of the Church's playbook in this regard, particularly in how they make an "experience" out of watching their films in the Legacy Theater. No ads beforehand. Comfortable seating. State of the art sound and projection of a 70mm film on a much larger screen than conventional theaters offer. Preface the film with the testimonies of two missionaries. Allow the audience time to reflect on the experience as the film fades to black, the lights remain dim, and the exit doors stay closed. Maintain an exclusive theatrical engagement for at least 5-6 years before releasing it onto DVD.

Of course, several of these things just aren't possible for filmmakers today, given the realities of the marketplace and the demands of studios and exhibitors. But there are ways to "frame" the DVD experience for those willing to change their mindset from entertainment to introspection: an option to play the movie with an introduction by the director, booklets containing essays and production notes (Criterion excels at this, while almost all of the other distributors have cheapened out), and - my favorite - a musical entr'acte and/or intermission, a la "Ben Hur" or "2001." For those audience members without itchy trigger fingers on the remote, those sequences set the tone for the film and introduce many of the signature themes that will be reprised later. And it sends a message to the audience that it's time to slow down, take a different approach, become accustomed to the rhythm of the film. But these seem reserved for more "epic" movies.

Silence can also play a role by commanding attention. I love how effectively it is used in the opening sequence of "Contact." By the time we hear Ellie's first lines of dialogue, our attention is laser-focused because of the lack of other things to distract us.

Adam K. K. Figueira said...

Thanks for that, Th.

I had to suddenly get up and leave and forgot that I hadn't put the link in. It's fixed now.

Adam K. K. Figueira said...

Bryan,

Great insights, as usual. I think you're right that people (at least Mormons) go to the Legacy Theater to have a spiritual experience more often than they go to be entertained. You've identified a lot of good characteristics of that.

What do you think of the practicality of a small, single theater (by which I mean not part of a chain, not that it only has one screen) that did just that for the films it screened? What if there was an introduction before and an discussion after, or some introspective time, or something else to the same purpose? Do you think that could be a sustainable venture? It would be something that left all the commercialism out of the viewing experience, as you rightly suggest. I think this is a key.

I remember going to the Royal Theater in Hawaii (I think that's what it was called) when I was young. There was a cultural show before the movie - usually dancing or something. It was like an event, rather than a couple of hours sitting in the dark. It put you in a better frame of mind.

I also think about the intro given on the DVD I last saw of The Ten Commandments. It was just a man speaking in front of a curtained stage about the film we were about to watch That sort of thing puts the experience into perspective.

Th. said...

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We have a number of theaters that behave (more or less) that way, here in the Bay Area, but I don't imagine the 5-6 year engagement is going to happen. I do think it's a pretty great idea, though, and spread around the country? Maybe. It's imaginable, but I don't see it as at all likely.

Trevor said...

anyone get that email asking to take a survey on some supposed upcoming lds television series?

i got the email, but deleted it. now i can't find it.

Davey Morrison said...

I think this is the key question when it comes to LDS cinema. Great work has already been produced, but only a tiny fraction of it has been seen by very many people, let alone enough to make back its budget and make some money. At the forum for the LDS Film Festival there was a lot of talk about the merits of both the traditional theatrical approach to filmmaking and distribution, as well as uses of new media--internet, podcasts, etc. Good stuff to be thinking about.

Adam K. K. Figueira said...

Davey,

Thanks for that comment. I left the forum early to attend Rick Stevenson's presentation (a decision I don't regret, by the way) but I wish I had heard the rest of the forum, too.

If you are interested in writing a review of it, I would be happy to post it here. Let me know if you want to, and I will give you an address to send it to.