Updated: May 21, 2020
In this series, we consider how the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey relates to indie filmmakers. In this post, we discuss the "Seek First to Understand then to be Understood" habit.
If there was a set of filmmaking commandments, we are certain that one of them would be "Know thy audience." Now, this isn't about demographics alone. Knowing your audience is about knowing what makes them tick. It' about knowing their values, principles, likes, and dislikes. It's about knowing when, how, and where to reach them. Knowing your audience is what provides you the intelligence needed to identify who they are and what they are all about.
Now, once you've identified them, the next step toward reaching them is to identify with them. This is where you extend your knowledge into understanding and where logos (logic and reason) meets pathos (emotions and values). Understanding why they have a certain set of core beliefs will put their life experiences into context. Understanding the culture of their geographic location will help you accurately represent the backdrop to their stories. Understanding the socio-economic underpinnings of the choices they make for themselves and their families will allow you to see their character in a different life.
In psychology texts, ethos, pathos, and logos are depicted in a triangle. In the context of understanding and connecting with an audience, logos and pathos are the keys to holy grail of ethos.
It is only when an audience believes that you know who they are (logos) and what they're made of (pathos) that you have the credibility needed to gain their trust (ethos).
Seeking to be understood as a filmmaker is always in the context of what is acceptable to your audience. Understanding your audience enables you to know when and how to leverage your own unique artistic expression to meet their needs and expectations.
This foundation of pathos and logos doesn't come easily. "Seek to understand" means that you must put in the work and that the work may never truly end. The journey of understanding takes continual research and immersion into the culture of the audience you speak for. To do this successfully, you'll need to leverage all of the resources at your disposal including social media, news feeds, magazines, music, art, literature, film, podcasts, community events, interpersonal interactions, and more. It is through this immersion that you will learn to speak a language that they can understand and to create art with which they can identify.
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
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