Updated: Feb 13
"One of the great adages of Hollywood is: Do the same thing, just different. Give the audience what they know, but do it differently." - A.W. (Tony) Scott, Writer, Producer, Director
During our conversation with award-winning screenwriter, producer, and director Tony Scott, Tony dropped one of the greatest pieces of advice that many independent filmmakers just refuse to take. It's the idea that the general audience doesn't want something brand new; they want something familiar yet different.
Think of it like this: When you go to a new restaurant, what do you look for? I'm sure that most of you look for the chicken, the fish, the steak, or the salad. And, what do you find? The chicken, the fish, the steak, or the salad. The only thing different from the last restaurant you went to is how the food is prepared. Same food, just different.
Restaurants and Hollywood filmmakers alike know what their customers want. There's no secret, there's no magic formula. Audiences have been conditioned to look for certain fundamental things when deciding on the next film to watch. These fundamental elements live in the characteristics that define the best and the worst of us and the never-ending battle between the two.
Ultimately, what we want to watch are the sins of the villain (pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth) pitted against the virtues of the hero (hope, prudence, fortitude, and temperance). These are the basic ingredients of all great films. What makes each film different is the environment where the battle is fought and the culture of the characters that take each side. Same thing, just different.
Independent filmmakers often get lost in the misguided belief that, to stand out, they have to offer something new. This newness is sought out via a purposeful departure from the basic elements of character, plot development, and structure in the search for innovation and authenticity. This departure results in a whole host of things that detract from the fundamentals or create confusion in the filmmaker's delivery. Filmmakers who do this often find themselves saying things like, "What I meant by that was..." or "What I was trying to say was..." or "It's a metaphor for..."
In the end, it's not "new" that audiences want; it's "different". As Tony said, this is a great adage of Hollywood. An adage, by definition, is a saying that sets forth a general truth and that has gained credit through long use. Independent filmmakers would be well advised to heed this general truth and to stick what their audiences want. They key is to give them what they want delivered in your own unique voice.
We would like to thank Tony for so graciously accepting our invitation to be a guest on the MAKE IT podcast. It was eye-opening to learn about his creative journey from jazz to business to film and how he weaves his personal experiences into all of his work. We wish him the best of luck with all of his future projects and we look forward to seeing what he does next.
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