The Art Of Engagement

Did you ever notice how many mobile screens flash every now and then when you watch a movie? You may not be different from them as you too maybe checking your cell phone out of compulsion once in a while. We all have developed our OCDs to distraction. The power of focusing is diminishing slowly, and we struggle to concentrate on the thing we are doing right now. No, this is not any sermon that I am delivering on life coaching. It is a challenge every filmmaker faces today to get his audience’s eyeballs fixed on the screen.

Studies show that average attention retention to any content is now just 7 seconds. So, how on earth, can a filmmaker draw his audience into his 2 hour plus moviView Poste. But the only glimmer of hope here is that the audience allows himself to enclose in a dark theatre to commit his time and money to your film. This may not be the case for Netflix or Youtube webisodes as they are not under your spatial influence. While the film on-demand model is yet to catch up in India, it will be soon an apparent reality. So how does one hold on to the audience’s eyeballs if you lack experience in filmmaking?You can only do with your art of engagement.

Here are few things you should try to do while writing or making a movie:

Getting the Right Audience:

If you are trying to write or make your first film or a short film, you should be clear about the genre you are picking. If you define your genre clearly, it will pull the right audience. If you are a beginner, never try to please all. First, learn the art of storytelling through one genre before trying to mix two or more. If you are making a romantic film, don’t mix it with some action and comedy and blah..blah. Yes, you want to make a masala film, but first get your ingredients correct.

The other advantage of getting the right audience is they are the sucker for your genre, and the engagement levels of your story will be higher with them than the ones who don’t follow your genre.


Learn from the Magician:

It is easier said than done. But before making your film, you must take clues from the magicians. Magic usually hangs on the concept of the luring the audience into thinking that they know what is going to happen and then shock or reveal with an act that is beyond their imagination. It doesn’t mean that if you have to shock every time with your story. But, you have to be several steps ahead of them as a storyteller. Your content has to flirt with their senses and later cheat them with a result you wanted them to experience. So, your story should have all the tricks to set up the audience for the final act. If you set it up correctly, the magic happens.

Also, it is said that cinema was gifted to us by magicians. The great directors of yesteryears- Orson Welles, George Melies, and our own Dadasaheb Phalke were all magicians and illusionists. Even Satyajit Ray had a penchant for magic. So, try to weave your story as a magician displays his tricks.


Hero and the Rocky Road :

Why do we have a Hero and a Villain in a story? Because the hero is the audience and the villain is the fear they never want to face. The story is the journey of this hero to either crush or overcome that fear. If you set up characters who are not relatable to the audience, the entire trip becomes tireless and frustrating.

Even if you make them relatable, if the journey is one smooth ride, your magic will fail. Fear has to be overpowering in the beginning, or else the audience will not become the Hero in the end. Your audience has to come out of the dreadful pain in some way or the other to feel victorious. So, you have to make the road rocky for the hero’s journey.

The journey will become rocky only when you create conflicts within the characters. The more you make them real and closer to the audience, the higher is your engagement. So, throw some rocks on its way to confront his fear and scare him more. Then give him the belief to face it. Like a computer game, make your hero evolve with more powers at every next level of his game.


Use your Ammo Well:

As a filmmaker, you have to be aware of your arms and ammunition. It is your fight against the all the distractions of the world. Your purpose is to hold on to your audience’s engagement.  So, carefully use all your ammo to kill the distractions by feeding your viewer with enough content whether it be regarding visuals, sound, dialogues, art, etc. to simulate their senses and block all irrelevant diversions.

To use your ammo, try to tell the story through visuals as if you are making a silent film. Then add the audio layer to express it through dialogues, sound, and music; like how we listen to FM radio. Aural senses are far stronger to engage someone. Also, use the ammo of art and production to transport your audience to the world you created for the hero’s journey. If you can teleport your audience to your virtual world, nothing can pull them back to reality if your magic is working.


Time Over:

All the journeys have to come to an end. You can’t take them on an endless ride. There are only a few hours your audience will allow you out of their busy schedule.So, you have to make it worthwhile. How? By just exposing the dramatic points of the hero’s journey. You can’t waste precious time of your audience showing inconsequential chores your hero undergoes every day. Try presenting that, and if it doesn’t help the story, you are gradually loosening your ‘engagement’ grip on them.

A story has to be told within a specific period. So, you have to squeeze in the entire journey in that temporal dimension. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have silent moments or long takes in a film. If there is a need or a purpose behind it, they can enhance your drama. It is like if you are given a white canvas, will you paint it all with colours or leave some blank or white spaces in it. Will you give it a single tone or put darker and lighter hues. The choice is yours. Ultimately your art has to make a connection. It can only make it if you know the technique to engage.

This article is purely my take on the art of engagement. Please comment if you agree or disagree. I will highly appreciate if you can add your inputs on how to engage people with our stories. Let’s write and make better films.