Notes On The 4 Audiences.

Posted May 27th, 2014 by Ben

I have been away. This blog is not a place I wish to fill with explanations or excuses but to be clear, my silence was caused by events both awful and personal; such as to say I have been away as much from myself as from anyone else.

Whilst away I seem to have kept a notebook. It’s definitely my hand writing and there are plenty of notes on the still ongoing edit of my film “Nina Forever”. I don’t recognise all of the thoughts. Scattered through the book though are some with relevance to the work that, as a reader of my blog, you probably share with me. For instance, this page is headed “READINESS + THE 4 AUDIENCES”.


There is no such thing as too early or too late. Time may be beyond our control but readiness is a factor entirely determined by custom. Even a soft boiled egg is only ruined if the eater demands the egg liquid rather than soft and thick and dry and spongey.

Readiness is in our domain. The hard part is controlling the expectation. The audience is malleable but requiring manipulation. In any production, including life, there are three distinct audiences whose experiences are linked but never identical.

The audience who watch from the house, the audience who watch from behind the scenes aware of all the machinery of manipulation that is being employed and the audience on the stage, the audience of the performers themselves simultaneously present and in the illusion and observing its effect.

There is then a 4th, the audience of history who are not present at the event but must draw their reactions and conclusions at 2nd hand from the responses and attitudes of the first three. The 4th is the largest and the one most easily mistaken for the truth.

Who knows what I meant when I wrote it, but reading this back what struck me as interesting was how often we (by which I mean creative professionals engaged in making work for an audience) ignore the impact of the audiences beyond the “first” one.

Our perception of what our audience wants goes to shape our work. But this shaping comes not just from our paying customers (the first audience) but from the production and development staff (the second audience), the cast and crew engaged in the making of the thing with us (the third) and that notional sense of history (the fourth).

Which audience is most deserving of our attention? How often do we aim past the stalls at that invisible audience outside the cinema? How often do our ambitions not even reach the first audience, stopping in the laps of our producers? Alternately, as the 2nd, 3rd and 4th probably care more perhaps shouldn’t they be our focus ahead of the casual punter?

I ask without knowing but interested in your thoughts.

  1. Darren Bender

    Welcome back Ben. I have missed you so am delighted to see this thought (and you).

    But I am not sure the 4 audiences are the same ones I see / have experienced. And I wonder if different aspects of our work reaches different audiences.

    I think your first audience is normally financiers. Sometimes these are producers, development ‘executives’ and sometimes these are investors with (as is their right) opinions. The former have normally studied the patterns of previous films (or studied the summation of such patterns from script gurus of more or less value) and call these needs or techniques. The latter have watched films and (if you are lucky) like films and (if you are lucky) have a memory for what attracts them to the films they like, what gets them (as an audience member) excited.

    The second audience is the sales and distribution ‘executives’ who widely vary in their experience and quality of judgement and who get involved in your film either during financing, during production or during post production (and to some extent even if they get involved after the film is locked). This audience (too) often have the responsibility of deciding the fate of your film by identifying (or deciding) who your wider, paying, audience are going to be. Their advice, needs, changes, demands will (re)shape your film and the distinct (or cookie cutter) personality of its roll out, sometimes changing crucial story elements, removing or altering performances, adding visual effects, changing music, adding ADR and any number of seemingly small but arguably crucial (in terms of how the paying larger audience connects to your work) things.

    Then finally when the paying audience get access to your film, there are many layers of them and I believe they experience the film very differently depending on whether they have left the house and bought a ticket to see your film with others in the cinema, bought a downloaded version to watch on their wide screen surround sound home cinema set up with a glass of good wine, downloaded onto their mobile device from a pirate site and watched on the train to work across a day or two in journey sized chunks…and so on.

    I think the last audience, the history audience as you call it, comes from the theme of your film, its innovations and its cast. If you are working at low budgets but have great choices in casting you might have the first film with of a lead who will be revisited after he becomes a Hollywood superhero franchise star in a couple of years. Or you might have made the first film that brought a new technique (no doubt born out of the mother of invention) that you learnt making that long running sci-fi show for TV.

    Or maybe it will be the film that tore into that social injustice or opened our eyes to an emotional dilemma we have previously ignored. Maybe it is suggesting a better way to live and is of practical value to that audience. Maybe they will embrace it as a landmark of where there were when they were there.

    Lovely to have you back. Can’t wait to see the film.

  2. Shooting People » Ben's Blog » Notes On The 4 Subjects.

    […] next page of my notebook has another note I don’t remember writing… […]

  3. Ben

    Bless you Darren, good to be back. I don’t disagree with anything you write, except perhaps the scale.

    I think of “the audience”, those who sit outside the film and watch it, as the 1st audience because all the other audiences we’re discussing will constantly tell you that they’re subservient to this one. That’s not a total lie either, if a financier sees that “the audience” will get something then they’ll convince themselves that they do to, if a critic hates a box office smash they at least have to accept their position as counter to the prevailing thought.

    When it comes to my “second audience”, those “behind the scenes”, I think this contains your first and second audiences. I agree they experience the film at different stages of development but their view through the illusion out into the crowd is broadly the same. Crucially it is also different from the view of my “third audience”, those who are directly engaged in the thing with you, the creative collaborators who, at differing levels, have to be convinced of the art but are aware in a different way of the scrutiny of the viewer.

    My aim is try and think out how these audiences affect creative process, how their gaze pulls a project in one direction or another. I think the questions an actor or editor bring to a project affect it in a quantitively different manner to those brought by a financier or distributor. None of which is to prioritise, simply to try and piece it together.

    Lastly I think you’re quite right about the waves of audience and how their position in history affects the film, but I think this point is better addressed in the blog that came after this about the 4 Subjects.

    Lovely to hear from you.
    very best

  4. dave thomas

    Hi Ben

    I’m just finishing editing my first feature at the moment and as far as I’m concerned theres only one audience I’m interested in. And that’s me. I wanted to the film I was happy with and that I liked and that is the most important thing. You can’t second guess any audience, everyone sees film differently and therefore the directors opinion should be the one that counts. If you love it then others will too. And often not the ones you think will. Look forward to seeing it!

  5. Shooting People » Ben's Blog » A Blog About Ryan Gosling.

    […] been rethinking some thoughts I found scribbled in my own handwriting, one about “the 4 audiences”, the other “the 4 subjects”. The notes run on in an attempt to mesh these two ideas […]

  6. Ben

    I agree with you Dave, if you’re placing other people’s opinions above your own then you’re on a hiding to nothing. However our opinions of our own work do not arrive in our minds as unique and original concepts. Our thoughts are responses, our opinions responses to cultural stimuli. If you imagine your judgement is free from the influence of your other audiences then you’re simply blindfolding yourself to some of the forces pushing you down the path you’re following…

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