Saturday, October 15, 2011

Story Aim

If you are in a MFA program, and you've been invited to present a thesis proposal to a committee, this post is aimed at you, your story, and in truth, your nascent career.

Market drives everything in the world, and no more so than in entertainment. Focus groups and market research drive story development, and for a fee, will provide you with the likelihood that your project will succeed, based on previous box office results. Believe it or not.

Because market is derived from the vagaries and whimsy of stratified age groups, your project needs to appeal to some section of the market. You can divide it roughly this way:

Age Genre
Range Examples

0-3 Baby Einsteins

4-8 Wiggles, Thomas the Tank Engine
8-12 iCarly, SpongeBob SquarePants, Texting
13-20 Millenials (Born >2000) Vampires, Alternative Rock Bands, Facebooking
21-31 Echoes (Born ~1990s) - Romantic Comedies, Horror Bs, Comedy Central
32-44 Gen-Xers (Born ~1970s) - Action Films, HGTV
45+ Boomers (Born <1960s) - Mysteries, CNN

Market focus is especially important when it comes to choosing your thesis project storyline. Clearly, if all goes well, this project will be your sole calling card to the industry, separating you from the countless children spilling forth from the art mills dumping BFAs into the world. I'm reminded of the Matrix, with it's endless colonies of human batteries. As an MFA candidate, you are special, and the thing that makes you special is your pride and joy, your creative brainchild, your thesis project. You'll invest three years and nearly 100,000.00 in your child, all in the hopes that upon maturity, it will help you guile your way through the heavily guarded Pearly Gates of Industry. Choose poorly, and well, we know what end the hot arch-villain came to in the finale of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

You MUST choose wisely. In the half-decade that I guided young candidates at the AAU, I always counsel these three major points:

1. Choose a story that will mesh with the part of the industry you will choose to work in. For example, if you really want to work at a major, figure out what work they are doing, and build a project that is close to that work. Don't copy it, but understand that when they see your project, they might see you working on THEIR project.

2. Choose a story that suits the medium. Poignant, funny, gag-based material for 3D Character Animation projects. Poignant, funny, action-based material for VFX projects. If you are not sure where you'd like to land, craft your story to serve one of the aforementioned markets. Ask yourself what one of the people in those demographics are watching, what music they are listening to, what comedians they enjoy? Are they watching Nick, Jr. or Adult Swim? Know your market.

3. Choose a project that won't make the viewer throw up or pass out. Pissing off a viewer, upsetting their sensibilities, offering the bird for all humanity to see won't get you closer to working for a button-down major. Everything is corporate and so shall you be when you are chosen. Keep this in mind. If you want to make art films after work, go for it. We need more art films. Don't mix business with iconoclastic nihilism. If you're a trust fund kid you can fall back on that when your Death to the Imperialistic Bastards art film tours the indy circuit.

4. Make sure that the scope of your story does not overreach your time and resources. Too bad they don't teach you about bidding or production or anything necessary to determine which end is up. Know how to determine your story scope. The little GANTT chart you made in pre-production is most likely as flawed as the project understanding it was derived from. Don't bet on it. Get a pro to help you. 100,000.00 is a lot of money to waste on a poor decision made during a single week in a pre-production class.

Story aim is everything. Aim poorly and you'll be back working for the wedding photographer in three years. Aim true, and you'll follow the folks that designed, implemented and succeeded in winning the Student Academy Award for Dragonboy.

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