There are good communicators, and there are expert communicators.
Good communicators can accomplish much through words and actions, but only when the conditions are right and all participants are engaged. It takes a great communicator to engage the resistant crowd, especially in tough conversations. And it takes an even greater communicator to lead that resistant crowd through that tough conversation into healthy results. Great films work the same way.
In order to effectively communicate important truths, films must provide a pathway for audiences to open themselves to hearing it. Something about the piece must engage their hearts, for it is only through engaged emotions that the mind feels safe enough to engage itself, especially if there are opposing views involved.
Conversely, a film may achieve high levels of empathy by connecting with audience’s emotions, but if the film isn’t carefully grounded in some important truth or truths, the viewing experience has no long term impact on its audience and is quickly forgotten.
Great filmmakers carefully walk the line between empathy and impact at every phase of the process, but here are 3 vital steps in crafting films with deep empathy AND high impact:
1 – Every character needs to be somehow relatable to the audience. This should not be confused with “the same”…that would be terribly boring. Rather, in order to truly captivate us, we must see something of ourselves in each character, especially the ones with whom we think we share nothing in common. This empathy that is built provides a space of trust wherein we open ourselves to engage fully with the rest of the film.
2 – A film must boldly center itself around a meaningful topic, even (ESPECIALLY) if that topic is difficult to talk about. Life is short, time is our most limited resource. The platform which the film medium provides is too great an opportunity to be wasted on things which simply don’t matter to people. If resources are going to be spent on creating a film and if people are going to spend their precious time watching it, then the film must honor their decision by providing something meaningful for them to engage with. It takes hard work and courage to go there as a filmmaker, but the resulting impact is worth it.
3 – A great film will spark discussion (maybe even heated debate) from the story it presents, but it must also remain open to the debate itself. A great communicator only knows one thing for certain – there is always more to learn. A great film must acknowledge that there will always be more to learn, and no one film can pretend to have a monopoly on the whole truth. With disciplined craft and an earnest search for truth, a great film creates a great impact by inviting everyone to engage themselves in the discussion.
Films provide arguably the single best platform to share just about any message one can imagine up. The question is, who cares? Who is listening? If you can learn to engage audiences with empathy, while still communicating your most important truths, you can begin to witness the power of a well-crafted film.