A film, like any other art form, can only serve one master. The problem is, there are many forces constantly vying for this role; the director, the writer, the client/backer, etc. The list is long but the decision is vital because virtually every aspect of a film is impacted by its highest master.
Films can serve their makers, and far too often they do. The director is usually the culprit, but the producer(s), editor(s), and other key players aren’t immune to this temptation. It’s only natural for artists and craftsmen to want their work to be celebrated, acknowledged, and even honored. But a real problem arises when ego dictates decisions rather than emotional impact of the film itself. The mature filmmaker must exercise their ability to resist and persist against the natural draw of personal ego.
Films can serve their instigator(s). This is usually the client, but could also be the executive or the backing organization behind a film. This can get a little tricky, but films that fall into this trap of serving their instigator will always struggle to get people to show up and watch them, even if they have something important to say. As much as we’d all like to think that masses of people should be interested in what interests us, they simply are not…that is, unless we capture their hearts first.
By now you’ve probably guessed it: the true master of any film should always be the audience. Audiences buy the tickets (or at the very least, willfully “donate” their time). Audiences hold the power to take action as a result of what they’ve experienced. Audiences are a film’s lifeline – they either carry a film to success or destroy it with indifference.
Serving an audience is no small task. With thousands of decisions to be made and multiple opinions being imposed, it’s a small miracle when a film even survives the production process. But without a crystal clear master-over-all, this tension from the tug and pull ends up lop-siding the whole project, usually in the direction of serving the wrong master. Conversely, when everyone involved inherently understands that no one trumps the audience, this tension between clients, artists, and the business savvy producers can become one of the project’s greatest advantages.
Make them laugh. Make them cry. Scare them out of their breeches. But above all, serve them with the utmost respect and dignity. It is for “them” that we filmmakers even exist.