The Audience The Market and The Viewer

In the film industry, everyone is always banging on about the audience. Studio bosses, pundits, distributors, script consultants, even writers. It’s the professional thing to do, because, in the end, it’s all about the audience, isn’t it?

First off, let’s distinguish between the ‘audience’ and the ‘market’. Writers sell their scripts to producers, not to the cinema-going public. This is the writer’s market. Producers, in turn, have to sell their projects to financiers, and distributors. This is their market. Financiers and distributors are typically very concerned with the potential audience for a film (not people, but figures: box office and ancillary returns). This is their market.

Why should a writer take a view on the potential ‘audience’ for a proposed film when it is the producer’s assessment that counts? Surely if the writer is to concern his or herself with anything beyond the subject and craft of their writing, it should be to know their market: the producers?

That’s business. The ‘audience’ also gets invoked in the development process. Script developers talk of what the audience expects, what the audience needs to know, how the audience will react, but there’s an equivocation here because these propositions refer to a notional subject and not a quantifiable number of people who have decided to watch a movie. The viewer has needs and expectations. If the viewer sees a gun early in the plot, the viewer will expect it to be used. So might the ‘audience’, you say. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. If you talk about the ‘audience,’ you can slide sideways into questions of box office potential; you can start making illegitimate connections between aesthetics and commerce. If you talk about the viewer, you can’t.

The writer should consider the viewer, not the audience. (Likewise, the script developer.)

To summarise:

  • the market refers to the potential buyers of a film project or a finished film (producers, private and public finance, distributors)
  • the audience refers to the public who may or may not want to see the film
  • the viewer refers to the notional subject (person) who experiences the film
Okay, now we’ve got that sorted, let’s move on.