The Power of the Audience: Use Yours

Submitted by Amisha Upadhyaya

On the heels of my newfound love for “Eat Pray Love,”  I turn from the book to the film, supercharged into production with the attachment of megawatt star, Julia Roberts.  Which is interesting.  elizabeth_gilbert_julia_roberts

It’s not just an American thing, but Americans have perfected the obsession with the cult of celebrity.  You maybe just big somewhere else but if you want to make it BIG, come to the land of the Big Meal. We feed off it; it feeds off us.

Yet, if we stood back, the material which inspires these celebs, the stories that inspire us and celebs fight to get the options of are stories of others‘ lives.  I say this as an ardent fan of Ms. Roberts. I watch “Pretty Woman” every time I’m flipping channels and it happens to be on. Nonetheless, a reading of celebs’ lives, when not closely guarded, seems to be a string of love affairs, health and diet crazes, and addictions and divorces the rest of us can’t afford or relate to.  People may be inspired by their looks or talent, but I have yet to hear of a person, even a star, be inspired by the writings or life story of another’s.

Through comedy or drama, the stuff of our most real selves and fervent dreams are inspirational acts of courage; personal demons overcome; political demons overthrown; systems beaten; all the steps of humanity’s progress and love won through much strife.  The handful of Julia’s and Will’s aside, maybe studios should take heed that these stories are fueled by the subject matter not the star.

But they won’t. They don’t take a chance on movies w/o stars. Hell, they don’t even take a chance on original stories anymore. Side note: saw “Broadcast News” last night. Oh, the 80’s… High hair and jellies forgiven due to the intelligent, adult rom-coms and dramas that still prevailed. Now that I’m adult, I look back for improving my craft.  It was actually, when Julia Roberts made her entry and had her heydey.

My exploration, as it were into how to get stories made, is as a writer for film and TV, not as an author. As an author, Elizabeth Gilberts herself had an insightful answer on her blog when asked if she was afraid if the movie would ruin the book. She responded, “the movie can only ruin the movie.” Film and print are two different mediums, with different rules as to what makes them successful. Once an author has sold his or her rights, it’s sold. Let it be what it will in another medium.

As a film and TV writer though, how can we get these stories out there if they aren’t runaway success stories? Or Julie or Will isn’t interested?  Maybe publishers should do more to market books? But they’re struggling financially. As are newspapers and magazines.  And the online publishing world is glutted.  How to rise above the fray for those stories? Plus, who can compete with an industry that can churn out action figures with Happy Meals.

Maybe we shouldn’t deify actors as much? Or studios shouldn’t make or break projects on the whims and needs of $20 million plus box office gross stars that make riskier projects impossible.  Their power will be limited and films will be about stories a little bit more in films that these same stars will actually shine in (I enjoy stars as much as anyone but there’s gotta be a limit!).

Maybe we should read more? Wait a minute. I see a pattern.  Here’s a thought, we, the all-mighty WE as audiences can shift how movies are made. They are made for us. We have the choice where to spend money.  True, studios are dumbing us down and going insane after test screenings (“Broadcast News” would never have had its honest ending now.) Just as elections can offer choices, it’s still we who make the ultimate one IF we exercise our right to vote and where to cast it.  And like the Bush years and these remake-after-remake years, we make bad choices at time.  But, like any democracy or capitalist society, supply will be as per demand.

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