Watching with an audience
Over the last week, I have been completely buried in Planet Cosmo animatics – the stories with voices but just in storyboard form, rather than fully animated. Cosmo is a greater challenge than my previous shows due to the number of elements that all have to flow together – adventure, characters, three songs per episode, two planet information sections, several interactive sequences and more. Vastly different segments that all must come together as a whole in just thirteen minutes.
For guidance, I find watching with an audience can make all the difference.
Not just asking opinion, or even watching their reaction. There is something simply in being in the presence of an audience that can completely change how we ourselves perceive what we are seeing. We get a new perspective. Even if the children sat with poker faces and never said a word, the act of just watching with an audience can make so many things clear.
Then of course, we have the added bonus that our audience rarely sits with poker faces (generally not a good sign) and we can ask them questions. What did you like? Who is your favourite character? What did you learn about the planet? We can learn so much about what is working and not working about our shows from just asking our audience and listening carefully to the answers. If you have your own kids, you have that access to that feedback all the time but, even if you don’t, an audience isn’t hard to find. So why not seek out that feedback?
Well, for me, I find if I’m resistant at all to even looking for the feedback, it’s a sign that somewhere deep down I know something isn’t right and I just don’t want to hear that. So I have to push through it and look for the feedback anyway.
But having children can also show us the limitations in such feedback. As anyone with a child will know, show the same child the same thing on a different day and you will most likely get completely different feedback. Children are incredibly complex beings and prone to such dramatic changes even in just the space of minutes that, when crafting a television show, it can sometimes be a mistake to react to their whims too quickly. What you get back in feedback at any given moment may actually be about something else entirely. This is true for an adult audience too ‘ what they say they want may well not be what they’ll like if you give it to them.
Focus groups can be of very limited value. If they weren’t, every show ever tested would be a huge hit.
Entertainment is an inexact science. Or, at the very least, the science is so complicated that it is well beyond our total understanding right now. Whether from those in the audience themselves, or from those who claim to know what they’re talking about (like me), it’s all just a best-guess scenario.
So feedback is important. But it’s not a replacement for our own independent thought. It shouldn’t be a crutch, an excuse not to make our own decisions, an out-clause if something goes wrong. They are still our own decisions.
So watch with an audience. Listen not just to them, but to yourself as you gain a new perspective.