[Smith] talked about his approach to movies nowadays and how he isn’t aiming to please general audiences anymore. Towards the end of his little spiel, Smith said: “I used to want to make movies for audiences. But if you’ve seen Tusk, and after you’ve seen Yoga Hosers, you’ll see that I really don’t give a shit about the audience anymore.” After posting about this online, many people have taken it as something incendiary towards the people who go to see his movies. However, his position is really one that a lot of filmmakers should have. Smith isn’t saying that he doesn’t want the audience to enjoy the movie or that he’s purposely making movies that they won’t like (though some would disagree with the latter), but he’s simply making the movies that he wants to make.
Exercise for the reader: At what point does "doing your own thing" shade over into — or fall headlong into — mere contempt for the audience?
Kevin Smith isn't the best test case, if only because it's been years since I voluntarily watched any of his films. I don't despise him — in fact, I admire the guy for going out and making the movies he wants to make, on his terms, and for whatever audience is going to cotton to them. That said, the movies of his that I have seen aren't to my taste, so it's tough for me to say if my dislike of them is a) proof of his contempt for the audience or b) if it's more about me than him. I lean towards b) for this one. (See also: Tyler Perry. God love him for doing this own thing, for creating an entertainment empire out of little more than sweat and pocket lint, but I can't bring myself to actually watch anything he's had a hand in.)
Still, it's a good question. The artists I've been most impatient with because of how cavalierly they treated the audience were often the same ones who took the most risks. When the risks pay off, it feels like we're being given a gift; when the risks peter out, it feels like a needle in the eye. Maybe all the more so when it comes from someone we expect risk-taking from. The fact that they shoot a little higher than the others means they ought to hit what they aim for, right? Well, not always.
But I don't think risk-taking is the real issue. I think one reason artists — amateurs and novices, mainly — often freely conflate "doing your own thing" with doing something that has no discernible audience at all is because doing so allows them to play at being an artist, without actually being one. Artists are people who create, but they are also people who flout convention and go their own way, etc. Therefore, if I flout convention and go my own way, I will be an artist!
Coming from the first-year crowd, this is a forgivable offense. But you have to outgrow it at some point, and realize creation is a two-way process, a dialectic between you and your audience. A work that doesn't meet people halfway is little more than a diary left open for whoever happens along. It is a poor way to pitch your work, and a counterproductive way to position yourself as a creator.
Contempt for the audience isn't just about not giving them something an audience can connect with. It's also about not believing the place the audience is coming from could have anything to say to you in turn. You learn as much from them as they learn from you, and so to pretend the audience doesn't matter is a great way to end up with not much of one at all.
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