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Redefining Audience Representation
The Local Community as the Authentic Box Office Metric
The film industry has long measured success through traditional box office metrics, quantifying the performance of a movie based on ticket sales. These metrics, while helpful in gauging the immediate commercial success of a film, are limiting. They often fail to account for a broader, more representative perception of audience engagement. In essence, the prevailing definition of the audience has been confined to those who physically attend film screenings in cinemas, excluding a substantial portion of the movie-consuming public.
This perceived audience – those in attendance – comprises only a fraction of the broader community that consumes film. The traditional cinema-goers, though vital to box office sales, don't necessarily represent the entire demographic of movie enthusiasts. Accessibility constraints, socio-economic factors, and rapidly evolving digital consumption habits have shaped an environment where film appreciation extends beyond the silver screen.
Acknowledging these changes, it's vital for the film industry to broaden its understanding of who the "audience" truly is. This introduces the concept of considering the local community as the audience. This concept encompasses not just those who attend the movies but everyone within a local community who engages with films, regardless of how and where they watch them. The community includes diverse groups of people from varying backgrounds, cultures, age groups, and disabilities, capturing a more comprehensive demographic that truly represents the film-consuming public.
The shift from perceiving the audience as solely those in attendance at cinemas to acknowledging the community as the audience has immense implications for the film industry. This perspective is more inclusive, considering audiences who may not be able to physically attend screenings due to economic limitations or accessibility issues. It allows the industry to tap into a broader market, factoring in the diverse tastes, interests, and consumption habits of a wider demographic. Moreover, it encourages the production of diverse narratives that resonate with a broader community, enhancing the cultural relevance and societal impact of films.
In essence, redefining the audience to include the community is a strategic and socio-cultural necessity. It reflects the evolving consumption habits in the digital age and responds to the need for greater diversity and representation in cinema (culturally and geographically). It promises a more inclusive, diverse, and economically viable film industry that can resonate with audiences in a more meaningful and impactful way.
Audience Representation: Current Perspectives and Limitations
Current perspectives on audience representation in the film industry are primarily based on box office metrics. These metrics, which include gross ticket sales, number of screens, and per-theatre averages, are designed to quantify a movie's commercial success. However, they often provide a narrow, skewed representation of the audience. They essentially focus on the demographic that attends screenings at cinemas, excluding a vast segment of the community that engages with film through various other platforms and venues.
The primary shortfalls of these existing methods include a lack of diversity, the exclusion of local communities, and an inherent economic bias. A focus on box office sales often overlooks the cultural and socio-economic diversity of the wider audience. For instance, certain groups may not be able to attend screenings due to financial constraints, accessibility issues, or personal preferences for other viewing platforms. Moreover, these metrics inadvertently promote a type of film that appeals primarily to those who regularly attend cinemas, leading to a lack of diversity in mainstream cinema.
The exclusion of local communities from the perceived audience is another significant limitation. The diverse tastes, interests, and consumption habits of a local community are often overlooked in favour of broader, more commercial themes. This approach often excludes local/national/regional narratives and culturally specific content, limiting the range of stories told and the voices heard in cinema. Furthermore, box office metrics have an inherent economic bias, favouring wealthier demographics who can afford regular cinema visits over less affluent communities. A common occurrence in the early days of cinema, around the late 19th and early 20th centuries, wherein the wealthy audiences often viewed film as an innovative and novel form of entertainment, typically experienced in luxurious nickelodeons or movie palaces. Unlike the working class who often attended cheaper, less formal venues, the affluent patrons viewed cinema as a social event, indulging in the artistic sophistication it purported to offer, dressed in their best attire, further solidifying film's place as a cornerstone of high culture.
Numerous case studies underscore the divergence between audiences attending the cinema and the wider community. A prime example is the 2019 South Korean film "Parasite,” which was made on a budget of $11,400,000. This film earned around $72 million in South Korea, approximately $53 million in the United States, and surpassed $266 million in global box office revenue. Despite having a modest audience in the initial release stages on limited screens, the film appealed to a much wider global community through positive word-of-mouth. This led to its spectacular success on digital platforms and at international film award ceremonies, which includes a high-demand for the release of its remastered black-and-white version. In a similar vein, the contrast in box office performance between mainstream commercial cinema and indie or art-house films doesn't necessarily mirror their comparative popularity within the larger community. Numerous independent films, even in the absence of widespread theatrical releases, have garnered substantial success and cultivated dedicated fanbases.
Other Notable Independent Films:
"The Intouchables" (France, 2011), resonated profoundly with French audiences. Its national success, fuelled by this relatable and heartfelt narrative, paved the way for unprecedented international acclaim, and the film emerged as the highest-grossing non-English language film globally during its time. With an approximate global box office gross of $426 million against a budget of roughly $12.5 million, this emotionally-charged French movie indisputably struck a chord worldwide.
"Dangal" (India, 2016), anchored by a compelling local narrative, this Bollywood film, based on the true story of a former Indian wrestler and his daughters, resonated deeply with Indian audiences by addressing potent themes of gender disparity in sports. Its resonance wasn't geographically limited, as it garnered immense popularity in China, underscoring the universal appeal of impactful local narratives. Despite a budget of just over $8 million, it grossed approximately $85 million in India and an impressive $190 million in China. With estimated global box office earnings hovering around $310 million, it unquestionably marked a striking success in the international film market.
"Tsotsi" (South Africa, 2005), grounded in the authentic culture and everyday realities of Johannesburg's townships, this South African film's local popularity paved the way for its international recognition, culminating in an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The universal themes of redemption and community embedded in its local narrative echoed across borders, exemplifying the global relevance of localised stories. Produced on a budget of $3 million, the film grossed approximately $11.5 million worldwide, with a notable $2.9 million coming from the United States - a significant achievement in light of the modest scale of South Africa's film industry.
"Wild Tales" (Argentina, 2014), is an engaging Argentine-Spanish black comedy anthology featuring six distinct shorts. It garnered high praise, securing a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards and earning notable recognition in the main competition section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Demonstrating its commercial prowess, the film shattered records to become Argentina's most viewed film, drawing in over 3.9 million viewers and surpassing the previous record set by "The Secret in Their Eyes". With global earnings of $31.5 million on a budget of roughly $3.3 million, the film's considerable domestic and international success underlines the wide-ranging appeal of local stories infused with universal themes and emotions.
"The Farewell" (USA, 2019), an American comedy-drama that centres around a Chinese-American family who choose not to disclose a terminal diagnosis to their grandmother, instead organising a family gathering as a subtle farewell. Premiering at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, the film won widespread critical acclaim, with Awkwafina earning the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture, thereby becoming the first person of Asian descent to secure a Golden Globe in any leading actress film category. Furthermore, "The Farewell" enjoyed substantial commercial success. Produced on a modest budget of around $3 million, it grossed over $25.5 million worldwide, performing particularly well in Australia, the U.K., and North America, where it earned $17.7 million.
The successes of culturally specific and intimate narratives reveal the far-reaching appeal and potential of independent films that genuinely portray an array of diverse experiences and perspectives. These victories underscore the necessity for a wider, more inclusive interpretation of the audience, which factors in the extensive and varied local community. As the film industry acknowledges this, it becomes crucial to update its metrics and methodologies, taking into account the multifaceted ways people across the globe engage with cinema today. By embracing this wider scope, the film industry can truly cater to its whole audience, and in doing so, nurture a cinematic landscape that is more diverse, inclusive, and representative.
The Local Community: A New Definition of Audience
Redefining the audience as the community allows for a broader, more inclusive representation. This new definition of audience transcends the confines of physical cinema spaces and acknowledges the diverse ways in which people engage with films. It includes individuals who consume films on digital platforms, in community spaces, or through other non-traditional venues. The local community is an amalgamation of diverse groups with varying socio-economic backgrounds, cultures, and age groups, thus providing a more representative demographic.
There are several socio-cultural implications to this shift. By recognising the local community as the audience, the film industry can aim to reflect the community's diversity more accurately. Films can provide a platform to tell diverse stories, highlight different cultures, and give a voice to underrepresented groups. This approach promotes inclusivity, allowing a wider array of narratives to be told, fostering a richer and more vibrant cinematic landscape.
Economically, the concept of the local community as an audience has the potential to increase revenues and contribute to economic growth. With this wider audience definition, the industry can tap into new markets, attracting individuals who may not traditionally attend theatre screenings. It can also foster a sense of local ownership and engagement with films, encouraging higher levels of participation and consumption.
The Importance of Shifting the Perspective
The significance of shifting our perspective on audience representation cannot be overstated. First and foremost, it emphasises the importance of diversity in film consumption. In an increasingly globalised world, it is vital that films cater to a diverse range of tastes, cultures, and perspectives. By including the community in audience considerations, the film industry can better ensure that a wide array of stories are being told and that diverse groups of people see their experiences reflected on screen.
There are numerous potential benefits of this perspective shift for filmmakers, the industry, and the local community. For filmmakers, understanding their audience as a community can guide the storytelling process, allowing them to create narratives that resonate on a deeper, more personal level. It can help them tap into local cultures, histories, and experiences, resulting in films that are not just commercially successful but also culturally and socially impactful.
For the industry, considering the community as the audience can lead to more inclusive and diverse content. It can expand the market, offering new avenues for revenue and growth. The industry can also benefit from the community's insights and feedback, driving innovation and progress.
For the local community, being recognised as the audience means their voices and experiences are valued. It encourages community engagement, fostering a sense of ownership and pride in local cinema. Communities can influence the type of content produced, leading to films that reflect their experiences and resonate with their values.
Implications for Film Production and Marketing
The shift in perspective to consider the community as the audience has far-reaching implications for film production and marketing.
In terms of film content, there is a heightened importance for local stories and culturally specific narratives. The audience, now encompassing the entire local community, seeks to see their lives, cultures, and experiences reflected on screen. Filmmakers are thereby motivated to create content that speaks to this audience, driving the creation of diverse and inclusive narratives. Local stories also help foster a sense of community, as they can resonate deeply with local audiences and generate significant local interest and engagement.
For marketing strategies, this perspective shift necessitates community-oriented campaigns. Traditional marketing strategies might need to be revised to include community engagement activities like local events, partnerships with local businesses, or the use of local media channels. The idea is to create a buzz within the community and involve them in the film's journey, thus encouraging local support and attendance.
The shift also has implications for film distribution. Smaller, local theatres and non-traditional venues become vital avenues for film screenings, providing access to audiences who may not frequent larger multiplexes. Distribution strategies can thus focus on partnering with organisations and venues within global communities to ensure that films reach the broadest possible audience.
Redefining audience representation holds crucial significance not only for the expansion of the film industry but also for the sustainability of independent cinema. Hence, it is imperative to transition away from the traditional perception of audiences as merely cinema-goers and instead, acknowledge the wider local community as part of the film's audience.
This shift in defining the audience as the community is crucial as it enables a more inclusive representation. By recognising the myriad ways audiences engage with cinema, it encourages the proliferation of diverse narratives and unlocks potential for economic expansion by exploring untapped markets. The aim for an inclusive, diverse, and economically sustainable film industry becomes apparent. By interpreting the audience as the local community, the film industry can craft content that reverberates with a broader demographic, stimulate community involvement, and cultivate a sense of local proprietorship and pride in the world of cinema.
This serves as a 'Call to Action'. It's time the film industry acknowledged its duty to better cater to its authentic audience—the community. This requires a shift away from traditional, limiting definitions of the audience and a move towards a more encompassing, representative understanding. Such a shift involves the creation of diverse, locally relevant content, the development of community-focused marketing strategies, and a preference for local cinemas or venues in distribution strategies. This revamped business model has the potential to generate revenue streams that foster sustainability not just for cinemas and filmmakers, but also for the local economy.
In a rapidly evolving cinematic landscape, it is essential to recognise the community as the audience to ensure the continued growth, relevance, and success of the film industry. Only then can the film industry truly reflect, engage with, and serve its audience.