As a person who was 5, 6, 7 years old developing skits and talent shows, gathering my friends to make engaging productions for the love of it, well I know I am not the only one...and many of us who work in TV/Film in various capacities, have worked very long days, for years doing what we love and we care....
I feel confident to answer this question/paragraph posed to me to answer and I'm sharing it in my blog...
The question posed to me: "How much does what the audience want to see shape the movies that come out of Hollywood? Which comes first, the audience or the art?"" Considering Hollywood is a profit industry how do you think Hollywood balances "art" and commerce? in other words how does Hollywood balance creating art that producers, directors, actors, etc. care about with giving the audience what they want. What comes first the art or the audience?"
My pretty involved answer:
I think, based on experience working in the industry that there is not a precise answer to this which is all encompassing. It’s a complex subject, which can be simplified though initially to say that the art comes first, then the audience, in multiple ways. The second thing I would clarify is the statement that “Hollywood is a profit industry” I would disagree with that, on the surface I see the point. BUT it’s just on the surface perhaps, meaning there is much more to it than that. Simply without proper evaluation of all of the factors which go into film making, one “could” say, well, investors invest in films that will “make money”, “draw the audience to the box office”; however, it’s way more complex than that. For example, when one does a film business plan, sure one can say, “this genre of film”, “with this subject matter”, with this “cast” has made “x amount” of dollars in the past, do projections etc but that guarantees nothing, not profits or the audience, it’s all a gamble (sometimes more than others) in terms of whether or not a Hollywood film will be a “financial success”, or a success with the audience. Suffice it to say those who put their time into making a film production or a TV production, they care how the film is received, that would be caring what the audience thinks, but everyone (most) those in the industry WANT to walk away feeling as if they were a part of a quality production. Things like making a story that matters many times, working with good inspiring people, and making a production that at one’s core can be proud of, matters too, to many.
In terms of saying that Hollywood is a “profit industry”, it’s so much more than that. I have had the pleasure of working with talented people filmmakers, all cast and crew who truly LOVE what they do, the art of film making, the art of creating, the arts of telling a compelling story which is meaningful and often inspiring, I am one of those people and know many like this. Is everyone like this in any industry? TV/FILM / “Hollywood” or not? NO not every single person perhaps, there are people involved in any industry for various reasons. BUT in terms of many working in TV/FILM, many want to make a positive difference, do work one loves, creating brilliant stories that make a difference, a positive inspiring difference in many cases, there are plenty of those people in Hollywood, I am one of them. As with any industry, some get involved with industries, i.e. TV/FILM for the “profit” and “fame” but most I know and one will find in the majority, many care about the art of film making, love their work, they care about the work, so to reduce it to a “profit industry” (thinking of it in the absolute “only” sense) I think does a great disservice to categorize it as that. Of course, it’s not absolute in that respect at all. In terms of why most people get involved as directors, producers, talent in all capacities, it’s because Hollywood is full of creative, brilliant, passionate people who truly love and care about their work. That caring is from within, to use one’s gifts and talents to do inspiring work with creative, talented often inspiring people. Speaking of Hollywood as a business, sure for investors to invest in a film again (or initially), they want to know (at least feel confident) that there is a substantial return on investment (or going to be) and, then more films can be made, supported by the same group of people, various groups of people who get behind various films. The investors are needed to bring a screenplay to an actual production and to afford that cost in many instances (sometimes filmmakers fund their own work/crowd fundraising has been successful for some big budget films), and then all involved of course want the production to be a success on all levels, but would NOT say that the “audience” comes before the art in the majority of cases. There are too many people in Hollywood, who truly care about producing good work, across the board, cast, crew and filmmakers.
To answer this question or provide more information in terms of clarity to attempt to answer this question initially posed further, the scriptwriters for example, there are many talented writers who want to write a good no GREAT, and amazing, engaging, and often compelling and / or inspiring stories. They are not thinking about the audience, they are thinking about their work, writing a story that others will take interest in (yes but so much more than that, so much more), and the “others” aren’t the audience (directly at the concept stage and writing too for the writers, they are story tellers, also of course who want to tell their story very well, they are honoring the first member of the audience, themselves to excel in writing an amazing script). There are the production companies they could option their script to once finished, or in some cases screenwriters want to produce their own screenplay or already have a production company in mind to work with directly. Think of Orsen Welles with Citizen Kane going back to 1941, he wanted to write a good story, which contains so many facets, he was given creative freedom, across the board and that film is known to most as one of the best films ever made. What was everyone thinking about, Welles and his cast and crew, making a good, quality production. That is a focus on the art not the audience. Unless you count them, technically everyone involved in the film making process, everyone from the screenwriter forward is a member of the audience (true), if it inspires one or engages one, i.e. starting with the scriptwriter of course it has the ability to engage many!
Also, determining “what the audience wants” is pretty subjective, for example does a screenwriter find a story compelling or inspiring, and does he/she have the passion to write non stop, many hours at a time in MANY cases, to tell a story that is not important or compelling is his or her eyes, and then when it’s complete, if it’s optioned or produced by the screenwriters own contacts/production company (could be his or her own, that does happen too of course), the ones who take interest are the ones wanting to produce it, and then that passion/caring about a project/getting it made is then translated to producers. A viable business plan is put together, with some benchmark analysis of the success rate of other similar genre films, similarly rated films, similar cast, BEFORE the film has even been made to find financial support for it, so it can be made. A distributor is found, distribution occurs and then you have audience feedback. The audience’s particular reaction to the film can’t even be evaluated or looked at or realized, until the story goes from concept to script to adjustments of script to production (interpretation of the script and story realized) to distribution channels secured and identified, and only then is the audience evaluation present. Do other human beings involved in the film making process find the story interesting and compelling, then it is quite likely others will too, of course (the “rest of the audience, I am counting those making the productions, from concept, to story to post, as all are members of the audience TOO).
Star Wars was is, and always will be huge box office hit, did they know it would be? Definitely not to the extent of the film’s success.
The Fast and the Furious has created films too which have a huge following, was that known out of the gate, when the script writer put pen to the notebook and began to write (or type) NO, when going into production was it known for any highly successful film, NO not as an absolute certainty, the audience feedback, level of profitability or the coherence/potential audience engagement of a production is never known from concept through post, before it’s distributed (of course!). Sure, business plans are made to seek financial support, based on what others did for similar films, the expected audience participation/interest, the level of distribution, BUT is the audience interest really KNOWN prior to a film’s release, NO. So working in Hollywood, working on productions, from a writer, to talent, to production and now with my music / dance troupe pilot(and web series, yes doing both) my directorial debut, I know my reason for getting involved in this industry in the first place is for the love of writing, the love of creating, the love of the craft of acting, working with other talented, brilliant people who love their work, and there are many more who are involved for profound reasons which have nothing to do with profitability, it’s love of one’s work, creating compelling and often inspiring stories. Do you have people involved in Hollywood who care only about the profits, I think it’s few and far between that this is the only motivation for the great majority. Many find the process of film making engaging, motivating and immensely worthwhile. Many enjoy and love their work and the art of storytelling/film making. Hollywood may be profitable at times (of course, obvious), immensely profitable at times, but the people I know and that's many, care about the work, the art of film making. Hollywood is often not profitable for all of the films (again of course) there are many worthwhile films, yet they don’t yield a big return (or any return) on investment, that’s many films which not profitable (or immensely profitable) and still films are made (and desired to be made), stories are told (desired to be told), many hours spent to create an engaging quality production from the moment the screenwriter begins to tell the story. Does the screenwriter even know if his script will be made into a film? Of course that is the hope, is that guaranteed NO, so he/she is definitely not focused on the audience, they are focused on the story. For the directors/producers they are still happy they did a film, completed it and when it’s quality, a positive experience too (all concerns) , and even if not immensely profitable most work to keep making more films, learning even more for next time for all involved to continue their love for the art of film making, and the creating compelling, engaging and often inspiring stories. Not always but for the great majority, in Hollywood productions and productions filmed by every talented, intelligent, passionate group of filmmakers (cast and crew), from story concept to post, the art of love for the art of film making/storytelling comes first and takes precedence. Only then this is conveyed to an audience.
The Hollywood community from the screenwriter, to the director(s), producer(s) gaffer, to set designer, to the actor, etc those involved working in the industry do it for the love of film making/storytelling/the actual work/love of the work. One of the industries which does need financial support, investors/effective distribution/crowdfunding (where the audience does get involved, some films lend themselves for this, some don’t both can equally viable to be made) yet it’s based on wanting to create engaging, quality productions from people who love their “jobs.” An industry based on talent, hard work, often left brain / right brain at work simultaneously by the same person in many cases to tell stories and bring them to audiences, of course every filmmaker wants the audience to say “that was amazing and engaging” etc but those involved in the process care about the process and the result.
Hollywood for the great majority is an industry based on art from those of us working in every capacity needed in creating the story and making the film and engaged in the art of storytelling. Profitability is needed/desired also from those seeking outside support from investors (of course), and then more compelling hopefully often compelling/engaging films can be made/stories can continue to be told. Also in media/films in this case, there is a responsibility felt by many who realize the power of media which can inspire and promote positivity and there are definitely many who do care about perpetuating inspiring, uplifting productions which can in turn affect positive change in the world, compassion / love / overcoming struggles and continuing to shine for example, those are choices to perpetuate good.
Hollywood as an industry and many of my industry friends who also work in the industry, love their work (myself included of course also!!), want to create engaging productions, love the art of storytelling and the art of film making, it’s an industry built on finding brilliance in many cases, passion and dedication to one’s work, so yes the art comes first. When quality productions based on a compelling or uplifting or humorous screenplay for example come about its because of dedication of all involved (or the significant great majority...most there because love their work is my point), passion and love for the art of film making, of course the audience follows when quality productions are made.
So yeah, art comes first. Audience follows. :) Final answer. ;)