The Smell of Things

On a recent vacation, my preschool-aged daughter protested (at length) the unfamiliar smell of her hotel pillow. Nothing like her pillow that we had left behind. Not at all what she had expected. A similar concern in films has piqued my interest.  How much we should meet an audience’s expectations in a screenplay? Should we give them what they want?

A couple of independent films I saw at the Austin Film Festival this week left major issues unresolved, leaving the audience perplexed. In one, the director allowed characters to finally meet for an anticipated face-off, but failed to show the resolution of their encounter. The director, in attendance, said 1) He felt there was no good outcome to the confrontation, and 2) He did not want to deliver what was expected to the audience.

Now, through my improv training and experience onstage, I have learned to give the audience what they want to see. Only in a new or creative way. If a show is leading to a confrontation, I know the audience wants to see that conflict occur. It’s almost like the audience “smells” what’s ahead, and they don’t wish to be disappointed. That’s why I think a film audience deserves a resolution if there is a build-up to it in the movie. I just want the scene to be done in a fresh, non-clichéd way or with a twist. That could be through story line, dialogue, action, camera work, or editing. I don’t have a problem with cliffhangers per se, but I suppose I want a resolution if it feels promised. Sometimes if a film doesn’t deliver a resolution, it feels like a contract has been broken.

So back to my daughter’s disappointment. Since she missed that favorite pillow so much, I’ve decided to take it along for the next trip. Her expectations, much like a movie audience’s, are pretty simple and predictable. I feel like they may as well be satisfied.

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