Everything you write, whether you are conscious of it or not, will have a target audience. On a grand level, writing a script means that you want to express your emotions and ideas through characters and plot within a dramatic/comedic context. And writing a script means that you want people to see it; you want an audience to enjoy your creativity. It is rare to find someone who writes screenplays as a hobby. The lure of the big and the small screen means that people who write scripts, want them to be seen!
If you’re lucky to have a script picked up for development, one of the first bits of feedback you’re likely to get is regarding the audience. Who’s it for? Will they get it? In TV in particular stories will be shaped in an effort to satisfy the demands and expectations of the target audience, thus keeping the advertisers and commissioning editors from having sleepless nights.
Writing with the audience in mind can be counter-productive. If too much second-guessing and dumbing down is being done, then the script is going to lose its credibility and appeal. In these cases, the writer (or development team) is trying to be too specific in catering for an audience’s taste, and ends up giving them ‘safe’ or ‘predictable’ stories that don’t exactly challenge, inspire or entertain. With this in mind, it’s important to differentiate ‘what an audience wants’ and ‘what an audience expects’.
For example, an audience WANTS to see a good horror film so their EXPECTATIONS are that they’ll be scared, disgusted and riveted. They don’t expect to see the same old characters and scenarios going through the usual clichés of false scares and predictable outcomes. But producers, execs and editors will want to feel confident that they’re going to hit their target audience, so they might encourage (or force) a writer to implement the typical routine of shock and plot.
English Dave has been talking about this recently. Demographics, or demon-graphics as he likes to call them. Here’s how they break down:
Grade A is upper middle class. Higher managerial, adminsitrative or professional occupations.
Grade B is middle class. Intermediate managerial, administrative or professional occupations.
Grade C1 is lower middle class. Supervisory or clerical, junior managerial, admin or professional.
Grade C2 is skilled working class. Skilled manual workers.
Grade D is working class. Semi and unskilled manual workers.
Grade E is those at the lowest level of substinence. State pensioners or widows, casual or lowest grade workers.
Then, these groups are clubbed together, the most common being ABC1, but are broken down into different age groups, like
(ABC1) 15-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, 65+.
I suppose this blog has a target audience (aspiring or graduate screenwriters, ABC1 15-34, perhaps) but I certainly never like to think of it in this way.
Generally, demographics and target audiences are the worry for advertisers and execs. Don’t let it drag you down, the eager writer. You may have to accommodate notes from the execs that skew towards the target audience but some of this may be helpful, too. After all, no-one’s out to purposefully ruin a story or scupper a success.
I had a meeting about a TV project recently and the guy immediately brought up audience concerns but it really helped to focus on some of the weaknesses of the pitch, and how it could be improved. Take everything on board and weigh up all sides but ultimately stick to your own conviction on how you think the story should be told.
By the way, I've got an article in the latest issue of Scriptwriter Magazine (they haven't updated their site yet), so if you find yourself in a nearby Borders, then be sure to check it out!