I was rereading my most recent post — the default activity when I’m feeling bored and narcissistic — and I realized I buried the lede beneath a pile of television criticism. Wrong blog, sorry.
And that thesis keeps hankering at me. I doubt it’ll leave me alone until I do it justice so the last paragraph, once again:
The truth, if you’re a speaker addressing an audience, is that the only way to get your audience more engaged is to become, yourself, more engaging. There is no shortcut. The solution is simple but not easy and the difference between those two adjectives lies somewhere on your TiVo.
That last point — that we can and should be imitating our favorite entertainers — is the most important.
I’ve led story development meetings. I’ve sat at a table with four other writers, a character to kill, and no way to kill him.
I’ve sat in front of my computer with a concept to teach and no idea how to make it engaging, new, or fun.
The two experiences are, in their intents and purposes and agony, completely the same.
Frustratingly, the solutions are also the same. You maintain a huge base of inspiration, reading and watching the absolute best of the field whenever you can. But come your turn, you just sit, fingers poised above keys. You sit and you agonize and you reject cheap solutions without pity.
Too contrived. He’d never go into that warehouse without questioning that witness first. Too boring. They’ve seen it taught this way before. The audience’ll never buy this. My students are gonna hate this.
And then it hits you — this idea that satisfies all these criteria, which you can also put together in the four days before principal photography begins or in the twelve hours before the first bell rings.
Right now — May — we’re in the second or third season of a show which started out great but which will, if its writers aren’t obsessed with quality, devolve into tedious wheel-spinning.
I’m talk about Lost. I’m talking about 24. I’m talking about the same repulsive opener-lecture-classwork cycle spinning day-in and day-out. Handouts upon handouts.
The advantage you and I both share is a gallery of greatness on the Internet and on television. Great, engaging characters from which we can pull mannerisms and dialect. Great, engaging examples of how not to bore an audience of millions, from which we oughtta be able to pull some tricks to enliven our audience of mere dozens.
The advantage I share with a smaller crowd — mostly my filmmaking colleagues — is that I bore myself long before I bore my students. Audience disengagement terrifies me and that fear propels me towards better teaching like a starving carnivore into a herd.
I wish for you that fear.