Michael Showalter on Why Filmmakers Have to Take Care of Their Audiences

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Left to right: Karen McCullah, Michael Showalter, Michael Weber, and Vulture's Bilge Ebiri. Photo: Getty Images

Writer/director Michael Showalter (They Came Together, Wet Hot American Summer) says he's experienced the occasional audience backlash to his films (he thought Stella was “super mainstream” at first), but he and fellow screenwriter Michael Weber (The Fault in Our Stars, (500) Days of Summer) agree: Considering the audience is a crucial part of their creative process. Read on to see what they told the crowd at Vulture Festival’s Screenwriters Roundtable at Milk Studios Saturday morning.

Michael Showalter: I do think about the audience as an abstract concept, not as an indicator of how well something will do. So when I’m working on scripts, I’m actually constantly referencing the audience. In fact, I’m always putting myself in the place of the audience. I’m always going, "Okay, me, the audience member, are going to see blank." So when I’m trying to work I’m actually trying to be in the mind-set of the audience member who doesn’t know anything and that has never taken anything for granted.

Michael Weber: Scott [Neustadter] and I are the same way. We’re constantly, at every moment, we’re outlining or we’re writing, like, "Wait a second, [what] is the audience gonna be thinking in this moment or feeling?"

Showalter: Exactly.

Weber: But in terms of the audience before we start something, for us, we’re just fans of the movies. The first question I ask before I consider anything is, would I go see this? Would I go see this this weekend? That’s the first test because I want to go to the movies more. There’s just not always things I want to see, or I’ve seen everything I wanted to see. So it’s, would I go see it? And then the version we would want to go see. 

Showalter: There’s also the concept of taking care of the audience. In other words, there is no movie without an audience. Movies don’t exist unless there’s someone there to watch them. So they’ve given you their trust. They’ve given you their time. So it’s like, are we taking care of them? Are we giving them, because we collectively lose ourselves when we’re going, so you have to constantly be carrying them as you’re going or else you get that moment that we all hate, when we go to see a movie or a play or anything we don’t like, where we go, "I’m me again. I’m back in reality and that took me out of this, and now I’m pissed off and I want my money back."