Getting the Word Out, Hollywood Style
For nearly one hundred years, the Hollywood-based entertainment industry has been perfecting methods of getting and sustaining the attention and focus of the global audience. There are principles for communicating effectively that go back to the ancient Greeks, and they can be gleaned from Hollywood's experience. Sadly, many people of religious faith tend to dismiss entertainment as frivolous or exploitive. This is muddled thinking. "Entertainment" simply refers to the effort to satisfy and engage human nature by appealing to the emotions. We have entertained whenever we have made people feel. Once we have them feeling, we can move them toward caring and thinking.
It is a mistake to not take into consideration the entertainment value of every message that we create. We who are creating political or spiritual messages should ask ourselves some of the questions that Hollywood asks, like these:
- Why will the audience care about this?
- How will we engage the audience's attention with this piece?
- What is the core, defining theme of this piece?
- What should our tone be in this message?
- How do we want the audience to feel at the end of this piece?
Take some cues from the industry that knows how to communicate strategically.
The "Big Idea" of Entertainment/Messaging
There is a fail-proof ancient Greek formula for getting and holding an audience's attention. Every communication should have what Aristotle called: Logos, pathos, and ethos. That is, there needs to be something for the mind, something for the emotions, and finally, something for the imagination.
Something for the mind—half of holding people's attention is in feeding their instinctive desire to know. Every message needs to teach something that the audience can take away and integrate into their framework and conversations. A message is meant to be carried on the winds. Hence, the speaker needs to be focused on helping the hearers become teachers. Give them examples, power ideals, and metaphors to share.
Something for the heart/emotions—Aristotle says that every effective drama either leads the audience to weep or to feel fear of evil. A message needs to be clear in its emotional tone—either sadness, or wonder, or fear or joy or terror. Then, the emotion can be heightened until the audience responds physically—with tears, or frowns or goose bumps or laughter. The audience that is feeling these things will be attentive and fully engaged.
Something for the imagination—A good message ends by causing a beginning in the hearer. A good message is a launch in the hearer. The speaker does their work and then sends the hearer off to do theirs—to brood over the full implications of the message, to apply it to their own world, to begin to foment a plan as a response.
Production value matters. That is to say, things like working microphones, a well-lit and attractive set, good hair and make-up, costuming—these all matter. Attention must be given to these so that they complement the message as opposed to distracting from it.
Rehearse. No matter how well a speaker or writer knows a topic, every message opportunity should be thoroughly strategized, structured, and rehearsed so that it looks effortless. This is a service to the audience, but also will allow the same basic message to be reframed according to the needs and situation of the hearers.
Barbara Nicolosi is a screenwriter with an M.A. in Cinema from Northwestern University. She is currently writing Fatima, Miracle and Message for Origin Entertainment. She is an adjunct professor of cinema in the Seaver Graduate School at Pepperdine University and lectures on cinema and screenwriting at universities and conferences around the world.
Barbara was the Founding Director, and is now the Chair, Emeritus of the acclaimed Act One Program in Hollywood, CA. She is the co-editor of the 2006 Baker Books release Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith and Culture, and blogs at Church of the Masses.