Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Responsibilty to the Audience

My new laptop is up and running and I'm in the slow process of digging through old file back-ups to restore myself to my fomer disorganized glory. So intermittent posting returns at last to StarkRavingAdventure.com and hopefully, my other blogs. So here goes...

My recent online reading has put me in a responsibility frame of mind. There are many levels of responsibility writers and creators come up against in their.

Let's start with Neil Gaiman, author of DC Comics highly successful Vertigo Sandman comic series and books like American Gods and Coraline, the source for this season's animated, 3-D movie.

Author Neil Gaiman.

Gaiman is one of those writers who manages to maintain an impressive web presence for his readers while still getting an incredible amount of work done. But being available to your fans can be a messy business. It's difficult not to get drawn into discussions and try to convince people why a choice you made or the show required is right and their bad or worse, dismissive, opinion of it is wrong!

That's a no-win situation. For every question you answer, a host of accusations and follow-up questions are hurled at you. Often with a increasing level of invective and blame.

For every creator like Greg Beeman, a director and producer on Heroes who's behind the scenes blog was a popular destination for fans of the show until he was.. er, let go, there are twenty creators who avoid being drawn into discussions of the work. It often ends up with writers feeling like they have to defend things the fans don't like, even though there are likely dozens of story and production reasons things went the way they did.

You don't win those conversations. Blogcritics had a terrific post by Diane Kristine Wild last year that explored the problem from the perspective of showrunners at the Banff Television special.

Martin Wood, currently executive producing and directing the upcoming science fiction show Sanctuary, reflected on the number of fansites and social networks his previous series, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis, spawned. "You learn that the majority of your audience is not responding on those things," he warned in our interview. "So a relatively small number of people are being very loud about what they want. If you respond to it the way you think you should, it's not necessarily the best thing for the show."

House writer David Hoselton echoed those comments during his festival session on the craft of writing in response to an audience member question. "(House creator) David Shore doesn't care about what people say on the Internet. He doesn't want to hear it; he doesn't want to know about it. He doesn't want to pander to that audience, whatever it is. The idea is that out of an audience of 20 million, I don't know what that represents, half a million or something like that? He wants nothing to do with it."

However, Hoselton confessed he has to browse forum comments the day after his own episodes air, sifting through the "three pages on Chase's pants" to find the insightful ones... until he has to back away when they turn into online fights. Still, "there are these incredibly intelligent, observant people who catch every mistake you could possibly make," he laughed.

I love it. Hoselton embodies that need to please all writers have and the creative confidence (or arrogance) we require to do our job when he admits to avoiding the discussion but still trolling the forum for feedback and praise.

In his recent post, Entitlement Issues..., Gaiman responds to Gareth, a fan of writer George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books who is annoyed to find Martin blogging while he's waiting breathlessly for the next book. Gareth asks Gaiman...

1) Does an author have a greater responsibility to write his book than blog and well, have a life?

2) What responsibility does Martin to a reader to finish his dang story. Is it unrealistic to think Martin is letting his reader's down?

Gaiman's response is priceless.
My opinion....

1) No.

2) Yes, it's unrealistic of you to think George is "letting you down".

Look, this may not be palatable, Gareth, and I keep trying to come up with a better way to put it, but the simplicity of things, at least from my perspective is this:

George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.

This is a useful thing to know, perhaps a useful thing to point out when you find yourself thinking that possibly George is, indeed, your bitch, and should be out there typing what you want to read right now.
Gaiman goes on to state that Martin has met his commitment by producing the Song of Ice and Fire books that are already out. Gareth paid his money for those books and got his money's worth. He liked the books enough to want more. While he waits and hopes for the next book to appear, he should essentially "get a life".

A Song of Ice and Fire images from

In short, readers, viewers and fans need to take responsibility for themselves. They can chat up the show and hope for more or disagree with directions. But ultimately, getting to watch a show that engages them so much is the extent of their contract with the creators. Anything else is gravy, and completely up to the people involved.

Similar posts pop up from time to time on television writer Denis McGrath's blog, Dead Things On Sticks. The most notorious are insightful posts on fan fiction (as well as an interview about his views on CBC Radio's blogcast, Spark. Download it here.) and his must-read Emily Post's Guide to Save Our Show Campaigns.

The fans who comprise Hardcore Nerdity seem to keep the conversation on a level of appreciation and real discussion. They are one of my main stops for Sci-Fi news and geek speak now. They take responsibility for what they post and are generally an intelligent, polite, if extremely opinionated bunch.

In return, writers take responsibility to write the best freakin' script or book they can under whatever the circumstances happen to be. That means, you write the best thing you can, while taking into account producer notes, budget, time constraints and story requirements, et al.

That's the only true contract between artist and fans.

Next time we get a bit more personal with responsibility to ourselves and to our art.

Live the adventure.