The Question : Audiences

I sent the following question to a number of friends and acquaintances who work in a variety of different disciplines. As the answers come in, I will add them below. In addition I posted this on http://www.zefrank.com where there are some excellent responses from the community.

"When you make things with an audience in mind, do you have internal representations of that audience to help guide you in the process? Are you in dialogue with a cast of proto-audience members that somehow represent different facets of your perceived audience? Are there little homunculi that provide editorial voices different from your own? Do you interact with them verbally or do you bounce things off of some sort of an emotional surface? Did some sort of averaging form them or were they inspired by particular moments of feedback? Do they have a shape? How would you describe their points of view? What do they look like? Do they have names? Are there ones you trust more than others? Are there ones you avoid?"

:: Ze

Cory Arcangel

My audience is usually kinda 2 (ish) people.  A 15 year video game nerd who's bedroom is filled up with video game systems, computers, and flatscreens.  But also, he is a LINUX wiz, and likes slashdot, and spends all day surfing the internet and sending dumb Jpegs he finds to his friends over IM.  Maybe even he is a beginner perl scripter.  Also, my audience consists of his mom.  She has never even touched a computer, and actively thinks they are ruining whatever was left of healthy personal interaction in today's society.  She also happens to be a hyper critical contemporary art expert who is really into the fringes of contemporary art.  You know,.... art about art about art. Serious business.  The problem with the 15 year old is he has no attention span, no interest in art, and likes techie stuff just cause it is techie, and the problem with his mother is that she has too much interest in art, thinks too much about everything, and cant stand even the look of computers.  These two pretty much sum up my daily confusion.

:: Cory is an artist. More can be found at http://www.beigerecords.com/cory/.

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Brandon Bell

I have to say that when I first received your questions, I thought I knew my response immediately...but the more I thought about it, the less correct my first impression seemed to be.
 
Initially it felt as though I had to answer YES yes yes, that I do in fact have a host of internal voices to guide, or critique, my work from the start. The more I considered it, though, the more I realized that I have to try very hard to ignore them at least through the early stages of the design process. It seems that something I've always struggled with is not to allow them in too early: to give them access too soon dilutes my thought process and the creative process in general.
 
I've always believed fairly strongly in the idea of appropriateness: in music to mood or occasion, in humor to situation (well, sorta), in design to context and audience. I enjoy different things at different times. I rarely have a favorite ANYTHING. For me it all depends on time & place & relationship. Then there's the beauty of the brainstorm. To evaluate too soon is to potentially kill something that could be made to work beautifully. In embryonic stages it's incredibly helpful for me just to let it all gush...
 
Your questions made me realize something that I've been only partially conscious of for a long time: that the times I've internally fought the most with a project are exactly the times I've been battling off these voices...of the client, of fellow designers, of the audience. They're drowning me out, and that makes it tough to be, well, creative. Obviously.
 
My love of the particular aesthetic usually has little to do with how proud I am of a particular work--it's generally more about the solution and its appropriateness. To me that's beautiful. I love it--I sincerely do--when something works really well for a client, when it all simply gels and a year later they're still thanking me for the job that was done and how well it performed for them. I know I did my job exceedingly well. Great stuff.
 
I do let the voices in, but I have to make sure that it's later on in the process--when it's time to figure out the details of precisely how the audience will use The Thing. But it's only then--after I've gotten the scattered ideas out, after I've put a bunch of bigger strokes on the canvas--that i can allow them their voices and give them access to the system.
 
I do actually think that people in my life have become idealized representations of certain audience members (whose influence I'm occasionally acutely aware of): like the smart, conservative scientist who is curiously unable to interface with much of technology (my father); the trendy fashionista who is a complete design snob (a creative director friend); the southerner who views anything too slick with suspicion (everyone i grew up with, and possibly including me)...etc...I think I trust and value them all, but to wildly varying degrees depending on the situation. Allowed entry at the right time, I do think they help me find that uniquely appropriate solution.
 
I know I've only answered part of your barrage of queries, but I'm going to stop now. But thanks for forcing me to think through this aspect of my process...

:: Brandon is a designer. More can be found at http://www.design-o-matic.com/.

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Stefan Bucher

I’ve been thinking about my answer for the past two days in the hopes of coming up with something funny and strange to make you smile. It would be easy to claim a small peanut gallery in my head that comments on my thoughts as they emerge. I’m sure I could cook up a whole little series of character studies. But that’s not how it works.

The main voice in my head is the Big Supervisor who basically looks at everything I do and says “Well... that’s stupid! Jeez! That’s the best you can do?” My main job is to distract that guy. That’s why I work nights. That’s why I pile deadline upon deadline. It’s all to keep my inner censor distracted, so I can work without feeling embarrassed.

Once the work is done, my inner critic may still reject the result, but more often than not the reaction is “Huh. M’eh. That’s nice enough. You did all that while I was away? Hm. OK. Well, let me see if I can find somebody to print it.”

I try very hard not to project an audience reaction. Whenever I try, I’m usually wrong. Forget about attempting to tailor a piece to achieve a particular reaction that’s separate from my own. That NEVER works. (I suspect that some shows are produced that way. “Give them another hour of people eating bugs for money. It makes me gag, but the peasants will love it.”) All I can do is make things that make me happy. When I get the work to that point, I’m lucky that a few other people will usually enjoy the results, too.

My main goal is to be unselfconscious. Usually the only way I can fully get there is to watch TV or movies by myself and completely disengage. Only input, no output. Which is very relaxing, because there is no possibility of failure or embarrassment.* But that’s not the way to get through life, obviously.

Starting the monsters with a random ink blob was a conscious attempt at taking self-censorship out of the equation for the initial germ of the drawing. When X is a random number. I can relax and simply trust my facilities to balance the equation around it.

When I give talks it’s a little bit different in that I have to put myself in the audience’s position to see if I’m making sense to the point where somebody can follow what I’m saying. But I try to dispense with that part as quickly and simply as possible. I’m trying to get out of my head, not deeper into it.

I do talk to myself pretty consistently when I’m alone. The back and forth is very close to the stereotypical cartoon devil and angel on my shoulders. It’s definitely a verbal interaction.

The emotional surface doesn’t become useful to me until I’ve put it into some sort of verbal structure, until I’ve found the right metaphor for the situation at hand. I’ve found this a lot easier to do in English than in my native German. I don’t think it has anything to do with the dimensions of either language per se. I think it goes back to the fact that I chose English, that it’s MY language vs. an inherited operating system with all kinds of buggy heritage code. This OS I picked out. I installed it myself, so I have a better idea how to use it to do what I need it to do.

There is, I’m sure, a fair bit of hiding from the past involved here. Creating workarounds for flaws in my hardwiring. Reinvention. Maybe some sort of psychic bill will come due one day, but it’s made my life a hell of a lot more fun in the meantime.

None of this is very poetic or offers anything new in terms of your core question, I fear. But that’s what came to mind.

:: Stefan is a designer and illustrator. More can be found at http://www.344design.com.

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Paul Budnitz

This may sound utterly strange, but I don't really design with an imaginary group of customers or critics floating around in my head.

What I do is I look at the thing that I'm working on at this moment, and I think of all of the similar things out there in the world that I think are awesome, and I say to myself, "is this thing that I made at least that awesome?"

So, for example, I just finished approving the design for a new Kidrobot store (I realize this isn't a product, but I just did this this afternoon so I'm using it as a fresh example). The new store is going to have to be pretty awesome, and when I look at the design I think of all the other awesome stores I love.

For example, I particularly love the Stella McCartney store on 14th in the Meat Packing district in NYC. So I ask myself, is my new store as awesome as Stella McCartney's store? Absolutely. Is it more awesome? Could be.

Does it suck as much as an American Apparel store? No.

Does it suck as much as the shopping mall that David Rockwell is designing out on the New Jersey marshland? Absolutely not.

Is the interior as totally rad as the Freeman Sporting Club store & barber shop over on Freeman's Alley on the Lower East Side? Might be.

Anyway, I kind of play this game with myself, back and forth, until I'm sure the design has reached a kind of "total radness", and has avoided a certain level of "suckiness". Then I ask a lot of the people I work with, in this case including Harry Allen, the architect, what they think. And then we're done.

One problem with me, if it's a problem at all, is that I really don't know how to get into someone else's head. The reason is, I just don't experience people as being "average". I like people too much. So how could I come up with an "average" customer in my head? I don't even watch TV. I never even saw "Cheers" or "Seinfeld" (really) except once on JetBlue. So how the hell am I supposed to know what average people think?

Instead I just assume that if the toys, clothing, retail stores, nightclubs, snowboards, etc. that I design are at least as amazing as the toys, clothing, retail stores, nightclubs, snowboards that I really love and know are effective, then I've created something that is objectively worthwhile, I am done with my job, and I can move on.

:: Paul is the founder and owner of Kidrobot, a programmer, an artist, and a filmmaker. More can be found at http://www.paulbudnitz.com/

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Gary Carter

I suppose the obvious question is what you mean by audience. I don't make my (art, as opposed to television or electronic) work with an audience in mind, not in the sense that the final audience is made up of people in the dark (or more usually in my work, in the light), watching, listening, talking back, feeling, walking out, dozing off. It's not FOR people in that sense, it's a compulsion which floats free of my control. The making of my work - whatever the subject or form - is, however, always at least in part about my training as an actor, or to put it more clearly, an argument with the style of naturalism (or realism) in both performance style and daily life. In that sense you could say that the audience, in the most private sense, the most (ahem) neurotic sense, for my work is either Professor Mavis L Taylor, my (late) and very formidable acting teacher, and Constantin Stanislavsky. Or perhaps Anton Chekov. But I wouldn't address them. What, you think I'm weird?

:: Gary is a playwright, actor, director, President of FremantleMedia Creative Networks & Chief Creative Officer, FremantleMedia New Platforms

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Allan Chochinov

I'd like to address this question from the designer's point of view. Design training--indeed, much of design practice--is predicated on imagining the "user" and trying accommodate her of him. An enlightened view for sure, but this "user-centered design" can be a bit of a straight-jacket, landing you in a syllogistic trap without any new information entering into the equation. One could argue that the feelings, frustrations and frictions of the user do constitute new information of course, but lots of us see this as due diligence, and a required, but not sufficient amount of stimulus to provide real design innovation. (Sorry to use that word.) It is here that your "imagined audience" can often come into conflict with the imaginings of the designer, and where your question of conjuring (or vanquishing) an imagined user becomes a central one: Lead or follow? Serve or direct? Comfort or subvert? Placate or persuade? My personal feeling is that a good designer is able to keep the imagined (and hopefully researched) audience front of mind at certain stages in the design process, but then be able to turn them off at other stages, allowing the designer's vision, passion, and muse to take center stage. All cliches, those, but you'd be surprised how often they get back-burnered by a short-sighted client or set of focus-group data. Alas, for designers then, "the imagined audience" is both blessing and curse.

:: Allan Chochinov is a partner of Core77, where he serves as the editor-in-chief of Core77.com, and strategist for Coroflot.com and DesignDirectory.com.

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Jonathan Coulton

Most of my thinking about the audience has a censoring effect on what I'm doing, which is maybe why I usually try very hard not to think about the audience. They kind of mess me up.

For me it's mostly about the guy who really wants the next song to be about Firefly, or Deep Space 9, and is a little disappointed when it turns out to be a song about Lady Aberlin instead. He's about 35, kind of pasty, maybe he wears a cape and does SysAdmin work somewhere. I don't think this came from any specific moment of feedback, it's more about knowing which of my songs have become "the hits." I know that many people would like to have the next Code Monkey or Re: Your Brains. I would too, frankly, but it doesn't always happen that way. So I can't really pay attention to this guy, otherwise I'd just feel bad about the stuff I was writing most of the time.

The one helpful dude (maybe?) is the guy who's always listening for something that sounds like another part of another song I wrote, and pointing it out when it happens. This guy definitely comes from a few comments I got over the course of Thing a Week, when occasionally I'd unintentionally steal from myself. Very easy to do when you're writing in the same key and tempo as another song, and you only have a tiny bag of tricks on the guitar. "That riff sounds kind of like the one from SkyMall," he says, not really meaning it in a critical way, just helpfully pointing it out. I definitely listen to him, though sometimes he doesn't notice until it's too late. And sometimes I tell him to shut up, it's not that similar, and anyway music is all about theft.

On a good day, the real positive, driving forces in my process are the characters in the songs. Usually in the early stages of a song I'm fishing around for this voice - it's almost like I have a little shapeless puppet doing improv in my head, spewing all this stuff out until some of it starts to stick together and make sense. And the more he comes into focus, the more easily he's able to speak on his own. Until, in the ideal case, writing the song is just about letting him talk about his circumstance.

:: Jonathan is a musician and songwriter. More can be found at http://www.jonathancoulton.com/

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Kirby Ferguson

I don't get much feedback at all before I do something. I bounce ideas off my wife and sometimes make revisions, but the essence of things doesn’t change much.

This might sound goofy, but I think it's all about love. You have to love the thing you do, and if it's not loved, the person watching or listening or eating or wearing what you make will sense that. And someone else can't help you choose what you love.

Nowadays most everyone is trying to target and serve an audience, but, to me, it seems the people with the most compelling voices are the ones who are clearly their own audience.

:: Kirby is a videoblogger and film maker. More can be found at http://goodiebag.tv/

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Jay Grandin

I've been staring at this email for some time, and every time I begin to write I realize that I'm full of shit. My background is in industrial design, which is a field that seems to carry a certain arrogance about relevance of a user's opinion. You're taught in design school that you're there to teach users how to sit, how approach canned food differently, or how to challenge their notion of ascension... not that you're there to give them a chair, a can-opener, or a staircase. So, even within that user-centered field, I find myself keeping the user (in any real sense) at arms length; it's easier to justify a design failure by deciding that they just don't get it than to admitting that it's the wrong solution to their problem, or the wrong problem to address in the first place.

When I started making video content, I created for an audience of my friends which had a very real face, and a very real dialog (sense of accountability?). When the audience grew significantly, the most interesting thing that happened was that, initially, it lost a face entirely for me. In a way, it was freeing; I felt like it didn't matter what I said or did because it wasn't intended for the real dialog around me (again, accountability), it was for out there.

Now, a year later, it's different. I've said, and done, enough things on video to get my share of angry emails from previously faceless people that I have genuinely offended... and others from those that I've genuinely touched by doing the same thing. There's a moment of t he looking glass self every time that happens (I really am funny, or I really am a douche bag)... each of those creates another little homunculus to hang out and reek havoc the next time I open my mouth... They don't have faces, but the have profile photos, and sometimes and email address.

Maybe it was easier looking at the world (and work) through the eyes of a designer :)

:: Jay is a filmmaker and designer. More can be found at http://www.jaygrandin.com/

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Imogen Heap

It's taken me 2 weeks to finally put fingers to keypad, as there are these other people in my head, a whole different set, who believe I'm not interesting enough to start with to even be commenting. Then they got me to go have a look at your website and see what anyone else may have already said and convinced me I should wait even longer, until I'd thought of something to say. I know this isn't the group I should be focusing on but they are always trying to bully out the other gang who are interested in musically what I'll come up with rather than how they can get me to avoid making it in the first place. I've never thought about this before, so thank you Ze for the question.

I've been thinking... annoyed with myself that I didn't have this imaginary audience in my own head theatre, simply waiting for the next performance to boo or appraise me as I came up with each idea in the making.

But actually...now, something is emerging...as I enter the door on this smokey venue. I realize I've actually been here many times before. I've seen my mum and dad quite often in the front few rows. Bizarrely my dad's into rollerblading and he's always asking me to come up with something he can get them to put on at the rollerink! It's quite scary the little things people can say in passing and how they affect the way I write. My mum had always fancied me as a cellist so when I'm writing string parts I wonder how she would rather them be sometimes. There are those in my day to day living, hanging out at the back, drifting in and out. They just natter until I do something really cool, then they buy me a drink. There's a big seat, many times wider than all the rest where this big wobbly bubble sways from side to side. These are the people who check out my blogs, come to gigs, the ones who actually like the music I make sit. I do like to keep them happy. They get popcorn, and some time with me after the show. Here in my head theatre I can tell when people are lying. There's always a guy there who's written a bad review about my last gig or album (whether justified or not) and his previous comments will have been taken straight to heart and be shaping the way I write. Sad I know. It's creatively very debilitating and sometimes I just can't ignore him and put him out my mind. There's also the streams of pedestrians going about their daily lives just outside. The stage door is ajar and you're trying to make every second of the music intriguing incase that's the one they hear and will hopefully pop their head in for a better look.

The success of a certain song, namely "Hide and Seek", has more than anything shaped the way I write now. I was being completely self indulgent on that one in the studio. No beats, no instruments other than my voice with seemingly nonsensical lyrics. The freedom it's given me creatively is in the warmth the song has received. The big OK from everyone that I can do exactly what I feel like when it comes to song writing. Perhaps as a result of not being too preoccupied into what my audience will make of it, allowed me to come up with something verging on truly original. On this one I actually had no- body in my head, other than the people I was writing it about and how I would actually like them to experience it. There...I think I just hit a nail on it's head...there's always a section reserved for the characters in the story I'm telling. Yeah...that's a biggie.

There are those in there too who think I'm quite funny, my manager for one, which perhaps is one of the reasons why i've been with him for over 10 years now... I want to see his eyes looking up to the ceiling and his smile wide. Sometimes a little shocked and perhaps a tiny bit embarrassed for me but loving it nonetheless. Then there's well...me. If i'm at the back pounding the air with my fists, jumping about from the brilliance of it all, then I'm happy. There is an audience but If I'm honest I'm basically just trying to get them to come around to my way of thinking rather than try to second guess what each of them wants in turn. Trying to coax them into liking that bass line, or that mbria section by moulding it until the general feeling in the room is that of total content. At the end of the day... it is about making me feel good and hopefully in doing so...a few others will too.

I don't really like my answer. I just read it back. I am so selfish! I must balance it out in the outer studio reality, maybe i'm quite generous in other areas. It's also not very nice to refer to my loving fans as a "blob" but I didn't mean it in bad way. It's just, there's quite a few now and i see them as an loving energy rather than thousands of individual people. Like a big hug or something.

Writing is such a hard thing to quantify because the process is so insular. Huge ups and downs. Ugh..Hours go by when your head's on the keyboard or staring longingly at the computer screen that something half decent will magically appear. Guy (sigsworth) was in there for quite a while after Frou Frou. Almost perched on my shoulder. He still drifts in and out as I'd love him to be into whatever I was doing. In there too would be whoever's music I just heard or passage I just read that's pulled me from the sludge of my brain with a burst of creative energy and clarity.

When I was younger, in my theatre, this feeling would visit me quite often. It was born from a waking dream I had when i was 9 in bed sweating, after having gulped down a few mouthfuls of our lovely coastal waters a couple of hours before (was attempting to body board). I was in a room. An average sized white perfect cube of a room with no doors or windows. I was in the middle. Rolling, slowly along the perimeter of the room I became aware of a tiny black ball bearing hugging the walls. Very very small. Over the course of what seemed like a few hours I realized it was getting ever so slightly larger each time it made a lap. Inevitably, the size of the ball grew to a huge mass and as there was not enough space for the both of us, It was now chasing me around the room. Eventually we both broke out of the dream and it followed me down the stairs into the sitting room where my parents were. I was screaming for this thing to get away from me. Couldn't hear mum or dad but they were shouting at me to snap out of it. Eventually....somewhere in all of that, I came to...but the feeling of the big metal ball stayed with me every time I got nervous or insecure. Not a nice thing really. Until one time, when I was writing something on the piano, I felt it coming toward me, behind my back. This time I played through it and the feeling became something positive and actually comforting. I don't feel it either way now.

mmm.... Now I make nice food If I can't make music. When I make good music, I don't eat well.

:: Imogen is a singer, song writer, producer and musician. More can be found at http://www.imogenheap.co.uk/

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Steven Heller

Q: When you make things with an audience in mind, do you have internal representations of that audience to help guide you in the process?

A: It depends. When I am art directing, as I did for so many years at the Ny Times Book Review, I only thought of myself. What art would I want to see on the page, who would I like to use, what will make me happy on Sunday morning. Sometimes I'd ask why I made the selection? Sometimes I would think of my colleagues in the world, and say "boy they'll be impressed." I'd wonder What would they take notice of. But rarely did I think of the reader.

When I write a book, article, or blog I do think of others. But its a totally undefined other(s). In neither case, however, does it guide the process.

This may be the difference between a designer (which I have not been for a long time) and a gadfly.

Q: Are you in dialogue with a cast of proto-audience members that somehow represent different facets of your perceived audience?

A: Not really. My dialog is usually after the fact, but has no ultimate bearing on what I do - I think.

Q: Are there little homunculi that provide editorial voices different from your own?

Not homunculi, but I do listen to my editors - a lot. And I respect their judgement often over my own.

Q: Do you interact with them verbally or do you bounce things off of some sort of an emotional surface?

A: Back to hounculi. I used to day dream about producing a book or magazine page. I'd talk to my imaginary friend about it. But, again, with no specific result.

Q: Do they have a shape?

A: They are human, and often nice to look at, but other than that quite vague, as in covered with gauze.

Q: How would you describe their points of view?

A: When I do allow them in, they are often quite critical. But surprisingly they find the criticisms I level on myself. Or maybe not surprisingly.

Q: Are there ones you avoid?

A: I'd like to avoid all my inner voices - I've yet to try drugs, but maybe soon. The thing about my books and articles is that I really don't know most of the audience. When I speak in public I meet a few of them. On the blogs however, the rules are changed. I don't know them as humans, but I do know them as Greek choruses I'd rather not know.

:: Steven Heller is author and co-author of many works on the history of illustration, typography and many subjects related to graphic design. More can be found at http://www.hellerbooks.com/

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Brian Hogg

For most shows, and most projects, and most things, I have no audience save myself in mind, but for some things, like the rant puppets and ask palpatine, I do. My consideration for them is more for the form. I suppose its something like a conversation: with dotboom, I made the show long, because I dislike trimming the show to fit the apparent attention spans of the audience. If they didn't want to sit around for that long , I didn't either. But when I was planning the other shows, I thought to do shorter form stuff, knowing more people would make it to the end, and possibly send it around. I knew shorter clips would be more popular - which was a reason I resisted doing them, initially, because I like a thing being as hard as possible - and if they were fairly self-contained, then new people would be more likely to come onboard midway through. So the restriction of the form, being a consequence of the audience I had in mind - typical web users - impacted the content. Also with the two new shows, and palpatine especially, I am actively soliciting a conversation from the viewers, which impacts my thinking greatly.

I tend to think of the restrictions of the new shows like restrictions of types of poetry, and I use the limitations imposed by the audience to see how much I can work into the things. I view it like a challenge in some ways (and advertising for my show and puppetmaking services in another).

The audience-first thinking is strange to me, as I tend not to think about it like that. Most of my stuff is a story I'm telling to someone, rather than a conversation with them.

:: Brain is a writer, puppet-maker, set builder and decorator, lighting guy, camera operator and editor. More can be found at http://www.dotboom.ca/.

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David Kaplan

Generally speaking, I try not to write with an audience in mind. For me, it's more important to please myself than it is to please some generic idea of "audience" per se. However, that said, there are a small handful of people whose opinions I hold very highly to whom I will show early drafts - both scripts and rough cuts - to elicit commentary, ideas, criticism, etc. This is an important, practical part of the process. But these are people who are carefully selected, whose aesthetic I trust, not a random group.  And it's important for me to keep it as a small group of voices - if there are too many, it becomes a cacophony of opinions all over the map and ceases to be useful.

One curious thing that happens when I give out a draft of a screenplay to one of these people to read is that they don't necessarily have to say anything at all in order for me to read it in a more critical way. Simply the fact that I know they are reading it makes me see it differently, less indulgently. It's the same with screening early cuts of films. No one has to say a word; you can feel how the film is working as you sit through it with them in a dark room.

It's important to use oneself as an "audience of one". That is, to see the screenplay as more than words on paper and actually see it unfolding as a film. I think this is what people mean when they talk of a director's "vision". You have to imagine yourself sitting in a dark theatre and watching the story play out with all the elements of film language working together: composition, color, performance, sound design, music, rhythm, flow... it's almost like a musical composition. This is an extremely important part of the process that I believe takes films up to the next level, where they are no longer just illustrating a screenplay in a generic fashion but expressing a full-fledged artistic voice.

One last thing that I find useful is what is called the "Disney" creative process. This is simply separating your mind into 3 distinct parts while going through the journey of creating something (anything). You do not allow any overlap of the parts while working in this way. The 1st part is called the "Dreamer", wherein you allow yourself free creative reign to dream up anything you desire. The 2nd part is called "Realist", where you ask yourself "how will this be accomplished in practical terms?"  And the 3rd part is "Critic", where you attack your own ideas in a critical fashion, picking them apart from every possible angle. It is critical to keep this 3rd part voice away from the 1st part voice. When you let the "Critic" in too soon, you can get frozen on your first paragraph, your first brush stroke, your first gesture... You go through this cycle of "voices" as many times as you need, always keeping them separate from one another, until the "Critic" voice has very little more to say. Then you know you're done. This method has been enormously helpful to me over the years.

:: David Kaplan is a writer, director and film maker. More can be found on the imdb.

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Karen Kohlhaas

For a long time I thought that there is a universal "human audience" that ideally will be affected similarly if the artist does the job right; in other words, that art can transcend background, class, race, nationality, gender, age, culture, prejudice, bias, personality. And sometimes you see amazing works that affect a huge variety of people in a universal way.

After many years of directing plays and seeing lots of different works though, I've experienced how often each person's unique perspective colors what they are seeing, and how all kinds of bias we aren't even aware of is present when experiencing a show/song/painting/film/poem, etc.

I have noticed that when I have pleased myself, i.e. enjoy my own work, I get the strongest response from audience, though maybe those are just the people who are the "best audience" for me. Who knows? I was taught from day one never to cater to the audience, but also to take full responsibility for what you are saying and make deliberate choices about every little factor in your control (no defaults).

So I'd say I try to 1) Take the time to develop ideas and understand what I want the piece to say/be like 2) Execute it - in collaboration with the others involved - the best ways I can and 3) Please myself in the process. Yes I think I bounce things off my own emotional/visual surface (though I do have friends take a look and give feedback at a certain stage). I think pleasing yourself is all you can do. We've all seen artists miss the mark in a big way because they were trying to please others vs. doing what they truly wanted to do.

As for homunculi, Wikipedia tells me that you make them this way: "The recipe consisted of a bag of bones, semen, skin fragments and hair from any animal, of which the chimeric homunculus would be a hybrid. This was to be laid in the ground surrounded by horse manure for forty days, at which point the embryo would form." I have not had time to try this, but I like what my friend Brian Parsons, a theater director in London says (and I like to refer to it when directing a play):

"I try to please 4 people when I make theater. 1) A blind person - the language must be taken advantage of by the actors in a way that illuminates the story for the audience just by listening to it. 2). A deaf person - the staging must tell the story clearly on a visual level and all design choices must be beautiful/effective to look at. 3) A person who does not speak the language - that person must "hear" and understand the moments and emotions between the actors without knowing what they are saying. 4) My mother, who hates most theater. If she likes it, I know I've done it right."

:: Karen Kohlhaas is a founding member of New York 's Off-Broadway Atlantic Theater Company and a senior teacher at the Atlantic Acting School. More can be found at http://www.monologueaudition.com

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Ji Lee

My creative work is divided in two parts: professional and personal. My professional work involves anything from branding, making an ad campaign, designing a book cover, to creating illustrations for magazines and newspapers. Personal work are my own projects such as the Bubble Project, the 3-D alphabet and Abstractor. 

In the professional work, there are always two constants: the client and the objective of the project which often has to do with promoting or selling something. When I get briefed on a professional project, let's say, to create a campaign to launch a museum, which was one of my recent projects, I first identify who is the audience for the campaign, then I place myself in the audience's position. This is an exercise to try understand the audience's taste and interest, so I can create an effective campaign which appeals to them, thus promoting my client's interest. In return, I get paid for my job.

The process of creation in my personal project is very different. There is no client, no commercial purpose, no deadline. In this process, I don't think about the audience. Rather, the only relevant audience is me. I am aware of the outside audience as the spectators of my creative outcome, but their opinion, taste nor interest have much influence in my creation. A lot of my personal projects tend to be intellectual rather than emotional. They are often solutions for the problems I encounter. Too many ugly ads on the street. What can I do to change this? or Our reading system is two dimensional and linear. Any way to expand its limitations? I do have dialogues with myself during this process through my thoughts. Thoughts are interesting because they are artificial. They are creations of my mind and they don't represent my true self. Sometimes they are voices of my mother, my boss, some times they are voices of NY Times articles or Youtube videos, but never my own. They represent everything which is external. In the other hand, my feelings are true me. I don't know why I feel certain way sometimes, but I still know they are real. Internal. It's me. When I'm working with my projects, I work with my thoughts rather than my emotions. So, going back to your questions, I have dialogues with many many voices inside of me. I try listening to them without ever censoring, which many times is not easy. At least I understand they have nothing to do with me.

:: Ji Lee is an artist and designer. More can be found at http://pleaseenjoy.com/.

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Taylor Mac

I think if a live performance has more than 1000 people attending it – it’s not longer theater; it’s an event. I love events but I’m primarily a theater artist (usually performing for crowds somewhere between a hundred and five hundred). Because of its small numbers theater becomes about community (the people sitting in a room that are directly effected by the players on stage and the people sitting around them). When I make work, I prefer to directly address the community that comes and I usually have a sense of who those people will be, what they’ll be interested in, and the questions that they want answered. I often don’t give them what they want (or at least not wholly) because human’s only feel emotion when they’re surprised. If you give them what they want, they won’t feel anything and what’s the point of coming to the theater to feel nothing. So that’s what I try to do, surprise my audience. My goal is to remind them of their humanity. It is my only goal. I can achieve this to greater depths if I have some kind of sense as to who the people I’m trying to surprise are.

:: Taylor is an actor, performance artist, and musician. More can be found at http://www.taylormac.net.

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Jane McGonigal

My little homunculi are more like little actors I watch through a telescope, or, no, a camera obscura. Definitely a camera obscura. They’re like shadows on a stretchy screen, people I can’t observe directly, but rather I am observing them through some contorted gathering and refracting of light. This makes sense because in my mind I’m observing them in the future interacting with my game, which doesn’t exist yet, so it feels very fragile, the scene, and my ability to see it play out. It’s important to say that I’m not *imagining* them playing my game, I’m seeing them – it’s not a hoped for scene, or a made-up scene, it’s the real scene, how the game will really come to life. I do feel as if I can see it for real, come very close to the reality of what will transpire when the game is released, because I’m channeling everything I know about the people who play my games, or who I am going to try to convince to play my games, and these are people I try to know intimately, whose lives I care deeply about.

There are specific actors in the camera obscura scenes, a kind of dramatis personae that gets bigger every time I puppet master a game. I’m basically gathering up the “star players”, the ones who explored and pushed every limit of the experience, who intimately grokked the goals of the game, who lived in the game with an intensity I could barely even hope for in the best case scenario. And I have been collecting these actors, these players, into an increasingly large and diverse dramatis personae since the first reality game I wrote in 2001. And the more of them I collect, the more diverse a community I feel I can design for, the more moving parts I can engineer, the more unexpected gameplay I can anticipate. But also, and maybe even more importantly, these dramatis personae are the people I feel will care about the game, and care FOR the game, nourish it, protect it, or kill it for its own good and rebuild it. I have to believe this dramatis personae exists, and that it exists in very large numbers, to keep going as a designer through the crunch periods, or design emergencies. or later when the critics come out during the game saying things like “someone is going to get killed” or  “this project is so fascist” or “get a life, who has time to play this crap.”

So who are the dramatis personae? I’ve never formally articulated them, but I can, as I think out loud here, I can absolutely name them. The very first one I collected is the hipster with a briefcase. He showed up to play a game I designed, the first full-blown start to finish real-world mission game I ever designed, with a team all dressed in very sharp suits, all carrying briefcases, which was totally over the top for a game and not at all necessary for a game that involved running around the streets of San Francisco doing crazy things. It was kind of an ironic gesture, enthusiastic and sincere but ironic too. But then they got one of their first missions, and all the irony dropped away when they realized that the game didn’t require a character or dress-up or role play. The game, all on its own, would invent the world for them, and they wouldn’t have time to be in character, they were going to have to marshall all their resources and pay attention and think fast and they loved it. After the game, one of the hipsters with a briefcase told me the exact moment in the game where the wall between their role and the game system fell away, it was a moment when they were failing their mission and I had to come bail them out. It was in that second of me almost chastising them as I glided by on the sidewalk, pointing to the ringing payphone they hadn’t noticed (this was in 2001, long before the I Love Bees payphones), that they were like, “Holy crap. We have to notice ringing payphones??!”

That moment of getting someone to realize the attention and open mind necessary to play these games, and the player who has that moment of insight – that’s the hipster with the briefcase. This is getting a little rambling, but let’s just say that the hipster in a briefcase is the player who comes ready for action and enthusiastic and full of ideas and who I am going to have to pull out of his or her pre-existing plan of how to be and how to act and immerse, right away, quickly and effectively, into the larger world view of the game. I like the hipster with a briefcase, I like him a LOT. But if I don’t win him over right away, he will have a very superficial experience of the game, it will be performance art instead of performance. So I think of the hipster with a suitcase and I ALWAYS try to design for him a “holy crap – we have to…?” moment.

Another set of actors, and they usually go together, are Rose and Shad0. Anyone reading this who plays ARGs will almost certainly know exactly who I am talking about, because they are actual ARG players and those are their real forum names. They are, like, archetypal alternate reality gamers. Your dream players. Frankly, they practically invented the genre themselves (along with some other archetypal players) by being these ideal gamers.

Rose is the player who kicks the community’s ass into action, who never lets a single piece of the game go unplayed, and who never lets a single player go unappreciated. I always have to believe I will have a Rose playing my game, because if I don’t, it will never come together. Ans so I also have to think as a designer about how to motivate a Rose player, how to reward a Rose player, how to empower a Rose player.  

And the Shad0 player is the story guru. The person who will treat the game like a literary work and the characters like fascinating people, and convey everything he discovers to the other players. Shad0 lets you go CRAZY with story, you can tell the most complex story in the world, because you know the Shad0 player will get it and help the others get it. You have to believe that there will be a Shad0 player, or you will be tempted to give up on the complexity of the narrative or the depth of characterization.

There’s another kind of player, who you feel lucky they play your games. In my head, I call them, well I call them by their real forum names too, so now this is quite a love letter to players I have known and loved. ^_^ But I really do hold these names in my head as I design. So, you have the Ariock players and the Pita players and Tha-jinx players and the Wisemen players, who are really smart, and interesting, and cool people that you just feel so damn lucky they are playing your game, because anything they touch is more interesting for it. They use your game to channel their own talents and smarts and skills and it makes you look good, but hopefully you take as little credit as possible because really it’s their own innate awesomeness that is coming to life in the game. And as a designer, you ask yourself, how can I be worthy of these players? How can my game give light to their talent?

There is a different kind of dramatis personae. This is the player who trusts me, and I will call him Phillip, because there is a gamer named Phillip who very much embodies this actor for me. Phillip thinks these games make his life better, they give him an opportunity to try new things, go new places, do weird stuff that he will remember for a long time, make new friends and create a really unusual bond with them. And Phillip will more or less play anything I ask him to play. I care deeply, deeply, deeply about the Phillips. I actually spend most of my time thinking about the Phillips, even though they are maybe only 10% of the player base for any particular project. I spend a lot of time thinking about them because I feel like I can be most effective designing for them. I can innovate, and it will make a difference in their lives. I can screw up, and they can find something interesting in it anyway. If it weren’t for Phillips, I wouldn’t design games at all.

I guess at the end of the day, the voices in my head as a designer are the players I have known and loved and all the people like them who I don’t know yet, but want to, who I believe are representative of more people than many think – the gamers inside us, and all that. And I could make games for them, even though I will have to convince many of them that games are something they want to invest any of their time or emotional resources in. The dramatis personae are the people I desperately want to give something interesting to, whose quality of I think I can shift just a little bit in a positive direction while they are playing the game and hopefully for long after, as the game becomes a memory that drives their out-of-game decision making and attitude toward adventure, neighborhood, life.

And I watch them play my game as I am designing it, and I see it as if it were a memory already, playing out on the camera obscura screen, and I am already nostalgiac for the game even as I invent it.  

:: Jane McGonigal is a game designer, a games researcher, and a future forecaster. More can be found at http://www.avantgame.com/.

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Rob Nadeau

I guess I have to ask myself if I even make things with an audience in mind, which immediately makes me self-conscious because if I in fact do not make things with an audience in mind then am I shirking the responsibility of the artist? or am I somehow avoiding some critical dialogue that I should be involved in? Or is there an audience at all? Am I simply making these things for myself? Then I start to think of where these types of questions are coming from. . .

I am reminded of the documentary film “The Devil and Daniel Johnston.,” in which Johnston, an artist and musician who often struggles with mental illness, at one point says or sings “there is a negative superman in my head.” Demons and antagonists of the psyche, they are pervasive, tricky and often highly destructive little things. These are the devilish homunculi that I have had to come to accept as being a part of my nature and to realize that they are not the defining voice and are merely part of a Committee in My Head that is outside the actual process of creating. Sometimes these negative supermen lead me into a space where I am overly concerned with how my work will be received, criticized, praised, etc. and I know from experience that this type of thinking leads to paralysis and inaction. But it does serve the purpose of pushing me towards frustration with having such thoughts which in turn pushes me to a place of ‘who cares what the f*** other people think. I believe in this and that’s what it is going to take if I want this piece (or show or whatever) to be meaningful and engaging.’

There are also positive homunculi that are part of the Committee and they have the ability to get me really cooking and producing in an almost altered state; they get me into the “zone.” They like music and are pretty lively in the early morning or late at night, twilight too sometimes. Basically they operate best when I and my ego step out of the way and let go, giving the reigns over completely to these little ecstatic and highly energetic mental gnomes.

For me, the creative process is routed in a routine of action, a ritual practice where the meaning is in the making, so to speak. It is by engaging in this ritual within my studio that I am able to distance myself from the Committee in My Head, where I can trust my intuition and instincts, where I can implicitly know that just by making whatever it is I am making at the moment, all of the questions of validity, audience, and dialogue are already addressed, have already through the history and culmination of my experiences been parsed and filtered and implicitly understood. The end result is generally successful when it was made from a place of honesty, simplicity and directness and when it momentarily disregards the demands of any real or fictitious audience.

:: Rob Nadeau is a painter. More can be found at http://www.robnadeau.com

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Christoph Niemann

I fear that my most basic inspiration to draw and design is a genuine insecurity. Hence, there always has been a (more or less) defined character sitting in the back of my head giving me imaginary thumbs ups&downs. That character changes depending on the assignment: when I was sixteen I would usually think of one of the girls that I tried to impress with my drawings (I was usually spot on with guessing what they liked — except that they just liked the drawings but wouldn't make the leap to fall in love with me). By now I have fairly established set of avatars that are based on real people, that I run things by in my head. When I give a talk, I usually try to find out if there is someone in the audience that I know, and then turn that person into my mental target audience.

:: Christoph is an illustrator. More can be found at http://www.christophniemann.com/

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Cory Ondrejka

I've spent much of my life creating in different mediums. Stories, software, games, teams, and companies. In all of them, the audience plays a part, whether in a consumptive sense -- for written work -- or a participatory one -- employees, so it is a fair question to ask how the audience factors into the creative act. Initially, I am the audience, with the question or problem I am trying to solve providing the context. I tend to walk around, play soccer, drive, watch horrible action movies, or read pulp mystery novels at this stage, because once I'm noodling on a problem, I want it pushed just out of conscious thought. Even while writing or coding, I tend to prefer a certain level of noise around until I know exactly what I need to do. Once I switch into the production portion of creation, then I will put on headphones or otherwise isolate myself from the world, but while formulating a solution, I often recognize solutions while mentally shifting a problem from foreground to background processing.

The production phase is usually when I bring imagined audiences into the process, adjusting style or features as I go. I know my projects improve if an audience is brought to bear earlier in the process, so I often try to find people to bounce ideas off of, letting their imaginations provide more breadth of feedback and critique than my own.

:: Cory is a programmer and puppet master. He has worked for the US government, Nintendo, and was the CTO of Linden Lab.

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Stefan Sagmeister

Yes, I do create with an audience in mind. I find, the larger that audience, the more difficult it is to get a handle on it, to imagine their desires and needs, and the easier I get lost in commonplaces.

When we still designed CD covers, I always found it much easier to design for a small band with a small and specific audience than a large band with a multi-tear audience. Designing for the Rolling Stones was difficult because the audience was in between 8 - 80 years old. Difficult to imagine a proper homunculus there.

This is also why I have the uttermost respect for people who can create something 'good' for a massive audience.

:: Stefan Sagmeister is a is a graphic designer and typographer. More can be found at http://www.sagmeister.com/.

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Paul Sahre

i tend to dwell on trying to communicate with people (in general) rather than a specific group or groups of people. i usually think of myself when i am thinking about others who would be responding to the things that i make. what do i like, what do i think is funny, if i saw this for the first time would i understand, what would i take away, etc....for the most part, i think this is a more of a selfish and intuitive process rather than a conscious one for me. i also relay on others reactions to what i am doing in this regard as well. i am constantly getting feedback from others and weighing that against whatever it is i am trying to do. its all kind of unorganized and NOT systematic.

yes, so maybe i think a designer has to be selfish about what they do on some level, what do i like, what would i find interesting, what would i like to see?

but then again, i rarely find myself doing work where there is a need for a marketing study and maybe this is one of the reasons i am drawn to doing the type of work that doesn't call for a marketing study. when i have been in these situations?where the audience is very specifically defined?i usually wonder why the client needs me, and i usually end up doing something which seems like it is aimed, but really is just not that interesting. i guess this is why i don't work on a lot of branding projects. why would anyone want to design things that have already been described and figured out?

:: Paul is a is a graphic designer and illustrator. More can be found at http://www.paulsahre.com/.

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Clay Shirky

I generally only write about things I've already talked about, though not necessarily to other people. I am, and have always been, and inveterate talker-to-myself -- in the shower, on the street, and (perhaps most alarmingly to my fellow citizens) on the subway. Though I have some generic sense of the audience (this piece is for internet geeks, that piece is for clueless marketers) those identities seem quite generic for me. The two really salient audience characteristics I have are the explaining partner and the bullshitting partner.

The explaining partner is a person who is trying to make sense of something. What is this peer-to-peer stuff? How come the community on my site never does what I expect? Why aren't I as famous a blogger as those BoingBoing kids? Like that.

The bullshitting partner is trying to pull the wool over someone's eyes. The Semantic Web is coming any day now! Second Life is really popular! DRM is a workable idea! Und so weiter.

When I was a kid, I remember looking out the window of the car at endless corn fields. If you looked ahead or behind, all you saw was a sea of dark green leaves, but if you got the angle just right looking out the window, you'd see the patter -- acres and acres of corn would suddenly snap into a perceptible organization. When I'm writing for explainers, I feel like I'm offering that kind of invite: "Look, I kno all the competing claims about online community are confusing, but if you come stand where I'm standing, you'll see this lovely pattern emerge."

And funnily enough, when I'm writing against the bullshitters, I'm actually trying to reach someone else, not them. People committed to "Only the professionals can organize information" aren't going to like what I have to say about tagging. What I'm doing in my head is trying to anticipate their responses, and to write in such a way as to forestall those responses, so that when others read the piece, they'll see what I see.

Writing against bullshitting partners is more intricate than writing for explaining partners, but writing for explaining partners is more fun. The biggest effects I've ever had with my writing come about when people don't just see things diffferently but do things differently -- the best compliments I've ever gotten in my life come from programmers who say 'Oh yea, I read something you wrote, and then I started doing X instead of what I was doing." That's the big win, that kind of thing.

:: Clay Shirky consults, teaches, and writes on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. More at http://www.shirky.com.

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Ben Stiller

Sorry to take so long getting back. I have been editing my movie which is basically a constant conversation with the unknown idea of what the audience will like. I really think that there is a sense of what an audience will or won't like based on instinct and past experience. But the great thing about edting a movie is that the only audience is you and if you have one, your editor. So for the first stages of cutting together a comedy -- you are wonderfully free to enjoy the movie and put it together for yourself -- so while i am cutting, before having any rough cut to put in front of an audience, me and the editor are the real audience-- we do what we think is funny. We leave in things that make us laugh, stuff that we have a hunch might or might not make other people laugh, but we are very selfish. This is because until you screen the movie for the first time you have that total freedom, the freedom of not being influenced by what the mass audience thinks is funny. Not until you put it up in front of that first audience (usually friends and family -- I start with a small group and then get bigger as we get more of a feel of what is working) do you have any idea what will make other human beings laugh. 

I cherish the first weeks, because they are free of the need to make real people laugh or be entertained. It is definitely a bit indulgent, but I think that is where the freedom to do what you need to do comes from. After the first time you put it in front of people, you forever lose that. What you gain is true feedback  -- the vibe you get from people in a room. I think it is almost impossible to make a good comedy without that. The audience then becomes your partner, and tells you where they are bored, where they are totally with it, and of course where they are laughing. 

In terms ofthe conversation in my head, there are always the voices of self doubt -- or frustration at not having realized something exactly as you pictured it in your head... but I find that I am the most forgiving audience and the most critical. It is a real contradiction. Ultimately though that first audience, the one in my head, is the one I have to trust the most to allow the process to happen. also my editor. I really trust his opinion. 

:: Ben Stiller is an actor, director and writer. More can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Stiller

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Alyssa Timon

Prior to watching Ze Frank's show, I had never thought to create work for a large audience.  One of my first videos was an introduction for "The Show", and I found finishing it to be incredibly difficult.  I was distracted by how I would be viewed.  I also felt that, as I might have access to a vast audience, I had better consider carefully how my actions might affect my viewers.  The audience was collectively like a five-year-old child, and I had anxiety about not sending any detrimental messages to an incredibly impressionable youth.

I have since left off the worrying to make room for my creativity.  Now, my creative process starts in a dimly lit auditorium (that feels like an overdeveloped living room, to be honest).  I am on stage, blinded by a single spotlight.  I am aware of an audience, almost subconsciously, but the spotlight has a way of affecting my pupils' ability to focus on poorly lit objects more than a few feet in front of me.  There is always one or two people, however, whom I can see, and who act as either muse or judge for the work I am creating on stage.  All of my artistic work, regardless of the medium or perceived audience, comes from an emotional place.  As such, there is not much of a verbal dialogue between the person standing in front and myself.  Instead, we exchange thoughts and emotions on an intuitive level, much as I do in my dreams.  If I wish to create an art-piece, I imagine the person is an old film professor, or some combination of various professional artists I have known.  If I want the content of my work to be political in nature, I often picture a representative of the side of the argument that I am pushing for.  Sometimes, I purposefully challenge my one-person audience.  Ultimately, the person is just a form of myself, and like a dream, holds up a mirror.  

When I do decide to consider the audience, it is usually only in how accessible I want my work to be.  The work I create for web distribution/viewing is often simple and deals generally with various topics.  The more specific I make my voice, the more people I imagine falling asleep in the audience.  Finally, there are some guidelines I try to follow, a rough checklist I came up with whilst observing Ze Frank's show.  Mostly, they have to do with looking directly at the camera and not sharing anything too personal.  

Ultimately, though, all of my work is personal, as my creative process begins in my guts.  It is not something that I think about so much as feel my way through.  I feel I have a heightened emotional intuition, and it has served me well in both my personal and artistic life.  Creation comes naturally, and I do not question it, because it allows me to be authentic in my work.  If I reach the duckies farther out in the pond, I am pleasantly surprised, as well as amused at my mixing of metaphors.

:: Alyssa is a super sportsracer, a film maker, musician and animator. More can be found at http://habile-b.blogspot.com/

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Jakob Trollbäck

It is gratifying to hear your creative voice magnified and distributed. There is a very clear sense of achievement once you let it out. But communication is a lonely business if you don't have an audience. You may want solitude and introspection to figure out different creative approaches, but once it’s planted, an audience is a must. If you can't touch people you have no story. Stories, I have learned, is what life is about.

I learned a lot about the importance of reading your audience when I was a DJ. It’s hard to imagine a shorter feedback loop. For more remote work, I switch between thinking of an appreciate audience that will understand my expressions, and a clueless, if not hostile one. In my head, the appreciative audience is challenging me to evolve further, to find new ways to tell a story, while the skeptical audience is forcing me to find different contexts in a hope to break through. I have wasted much time in the past refusing to comprehend the opinions of adversaries. Failing to understand why people think and act the way they do – and that there may even be some kind of strange logic to it – makes it almost impossible to influence anybody.

:: Jakob is a designer and the founder of Trollbäck + Company. More can be found at http://trollback.com/

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Sheron Wray

It is gratifying to hear your creative voice magnified and distributed. There is a very clear sense of achievement once you let it out. But communication is a lonely business if you don't have an audience. You may want solitude and introspection to figure out different creative approaches, but once it’s planted, an audience is a must. If you can't touch people you have no story. Stories, I have learned, is what life is about.

I learned a lot about the importance of reading your audience when I was a DJ. It’s hard to imagine a shorter feedback loop. For more remote work, I switch between thinking of an appreciate audience that will understand my expressions, and a clueless, if not hostile one. In my head, the appreciative audience is challenging me to evolve further, to find new ways to tell a story, while the skeptical audience is forcing me to find different contexts in a hope to break through. I have wasted much time in the past refusing to comprehend the opinions of adversaries. Failing to understand why people think and act the way they do – and that there may even be some kind of strange logic to it – makes it almost impossible to influence anybody.

:: Sheron is a dancer, a teacher and a choreographer. More can be found at http://sheronwray.com/

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Emily Ziff

As the primary way in which I create work is by evaluating a piece of writing and determining if and how it could go on to become a film, I will confine my comments to that process.

In thinking about this, I realize that when I am clearly able to identify the target audience for a piece of work as something outside of myself (even if the demo I'm referencing describes me), when I read or see something and think immediately 'this was made for women over 30', it is generally because somehow the work has failed for me. In those instances I am reacting to the work as a piece of business. The construct is suddenly made transparent, the foreign sales estimates go whizzing through my head, followed by an image of some agents in their offices thinking they've got a winner (maybe they're high-fiving??), and then a quick calculation of whether I think they do--all that in the moment when I am struck by who the piece was made for. When I do not have that ah-ha moment, it is generally because the piece is succeeding, because all I'm feeling is that the piece was made, not for "me" the demo, but "me" the complicated human struggling to make sense of the world, the universal "me" insofar as there can be one, and I feel satisfied. I feel affected. I feel touched. And I feel grateful that someone has made this thing for me, maybe even about me.

It seems, therefore, that my initial relationship to the perceived audience is actually just a relationship to myself (isn't that true of any creative person's process always?). And it seems that in my mind, there is a correlation between the legibility of a work's perceived audience and its success (and I would argue in the minds of others too whether or not they stop to identify it). But I can't be making movies for myself. Even though that's really exactly what I'm doing, I can't justify that to a financier or a distributor. So I do have to position the work in relation to an audience, fit it into the right hole as it were, and figure out how to talk about it from that point-of-view.

And now I'm actually starting to answer your question, what does that part look/sound/feel like? For me, it is depressing. It begins by conjuring up a bunch of stereotypes and generalizations that I then seek research to substantiate. My imagination becomes a giant swathe around the middle of America, sweeping up some tired version of each gender across various age ranges and ethnic backgrounds. There is no dialogue with these people. There is just a fleeting image of them in their lives and a brief pause during which I ask and answer for them: would they care enough to buy the ticket? How would we persuade them to care enough? But here again, "they" are still just me. They are inventions I have created to support my intuition. They are manifestations of my beliefs about the world. I am making assumptions and hazarding a guess and going out into the market with little more than a personal conviction and a faith that what compelled the "universal me" will compel you and others, alike and not. I am unquestionably naïve in this regard, naïve and full of hope--two qualities that increasingly cease to be the province of the artist in our consumer-obsessed culture.

:: Emily Ziff is the co-founder (with Philip Seymour Hoffman) of the film company Cooper’s Town Productions.

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