Personas: ethics and a way forward

This has been one of the big stumbling blocks for me, What is a persona, and what will it do for me as a filmmaker and practitioner?

Firstly I really do understand the reasons why any business or start up would need to begin building these pictures of their potential customers/stakeholders. It really does give any new project a good chance of focusing in on who and where they may find the potential customers, and gives all manner of marketing research data whether that is qualitative or quantitive in its basis. I am not for a minute suggesting that It should be discounted from a potential crowd funding campaign, particularly those who have some form of product to market or sell.

My problem begins with one of the key notions of this research the ability to get inside the head of potential customers/stakeholders, or in my case viewers/audience. The reason is simple, I am not making a film wholly for an audience. My films are probably at best niche, not because I am deliberately being obscure, or because I do not want anyone to see them, but because the  process and philosophy are in?separable from the film, these elements are not only the reason I make them, they are how I make them, to break into this process and begin to second guess what a viewer may want is to change that, and essentially you are left with a compromised film which loses both authorship and integrity.

There are many film makers out there that make films in this way, and some of them sell well and make them a lot of money, there are however, arguably no great filmmakers out there, nor have there been or will ever be, who follow this method.

I am not suggesting that I am great here! Im not suggesting that I ever will be either, but the one thing that I have learned is that the only true filter for your work that defines it as yours is of course yourself. It is not narcissistic to suggest this just pragmatic. being open to all and every idea is essential to film making, it is a collaborative art form, no one person can do it all.

Everything about film making should be about serving the film, a film builds like an organic creature it begins to take on a life of its own and it is the job of the crew, director, writer and all of the production to allow this process to happen,  If everything gets turned upside down, and the production takes over and the film has to serve it, and ultimately the whims of the market, then we do sadly end up with more Hollywood factory produced clones, they may be pretty they may taste sugary at first, but ultimately they are forgettable and exist as product only.

So if we concentrate only on what an audience may like we would have no art and no films, we would have a lot of product and if its possible even more Marvel films!

I for one cannot and will not make films like this, If I am going to put my life energy into a project I have to believe in it. live with it go to bed and dream about it, etc.

So where does this leave me in terms of audience and personas? The thing is, I believe most of us have a wish to be heard as makers in one way or another, so of course we are considering how our audience will react to the film/artefact, does this shot or scene work? What does this communicate? This is part of an internalised process of the communication in films and other forms of art.

When we decide to make a single decision because we think that it will somehow serve a wider audience or make something easier to understand, we begin a slippery slope.

As a film maker I believe we must put trust in the audience to have the intellect and visual sophistication to interpret our meanings messages and the way we try to put them across.

If some people don’t like it or don’t get it, thats ok too, we can never hope to please very one and we should never try.

It is a constant process of choice and a very finely tuned one, when we bring too much thought of the viewer into this, it threatens to topple this balance and we are either frozen into inaction, or just begin to take the easy way out and make user friendly compromised pap.

So with all this in mind how does this affect a look at personas for a crowd funding campaign? It is in my opinion a very bad fit! Not only does this start down the road mentioned above, once we begin to think too specifically about who this audience may be, we can’t simply unthink or unpick this process it is in there!

Also in my case I am trying to encourage people to join a community to support this project and to become involved with it actively. Is it really ethical to start picturing my community in such shallow and defined terms as age, class, Occupation..etc?

How will this really help me when I launch this crowd funding campaign? Would it cause me to choose different pathways of promotion or social networking? I don’t think so, not in this case, I am not selling a product, perhaps I am selling an ideal or a concept, but i fail to see where I can be specific in this target audience, nor do I want to be.

My goal would of course be to encourage as diverse an audience as possible, people can be surprising! Perhaps there is a Daily mail reading 55 five year old Thatcherite out there who has a personal connection to suicide or mental illness and decides she/he wants to support the campaign, am I really the one who decides that this is not my audience!

I will therefore be including a theoretical Persona list as a box ticking exercise only.


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