Iterate Your Voice

The most successful comedians usually come from stand-up. On small stages in trashy dive bars, aspiring entertainers have a relatively consequence-free opportunity to put their act and endurance to the test. With enough 5-minute open mic opportunities, the smartest performers learn what works and what does not. Over time and through plenty of failure, artists refine an authentic routine and stand out against the noise. They find their voice. When it comes to successful entertainment, original voice is everything.

If you dream of entertaining, embrace the small venue. Find a small stage through which you can practice and refine your voice. The Internet counts.

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Film Friday: How to Listen to Your Audience Online

In digital filmmaking, you have many tools at your disposal to help better-understand the work you create.  The Internet offers an unparalleled platform for distribution and audience feedback. It is easier than ever for audiences to actively and passively communicate what works and does not work about your film.

A under-utilized and invaluable tool for filmmakers looking to grow through their body of work is YouTube Hot Spots (available in the insight section for “My Videos”). These graphs map audience attention to your videos throughout their duration by tracking drop-out rates, mouse clicks and rewinds. You are able to pinpoint moments in your video that are more or less successful than others.

A year ago, I posted a comedy music video called Cocaine Crazy. While it only has 8,000 hits, those impressions shaped an extremely informative portrait of successful and unsuccessful aspects of the video.

 Cocaine Crazy Hot Spots

  • The opening skit was the least successful attention grabber (a large mistake considering the opening is key to hooking web audiences from frame one).
  • The choruses became redundant as the video went on (except for the second half of the third chorus when cocaine started to fly everywhere).
  • The joke and rhyme-packed verses anchored the video and had high rewind power.

Self analysis is invaluable. No where else have I seen a tool that can tell you when moments are dragging, redundant, funny, not funny or downright failures. More often than not, this data will merely support intuition. But in a few instances in my career, this data has redefined major structural changes to development material.

Pay attention to your audience.

Film Friday: How to Enhance Jokes in the Editing Room

It’s time I start a weekly blog series – lessons from my experiences in the film industry. We can call it “Film Fridays.”

I’ve been in and out of the cutting room for the last five weeks on our latest web series, Talent.  Every time I oversee editorial on a new project, I learn a lot.

Lately, we spent a big chunk of time tweaking scenes for comedy. Now, I have never been a funny man. I guess I missed the comedy gene my brother inherited. After weeks of shifting edits here and trimming shots there, I have a much better understanding of the temporal mechanics of comedy – at least in the motion picture form.

Want your joke to play better on screen?  Try letting it breathe.

Comedians pause after they deliver a funny line. They don’t pause to wait for the audience to stop laughing; they pause to illicit laughter in the first place.  Watch Australian comic Steve Hughes.

The same tactic works on screen. After a punchline, leave some air – make sure there’s a moment without dialogue, without busy sound effects, and without domineering score notes. Your viewers need time to process and react. If you cut to the next line of dialogue immediately, your audience might not have time enough to think the joke is funny. A loud sound effect or music cue following the punchline will compete with laughter, or worse, deny laughter altogether.

It is frustrating when an audience’s laughter drowns out the dialogue that follows. Information is lost and you feel like you missed something. But I can’t blame the audience for being loud; I usually blame the filmmaker for not understanding the moment he or she created.

Air is not a magical cure-all for comedy – the joke still needs to be funny. But air can help you preserve a joke. And if you’re lucky, enough air can create an awkward silence that twists a lame beat into a funny one. You have to try it to find out.

I suspect the air trick works in other forms of comedy as well.