The number one problem producers and pastors have in common is their ability to bring the right story to the right audience. Both have to target multiple age groups with a story that’s broad enough to touch everyone, yet only a percentage within the larger group will find that the story resonates with them.
To compensate, many pastors will tell several stories within their sermon to help demonstrate how the teaching applies to each generation. Filmmakers do the same thing by having some scenes aimed at Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Z. The scenes must play well enough for all generations to accept it as a functional part of the film’s story, but the generation that the given scene is aimed at will find that particular scene speaking into their lives.
I wrote a screenplay titled The Professor that is aimed at a four-quadrant audience. Some scenes are specifically for Gen Z, while other scenes jointly aim at Millennials and Gen Xers, and a few scenes speak directly to Baby Boomers. The results are clearly spot on when my script is read by each generation. Not because each of my scenes work for everyone, but because there are specific scenes that speak into each generation’s life without detracting from the other generations reading the story.
To develop a story that speaks specifically to each generation takes a tremendous amount of work. The four-quadrant audience, which is broken out between old and young, and male and female, is the basis for each generational viewpoint. In other words, to speak directly into each guardant within each generation will take a minimum of 16 scenes. Those details are better shared over several chapters in some future book I might write.
For now, I’m going to share the three base drivers that must be used to target a story to the right audience. Since only one driver can be clearly used through the protagonist, I’ll use the hero model for my explanation.
Story is about change. The person who changes the most is the protagonist or hero (yes, there are exceptions, but I’m trying to keep this post short). The hero has a worldview that is driven by a core belief that can be categorized as lawful, moral, or ideological.
LAWFUL: The hero believes in institutions like government, religion, schools, and any other man-made system used to protect or grow our communities.
MORAL: The hero takes responsibility to make a difference when something goes wrong with our institutions or thinking. This might be a whistleblower, vigilante, or a (fed up) underdog.
IDEOLOGICAL: The hero believes in something that is overarching and sees each life as a small pebble in the greater scope of humanity. However, the hero also understands that each pebble might be the one that creates the avalanche, like the final straw on the camel’s back.
From these three vantage points we can quickly direct the perceptions of the audience as they follow the hero on his journey. Gen Z is all about the ideological and they want it in the form of what is real. They can see through the fake or the trumped up.
The Millennials and Gen Xers both relate to the moral and feel a responsibility to correct the wrongs put in place by the Baby Boomers. And the Boomers, well, they are all about the lawful and supporting the institutions that made their generation great.
Pastors find their words about the institution of communion and worship resonating with the Baby Boomers. Those pastors who empower church members to help those hurting in the community find their messages speaking to the hearts of the Millennials and Gen Xers. And, those pastors who talk about the actions we must take in order to participate in God’s overarching plan find Gen Z embracing every activity required of them to fulfill the big picture.
The pastor who wants to teach on prayer would tell Boomers to pray without ceasing according to the scriptures. He’d teach the Millennials and Gen Xers how prayer changes us and thereby changes our communities for the good. To Gen Z he’d teach the truth that some prayers go unanswered, but for the ones that are answered, they are only answered when they are prayed. For God’s overall plan to work, we each have to pray daily for our part in the matter and for others.
The filmmaker has to break things out in a similar fashion. If he is making a film that suggests we can’t be great living a life of apathy, the message must be contoured for each generation. A scene designed to resonate with a Boomer might include the hero learning the discipline of football basics. The Millennial and Gen Xer might be moved by a scene about the hero realizing that he must perform well at the game to earn a scholarship to lighten the financial load of his parents concerning his college tuition. The Gen Z scene could show the hero playing defense across from the starting offensive line to prepare them for the sake of all the students counting on a homecoming win.
By targeting each generation with the right portion of the story drives box office success. Films that only reach one generation must be all the more targeted in its marketing approach to draw the right crowd. By creating a universal story that can touch multiple generations, a filmmaker and a pastor can stir far more people with the right message than others who don’t target their story.
© 2018 by CJ Powers
Fascinating and wonderful!
An insightful post! As in film, the protagonist of a novel presents a worldview that can also be categorized as lawful, moral, and ideological. But because of the classification of novels into genres that set specific parameters regarding age groups, I, as a novelist, need not concern myself with reaching all age groups at the same time. The genres into which fiction is separated (Children’s Lit, Young Adult (YA), New Adult (NA), and Adult fiction) do this for me. For this reason, I applaud the task of the film-maker whose role seems far more challenging.