It was a Saturday night. The kids were asleep, and I heard my wife whisper, "Come to bed." It was one of those, I'm tired and let's snuggle "come to bed" requests. Don't get me wrong; I'm a big fan of snuggling, but somehow, I just wasn't in the mood. I felt like watching a movie.
My wife understood. We've been married long enough that "snuggling" is more of a suggestion than an obligation. She asked what kind of movie I was going to watch, and after a few seconds of serious thought, I said, "Something with explosions."
She smiled: "You're such a man." I shrugged, gave her a kiss on the forehead, and ventured out into the living room for a date with G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
Now I'm a movie junkie – my personal taste leading to character driven stories and indie comedies, but I can appreciate all genres, all films. Sometimes I'm in the mood for horror, thriller, western, comedy... but that night all I cared about was "Explosions!" And trust me, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra did not disappoint. Good movie? Bad? To be honest, it didn't even matter: it had explosions. And for me, that was enough.
I don't mean to minimize the importance of character and story or structure and voice. All that is essential, and it's pretty obvious that a movie with complex characters in an intriguing story written with an original voice that also happens to have explosions is a far better movie than one tent poled solely around dynamite.
But it's important to never lose sight that cinema – first and foremost – is entertainment. And that entertainment is geared to a specific audience. Most anyone can see that there are different viewer expectations watching a gritty crime drama over a popcorn action flick. That isn't to say one movie genre is more deserving over another. And in many regards, a comparison is unwarranted – a screwball comedy and an epic romance might both have been developed from a similar structure, but the rest really is apples and oranges.
The truth is there's a movie for everybody, and that is why understanding your audience is the #1 rule in screenwriting. Shakespeare wrote to an audience and so must you. To do otherwise is - well, just plain stupid. I enjoyed G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra - not because it was the most amazing piece of filmmaking I'd ever experienced - I enjoyed it because it gave me exactly what I was hoping for. And that doesn't happen by accident.
Write to an audience. Make your decisions with them in mind. And be smart about it; engage and connect them. Do that, and they will love you for it.