I went to a screening of Xanadu at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Brooklyn last night with my wife and a friend of ours. What a glorious hot mess of mythological movie musical on skates (and no small quantity of psychedelics). But, here’s the thing, the theater was PACKED, completely sold out. It was part of an ongoing series* of under-loved musicals, and introduced by the host as the kind of movie with an amazing soundtrack, but rightly belonging in the “there’s a good reason this movie doesn’t get out much anymore” bucket, and not the “brilliant and tragically underappreciated by today’s bourgeois audiences” bucket.
I barely remembered the movie – mostly the scene where (spoiler!) the painted muses first come to life – but others had different experiences. For my wife, it’s a touchstone to a childhood memory of a somewhat misguided attempt by her mom to inject some classical mythology into an afternoon out. For our friend, who was reliving seeing Xanadu on the big screen for the first time as a kid out with his older sister, it was – and remains – transformative.
Right away you have one movie and four takes: 1) rightly loved for the music and rightly forgotten as a movie, 2) largely forgettable, 3) entertainingly campy, and 4) deeply important on a personal level.
Now, if those four opinions got together in a room to decide whether to screen that movie or not – not too dissimilar, say, from a group of executives and senior leaders at a fairly average nonprofit deciding what video to make in 2018 – it might not have happened… and a sold-out roomful of seats, filled by a deeply enthusiastic and appreciative audience, would have been lost.
And this happens all too often when brands and organizations make their own videos (or just try to tell their own stories in general, regardless of format): a small roomful of smart people try to outthink their audience… when they remember their audience at all. It’s not about what you (or your senior leaders or your board) like, or what you think of the mission, or what you think other people should know.
Stop worrying about how carefully crafted the message is. Start worrying about how well you know your audience. What motivates THEM? What do THEY think is funny, or sad, or compelling? What about you overlaps with what’s interesting to them?
You could make something safe, something classy, something informative that covers all the bases… but will anyone pack a theater 37 years from now to watch it? By most objective measures, Xanadu is a wreck (Michael Beck earned a Razzie nomination for his role as the male lead), but lots and lots of people still absolutely LOVE it almost 40 years later.
And that’s what matters, right? The small, passionate group of advocates who feel like it speaks to them. The audience most likely to show up and get involved.
Every audience has a Xanadu, what’s yours?
*If you’re curious, the ongoing series is called Out of Tune. It’s a lot of fun.
Post by Tim Parsons. Photo by Shane Breaux.