30 November 2010

We Are the Audience Too: Responsibility As Creators

We Are the Audience Too: Responsibility As Creators
© Rhianon Elan Gutierrez
Written in honor of the 20th Anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act
Originally published by the Producers Guild of America Diversity
July 26, 2010

As filmmakers, artists, and producers of original content, we have many responsibilities -- a responsibility to our craft, our goals, our team, and our audience--whether we are in film, television, or new media.  We are responsible for continually producing fresh, cutting-edge, and even diverse content for a variety of audiences.  The content we produce is motivated by personal and/or social factors, but whatever those may be, we cannot deny that we are responsible for the process and the end product.

I want to pose this question: who do you want to see your work?  If you answer "the larger public", you know it's not as simple as it sounds.  It involves a lot of thought, paper, and money than most people would think.  We know that there many different types of people who make up an audience.  Let's say that there are two hundred people in a theatre, and one of them is deaf.  This person, for years, has never seen a captioned film in theaters but loves cinema so much that s/he is willing to look past that.  Over twenty years ago, captioned English language spoken films were not standard in theaters.  Silent films were accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing in the pre-talkie era.  Today, there are many theaters and of course television sets in the United States that make captions available to those who are deaf and hard of hearing.  There are several search engines where one can find captioned films, such as Captionfish, which lists to the best of its knowledge all captioned films and the theaters where they are playing.  It appears that we have advanced, but the reality is that there is often the one person of two hundred who is watching an independent film that has yet to be captioned, if at all.  It's too easy to say that they could wait later, rent the film, buy the film, or watch another film that's captioned.  They can, but they shouldn't.  Audience members have the right to choose the films they want to see and when they want to see them.  We know that the size of audiences says a lot about the power of the film, its team, and its marketing.  How about its accessibility?

Today is the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed on July 26, 1990.  The efforts of those before, during, and since its passage have made it possible for people like myself to thrive in media.  I am a filmmaker and I have a hearing loss.  I understand both sides of the experience: as a creator and as an audience member.

I know how difficult it is to raise money to have the equipment you need, the actors you want, the location that's beautiful, and the crew you know you need to feed and pay.  I'm passionate about the process but what makes it challenging (and ultimately more rewarding) is the responsibilities that I have not only to my goals, my craft, and to my team, but to my audience.  During the process of making my films and even afterwards, I make a commitment to be respectful of the access and communication needs and abilities of my cast and crew. I learn new things every day from them and about them.  When it comes to my audience, I think about the one person of two hundred.  It's easy to forget this person, but I've been this person so I know that I must remind myself of those moments.  I love the experience of making films and I especially love to see the impact that my films have on others and the difference that it makes when they can follow the story.  I know I am not alone in sharing this sentiment.

Visual storytelling speaks volumes about the human experience, and why would it continue to be a form of expression if people did not want to create, enjoy, or learn from it?  As creators, we have a responsibility to the process of creating, but we also have a responsibility to who sees the film.  We know there are distributors, investors, theaters, and various others who are responsible for what, where, when, and how we see the film or show.  We also know that audience members have the responsibility to speak up if they feel excluded or misrepresented.  However, I am reaching out to my fellow creators to say: you have that voice.  You are manifesting stories.  You know who you want to see your work.  Yes, it is true that the Americans with Disabilities Act and other pieces of legislation enforce laws to make your work seen and heard, but a law is not enough.  Regardless of where we stand or work in the industry, we have made a commitment to the process and end product, and we must continue to speak up about making our work accessible during and after creating our work, even to that one person. What are you going to do about it?

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