Here’s something to keep your eye on. It’s a new term called neurocinematics where moviemakers use neurofeedback to help refine film elements such as scripts, characters, plots, scenes, and effects. Princeton University psychology professor Uri Hasson coined the term “neurocinematics” where he concluded that certain types of films (e.g. horror, action, sci-fi) produced high activation scores in the amygdala region of viewer subjects’ brains, the part that controls disgust, anger, lust, and fear. Hasson asserted that horror filmmakers can potentially control audiences’ brains by precisely editing films to maximize amygdalic excitement and thus “control for” buzz and success at the theater.
In less scientific terms, this simply means maximizing emotional scenes in a story to maximize audience engagement. The more engaged an audience gets in a story, the more likely they’ll enjoy it. Ultimately the goal of any story is to provide your audience with an emotional rush like a roller coaster. What’s the best way to create emotional engagement? It’s not through mindless action or special effects. It’s through learning the vulnerabilities of a character.
The first time we meet any character, it’s just like meeting a stranger. All you know about that person is their outer appearance and behavior. However, once that character reveals their vulnerabilities, fears, and desires, suddenly they’re far more emotionally interesting than just a random stranger.
Look at people in an airport and most are relatively boring but a few are physically interesting. Now imagine talking to any stranger in the airport and learning that they’re flying to a city to meet a dying sibling or they’re planning to compete in a marathon because they nearly lost their legs in a car accident and running was a way to regain strength and walking ability. Suddenly just knowing these little tidbits of information makes any stranger more interesting. You still may not like that person, but you can respect them and feel closer to them than a stranger you know nothing about.
So the whole idea behind Hollywood using neurofeedback to gauge an audience’s emotional interest makes sense. Of course, you still need to provide emotional structure to your story in the first place and then neurofeedback can fine-tune that emotional spike. If your story lacks any emotional portion at all, then you’ll just have a boring B-movie filled with mindless action like “The Expendables 3.”
Emotion is the foundation of story telling. Make sure you put emotional elements in your story by revealing your characters’ vulnerabilities. Then you can let Hollywood worry about optimizing the emotional peaks with neurocinematics.