So, you're a filmmaker that wants to make movies for adults that are uplifting but not necessarily sentimental. You want to speak to the human heart while still appealing to a broad audience.
Achieving that starts with understanding what happens to audiences when the film is over, according to studio executive, producer and script consultant Lindsay Doran.
While Hollywood often likes stories that end on a bleak, cynical or nihilistic note, Doran thinks moviegoers usually want something quite different -- and those are the films they return to over and over again.
Since the inspiring, family-centric film CODA took the top honors at the most recent Academy Awards, Oscar voters may be getting the message.
But what is the message?
For Doran (Leaving Normal, The Firm, Sense and Sensibility), it's the power of Positive Film.
A few years ago in Los Angeles, she gave a talk addressing that issue -- and it's more relevant than ever in today's fraught, jittery, challenging post-pandemic world.
Doran talked about movies that featured positive emotions all the way through -- from Singing in the Rain and Raiders of the Lost Ark to Ghostbusters and The Princess Bride -- and noted that they've become hard to find since 1990.
Also, there are movies that offer an uplifting ending but take viewers on a rough ride on the way -- like It's a Wonderful Life and Life Is Beautiful, which came up in conversation when she was visiting a production company.
She said, "'But It's a Wonderful Life is about a man who becomes so convinced that his life is without value that he's driven to the verge of suicide.' And the guy went, 'Oh, yeah. All I remember is how I felt at the end.'
"And then somebody else said, Life is Beautiful. I said, 'Life is Beautiful takes place in a concentration camp and a main character is executed.' And she went, 'Oh, yeah. All I remember how I felt at the end.'"
This is a valuable lesson for storytellers. You don't need to feed the audience sunshine and puppies for an entire film, as long as they leave the theater floating on air or with a warm glow in their hearts.
But, just in case filmmakers have forgotten the lessons that Doran has been lecturing and counseling about for years, here's a 2012 TED talk she gave, that got a lot of people thinking differently about what audiences truly loved in films.
It's a lesson for today and always, because it goes to the heart of what it means to be human. It also reminds us, like Rocky does, that winning the big fight isn't necessarily the victory that counts.
Click here for a deeper dive into Doran's philosophy.
In her talk, Doran also had a message for awards voters, who, considering the CODA win, may be turning a corner. After all, they've lived through the same insanity for the last two years as the rest of us.
She said, "But what I don't want to feel is that people are only giving awards and respect to movies that are sad. There's something wrong with that, and it seems to some sort of biological imperative.
"It's something that I have to catch myself at every year now. I just kind of automatically go, 'God, that was really depressing, let me write that down as a nominee.' It's amazing.
"And I have to really look and say, what are the movies I'd love to see, and what are the movies I'd love to see again? What are the movies that I watch over, and over and over again. Why don't I think about those movies at the end of the year? That's really it."
Image: Adobe Stock
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Content Manager at Family Theater Productions.