On Finding An Audience
|'And You Films' promoting and screening Flashback at Magic City Comic Con in Miami, FL (January, 2016)|
So you've made a movie! Or you've made ten! Or you're sitting around thinking about writing the catchy tagline to a rough-draft outline that may one day become a screenplay that may sometime eventually be turned into a movie!
Any which way, possibly the most important thing you're going to need (in addition to everything else that's of immense importance) is an audience. See, here's the thing: you could have made the best movie of all time, but if no one knows (or worse: if no one cares) then it simply won't matter. It won't win you applause or accolades; it won't gain you attention or fame; it won't make you money, and it might not even bring you satisfaction - because, like most things in this world, what's the damn point if you don't have anyone to share it with?
So how do you find an audience? There's no simple answer - but there are some frames of reference to help get you on the right track. The Built-In Audience Ever wonder why Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp make like a bazillion dollars* for each film they do? (*totally accurate data) It's because if one of them is in your movie, then you instantly have a built-in audience. A star of that magnitude is so in demand that you could literally film them sitting in a lawn chair watching grass grow, name it The Lawnening, give it the tagline "Look Who's Watching Now," and it will make money. And to a proportional degree, this is true of any A or B-list star. The upside of this for audiences is that Hollywood gives them more of what they've been proven to love. The downside of this for audiences is that Hollywood is frightened to give them anything else.
If you don't have and/or can't afford a star, another way to build an audience right into the very foundation of your film is to work within the parameters of a simple, popular genre. This is why there are so many low budget, independent horror films. It's an easily-defined genre with an avid fanbase. Does your movie have a psycho running around slashing people? Good news! There's somebody out there RIGHT NOW who wants to watch it! And the more bad-ass and/or hot your psycho is, the more of an audience you already have! We probably don't need to elaborate too much on other popular tropes and genres, but suffice to say researching what sells is an important factor in determining if the audience for your film is already out there waiting for it. You'll just have to walk the balance of doing a project you want to do that lets you flex your artistic muscles... while staying within some proven, safe parameters.
The Hard-Fought Audience So even if you have some degree of audience built into your film, you'll still have to let people know it exists. Now if you have Robert or Johnny, chances are the media will find out about your project and latch on to it no matter what. But you'll have a lot more work on your hands if you have less of a built-in audience, or *shudder* no built-in audience (I'm looking at you, R-rated drama with no names and a generic single-word title).
Getting the word out about your film will involve seeking media attention (good artwork and a solid press kit is key here), setting up screenings (whether through film festivals, conventions, schools, theatrical distribution, etc.), and exploiting the heck out of social media (pretty much every social media outlet possible).
You will figuratively be trying to pull people out of their daily lives and into your film. It's not always pretty, and it's rarely easy, but depending on how well-built into your film your audience already is, and how willing you are to put yourself and your film 'out there,' success can and will be found. It's only (a very important) matter of degree. And whether you're after exposure or profit, the more of an audience you can wrangle the better.
|'And You Films' seeking distribution for Flashback at the Cannes Film Festival's Marche Du Film (May, 2012)|
For our first film, Flashback, finding an audience has been a many-year struggle that's still on-going. Flashback has no names and a generic single-word title -- but it was made over the course of seven years by three guys in their garage, just out of college... so what do you expect? You expect a better title? Fair enough -- our bad. We just hadn't learned our lesson about balancing artistic integrity with marketability yet. But, that said, what Flashback does have going for it is decent genre appeal (sci-fi time travel adventure) and an overload of surprisingly effective special effects for just how low budget it is. Those boons were enough to get us a distribution deal that's worked out decently on the exposure side of things (Flashback is available on DVD and many streaming services, both in the U.S. and abroad, and has even aired on HBO across Eastern Europe), even if it hasn't topped the box office.
But distribution doesn't equal an audience, no matter how much you'd like to hope it would. Whether you're looking to earn back the film's budget, jumpstart your career, or fund your way to the next project -- chances are your film has to perform much better in order to meet your own goals than it does to meet your distributor's needs. Even once distributed, audience-wrangling is of the utmost importance -- as is prepping the audience for what kind of experience your film will be. Flashback has played well consistently for audiences at film festivals and conventions (garnering 'audience favorite' and 'best comedy feature awards') -- but without that indie circuit context, you're side-by-side with the best Hollywood has to offer, and the very 'sci-fi time travel adventure' label that won you distribution may color expectations.
So if you can't expect help with marketing or shaping audience expectations from your distributor -- well then it's up to you! For Flashback, we've dabbled extensively in viral marketing, started touring the convention circuit to engage our audience on a personal level, and have honestly only begun opening the Pandora's box that is social media to the necessary extent. All of this in an effort to give Flashback its due while -- much more importantly -- paving the way for media/fan attention for our second film Bubba the Redneck Werewolf (title-marketability lesson learned via Bubba comic-creator and executive producer Mitch Hyman) -- and even more importantly laying the super-early groundwork for a whole new kind of audience for our third film, Daylight Savings Must Die, currently in pre-production.
The Actively Engaged Audience That whole new kind of audience, is an audience not only waiting for your movie -- and aware they're doing so -- but an audience following your progress, enjoying content you provide along the filmmaking journey, and interacting with you as you provide it. This audience may even be so engaged that (dare you dream!?) they could be willing to contribute funds to your efforts via a crowd-funding program like Kickstarter or Indiegogo! But rather than just assume that the audience is there simply because your movie's got some built-in appeal or because you're awesome (you know you are!) -- now you're firing on all cylinders to reach out and shape the audience your film needs.
This actively engaged audience is not an entirely different breed of audience than the previous two, but rather the next-level hybrid, forged from the combination of built-in appeal and hard-fought attention. It may not even be possible to garner such an audience on your first film -- it may take more practice than such a feat would allow or it might even require a multi-film pedigree moving forward. Or maybe it just takes the right amount of prep-work, media smarts, and active social media engagement. None of this would hurt.
So, confession time: as you may have deduced, we're only just now dipping our toe into the waters of creating an actively engaged audience. Sometimes we wish we could go back and re-release Flashback knowing what we know now, but then we've always been a bit too focused on the work of the moment -- heads buried in cameras and editing software -- to see the audience of the future. Fortunately, that's changed. As we gear up for the distribution of Bubba the Redneck Werewolf and production of Daylight Savings Must Die, we're attempting to put our work and its process in public view as we never have before. We're working the convention circuit; we're documenting our progress; and our fingers are more actively on the pulse of social media. We even finally figured out what the dickens Instragram is! (But, seriously, what is it?)
|Some Flashback filmmaking you didn't read about when it happened because this blog didn't exist yet (July, 2007)|
And, yes, we've started this blog. Could this post get any more meta? This blog and this introductory post are literally an example of an early step in crafting an actively engaged audience. It's something we should have started a decade ago when we began filming Flashback. It could have documented epic-scale filmmaking on no budget in real-time. It could have told the story of a group of young artists who transitioned their craft into functional day jobs. It could have followed their journey into filming their second feature while holding down said day jobs. It could have been inspirational. It might have been educational. It may have even been entertaining. It wasn't any of this -- because it simply wasn't at all -- but hopefully it will be! And it's about damn time.
Thank you for joining us.