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The Seed&Spark Blog

The Plight of the Mid-Career Filmmaker

October 7, 2014

• Emily Best

The #StayIndieTour Diaries: Installment #1

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These wonderful folks at the Vancouver Internationl Film Festival are ready to build audiences!

Really until the last few years, self-distribution was costly, confusing, and yielded mixed results. No one could have seen how quickly and widely digital consumption of content would take hold, or could have predicted that filmmakers would have direct access to exhibition outlets online and even in theaters (thanks Tugg!). 

If you’re a new filmmaker, the world is your damn oyster. You can start building your audience, using all the myriad tools available to you to fundraise, gather support, shoot and edit your movie and distribute it right to your fans. If you’ve been in the game a while, this can seem utterly daunting.  

Since we launched the #stayindietour, Erica and I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of filmmakers of all stages and ages. And as we dig into the essentials of audience building (message testing, tone, outreach, and email lists), there is a particular crowd that turns paler and paler and sinks into their seats.  

It’s the filmmaker who probably started making films in the 90s, shot and cut one or several of their first films on actual FILM, went to festivals, maybe got lucky and did a few deals with distributors. So far, all of these filmmakers I have met still have day jobs— sometimes teaching film, editing, or perhaps in the commercial space. Most of them seem to feel like they’ve done everything they were supposed to (they did!) and are now somehow further behind the curve than when they started. Just a few years ago “audience building” wasn’t part of a filmmakers job, so filmmakers missed a lot of opportunities to capture their audience’s information.  More recently, you see filmmakers with clipboards gathering email addresses after their regional film festival screenings, ramping up email lists early in the process, and engaging early and often on social media.

It was certainly true a few years ago and continues to be true: if a filmmaker sells their film to a distributor, they sell the audience of that film right along with it —and receive little to no data in return on who’s watching, how they’re watching, or how they might be reached. Most of these filmmakers are also not digital natives. Building an audience isn’t a part of their high school or college experience. (My 14 year old sister gets more likes on any one Instagram photo she posts than anything I have ever posted. And I’m TRYING.)  

Last night at the “Crowdfunding to Build Independence” workshop at SIFF, a filmmaker asked what he should do to try to regain a connection with the audience he now feels as though he let slip through his fingers. Here are my best suggestions, and I welcome many, many more:

1. Start an email list. Set some goals for its growth. Make a plan. Also, give something in return. Make your emails brief, infrequent, but awesome. Include twitter and facebook language your growing crowd can copy and paste with interesting things to share. 

2. Create a call to action that involves getting people to sign up for said email list, fund a project, attend a screening, or watch a film online/VOD.  In order to get people involved again, you have to give them something to DO. Maybe organize a theatrical screening of several shorts belonging to several of your filmmaker friends who feel they’re in the same boat!

3. Re-connect with the festivals that screened your films. Regional festivals are great at reaching out to their communities and very generous in supporting the artists who have screened at their festivals.

4. Get active and interesting on twitter. Twitter moves quickly and allows you to connect through ideas that interest you. Filmmakers are building relationships with artists in other cities and new festivals by contributing to the community of ideas around film. Join the conversation. It’s a great place to test messaging, and because things move so quickly, it’s a safe place to fail!

5. Go to stuff. A lot of it. Get back out there, get business cards, add them to your email list.

6. Promote your friends’ work passionately.

This is only the beginning of the list - these are just the first things that occured to us to share. What's working for you? 

Read more by

Emily Best

Emily Best is the founder and CEO of Seed&Spark and is currently on the #stayindietour, teaching filmmakers across the country to "Crowdfund for Independence"!

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