Film CrowdfundingAudience building with a bit of help from criminal psychology
April 3, 2020
A common refrain for crowdfunders is that they would prefer not to continually hit up their friends and family to fund their latest projects. We agree! It’s called CROWDfunding, not FRIENDANDFAMILYfunding, for a reason. For one, it’s catchier. For two, crowdfunding shouldn’t be about one project, it should be about your entire career. What’s the point of doing all this work if you’re only going to reach the people who were going to watch the finished product, and you’re only going to fund one project?
If you want to reach an audience outside your personal network, you need to start by deciding who they are. And I can think of no better way to frame defining your audience than serial killer profiling (seriously). The end goal is the same: to identify a real person and how to find them based on a combination of canvassing, data and evidence. It’s a natural framework for building an audience; you know there’s someone out there who’ll love your project, you just need to find them. I’ll be using this Psychology Today article as a framework.
Step 1: Profiling Inputs
For criminal psychologists, the starting point of an investigation is the evidence available at the scene. In building an audience for your art, your ‘scene’ is your film (or the types of films you want to make over the course of your independent career). Break it down into as small of pieces as you can:
- What are the genres and subgenres that most accurately describe your work? (example: horror, with subgenres of monster movies, psychological thrillers and single location movies)
- What are the unique traits of the key talent? This is you and anyone you predict to be on your team for the future. (example: the writer/director is a queer woman with a mental illness)
- What are the unique traits of the key characters? Generally speaking, every creator has a type they write for, and usually it’s reflective of their own key traits. (examples: central Latinx female characters, queer ensembles, rural blue collar workers)
- Miscellaneous unique elements of your work: do you have a specific setting for your project (rural Colorado, urban Michigan), common themes (mental health, romance, road trips) or a stylistic quirk (found footage, practical effects)?
These are your profiling inputs: the “evidence” you’ll use to identify who your audience is.
Step 2: Constructing a Decision Process Model
Now that we have a list of the elements of your work, what existing works in the world are similar in traits, talent or themes? And what existing creators are making consistently interesting work that you’re similar to? Do some research! Looking at major studios is valuable, but make sure to include lesser-known works for a more accurate comparison.
Things to focus on:
- Where do the fandoms for these artists/works of art seem to congregate? If it seems like there’s a congregation everywhere, look deeper — which are the most active and have the most members? Just because a Facebook fan group exists doesn’t mean people actively use it.
- Where does it seem like most of their marketing materials are posted? Social media? Broadcast? Print outlets?
- What is the tone/tenor of their marketing materials? Ironic or straightforward? People first or effects/world first? Is the messaging clear or mysterious?
- Have they crowdfunded or implemented a subscription-based financial model? Were they/are they successful? What kinds of content are they posting, and what seems to be most popular in terms of offering?
No matter how unique your project is, it will have similarities to preexisting work, and that’s not a bad thing. Use those who have come before you as inspiration, and as case studies for connection.
Step 3: Crime/Activity Assessment
According to the Psychology Today source material, this is the stage of a murder investigation where profilers determine if the criminal is organized or disorganized.
For our purposes, we’ll take the research we did in step 2 and determine how your intended audience behaves based on what seems to be connecting with preexisting works and their audiences.
- An organized audience likes structure and familiarity. These audience members will respond to polish, press, and predictability. They’re more likely to congregate on forums like Reddit or Boing Boing to discuss and deconstruct the things they love most. They also don’t respond well to irony in advertising — you don’t need to trick them or try to distance yourself from the fact that you’re marketing. If you make a good case for your work with high quality assets and a clear call to action, they’ll respond. If you can get someone they respect (like a press outlet or prominent writer) to recommend your work to them, even better. Just get to the point already.
- A disorganized audience prefers a more inventive approach. These audience members will respond to innovation, intrigue, and irony. They don’t tend to congregate with other fans on purpose, because there’s too much they’re interested in that a dedicated forum could possibly aggregate. They like social platforms with feeds like Twitter and Tumblr so they can curate a more diverse online experience for themselves, and like it when marketing materials are fun and tongue-in-cheek. They’re more likely to want to do some of the work themselves, like solve a puzzle to access a film or engage with the project in a variety of mediums (through supplemental content like podcasts, interviews, etc).
- A combination audience feels more swayed by the content itself rather than the approach. These audience members will respond to credibility, curation and context. They like order in their chaos, and they’ll use curators like reviewers, genre-specific outlets and social media influencers to recommend new things to them. A combination audience tends to get their information filtered through a tastemaker, so find these tastemakers and figure out how to get in front of them, as gatekeepers to your audience.
Step 4: Criminal/audience profile
Now it’s time to get specific. Thirty years ago, these profiles were simple to lay out: this film appeals to women between the ages of 24-35. Because options for distribution and consumption were limited, less art was being made for more people per art, so broad segments were beneficial. If your project didn’t have wide appeal, it wasn’t viable. However, audience segments are a lot more complicated these days; with hundreds of hours of content being uploaded to the internet every second, women between the ages of 24-35 have a lot more options to choose from, so broad appeal isn’t viable or interesting(and you don’t have the budget or resources to reach a broad audience anyways).
Align your profile (note that you’ll likely have more than one) with what kind of person will most enjoy the “evidence” from step 1. If you aren’t sure, start with you. For the purposes of this exercise, I’ll use myself as an example.
- Base identity: Age, gender identity, sexuality, race/cultural background, mental/physical disabilities, location
- (I’m 28, cis female, ace/bi, white from a rural community, I have anxiety/depression, and I currently live in New York City)
- What they do: Life stage, education, work, and play.
- (I’m early career/pre-kids, I have a masters degree in media, I work for a startup and as a part-time professo. My hobbies are playing video games and D&D, I crochet and craft, and I spend my off-work time on Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr)
- What they like (and how they like it) in terms of watching, reading and listening.
- (I watch a lot of half hour comedies and procedural dramedies on streaming platforms from my laptop, I read historical romance and pop culture deep dives also from my laptop, and I listen to politics, comedy, and actual-play D&D podcasts on my phone)
- What they’ll spend: for one piece of media, for lots of pieces of media, and for a single creator
- (I tend to digitally rent movies rather than buying them, but I have a lot of streaming services I pay for, and if you look at my crowdfunding/Patreon receipts I spend between $5-25 per creator. I contribute smaller amounts if I just want to support the person, but can be upsold for additional content)
You’ll probably end up with at least 2 or 3 basic profiles for your audience members at the end of this exercise, and some profiles may be more detailed than others. That’s ok! Remember, you’re doing this for your whole career, not just one project, so ideally more than one type of person will respond to your project. Each profile will just need a slightly different approach. Speaking of…
Step 5: The Investigation
You know all the different ways your project or body of work can be described, you know how similar works have connected with audiences, you know generally how your audience prefers to be approached as a result, and you know who they are. Time to do some research, now with a much clearer set of terms.
Places to start:
- Press, podcasts, websites, and journalists related to your themes, genres, cast, crew, or character demographics
- Local press and organizations related to your themes, genres, demographics, etc
- Facebook groups, Tumblr blogs, and subReddits related to your themes, genres, demographics, etc
- Twitter hashtags for people interested in your themes, genres, demographics, etc
- Influencers who speak to your themes, genres, demographics, etc
Another tactic for finding your audience members is to figure out what their problem is, and how your project will solve it for them. IE- is your audience frustrated by the lack of female representation in media? Are they tired of the “bury your gays” trope? Do they feel stifled by having too many roommates in too small an apartment? Find where people are complaining about this problem, and offer your project as a solution (or as a #relatable outlet).
Step 6: Apprehension
You only have so many resources and so much time to spend on building your audience, so the more specific your profiles are, the easier this will be. As you discover where/how your specific audience profiles congregate, you’ll be able to check out their communities, ask questions, learn what they need, and start building up your email list. Engage, don’t promote. Join, don’t spam.
If this process sounds like a lot of work: it absolutely is. But just as bringing criminals to justice is a worthy cause that saves the lives of countless others, having a defined audience will allow you to connect with people outside your existing networks so as to build a sustainable creative career for yourself.
Now go knock ‘em dead!