How To Defeat 10,000,000 Adorable Kittens

by Emily Best & Liam Brady EMILY: Recently I was a guest on an awesome show that brings together musicians, filmmakers, and entrepreneurs to talk, play, and pontificate. Here’s the first question we were asked: we all know how much technology has helped music and film, but what about the challenges it poses?

There’s no doubt in my mind that the greatest challenge technology poses to the arts is fragmentation. In a world where the audience’s attention is so divided, how do you make something stand out? Audiences are more empowered than ever by technology: they can find whatever they want whenever they want it, mostly for free. So why would they ever choose my movie over 10,000,000 adorable cat videos (and then pay for it!)?

We’ve all become extremely adept micro-taskers. “This matters. This doesn’t. This matters. This doesn’t.” These days, if what you're making doesn’t matter, your audience clicks on to the next thing.

 

LIAM: I absolutely agree with the imperative to stand out by making something "that matters," but perhaps the first thing to realize is that we don’t need to construct the “meaningful thing” for the purposes of competing directly with those 10,000,000 adorable kittens. We shouldn't imagine our audiences with their index fingers hovering over their keyboards ready to change the channel the second they're distracted by a brainwave. We should imagine our audiences as communities of trust with which we as artists and storytellers have built a relationship over time.

As artists we probably do ourselves a disservice if our strategy for gaining an audience hinges on making a splash. I still believe we can expect a model in which the audience sits down to watch a movie that was made for them, and they will do so because they know something about it, have become invested on some level, and therefore are willing to afford the filmmaker a little patience beyond the time it takes to deliver only one or two (captivating/beautiful/authentic/hilarious) images.

 

EMILY: Based on just such a vision, we launched Seed&Spark (barely two weeks old!) because we imagine a truly independent and sustainable filmmaking community inclusive of cinema’s two essential sets: filmmakers and audiences. It’s an environment in which filmmakers crowd-fund AND build their audience on the Studio side, and where they can deliver the finished film on the Cinema side and keep 80% of the revenue. We like to think of this as a Fair Trade Filmmaking model. It’s a noble cause!

However, while we certainly think that our WishList crowd-funding tool, our oh-so sexy and sleek design, and our Fair Trade distribution model make us stand out against our competitors, nothing helped us better clarify how we might win over an audience for our website than having to answer this question from our Founding Filmmakers: “How do we build a really successful crowd-funding AND audience-building campaign?”

Unquestionably, the most successful pitches we have seen are the personal ones. The filmmakers are very clear about what they are offering to their community, not what they are asking from them. The filmmaker says: I need to make this project because it matters to me, and then supporters and audiences choose to support that offering because it matters to them as well.

 

LIAM: Yes, and getting personal about the process can be an extremely difficult adjustment for a filmmaker to make. Until now, as filmmakers, our "customers" were really only sales agents, distribution companies, and exhibitors. Audiences weren't our customers at all. But suddenly, we have the opportunity (the obligation?) to interface directly with our audience, and they don’t choose the films they watch based on market quadrants and the results of test-screenings at the mall. If we're going to attempt to leverage them as a source of support, we do need to get more personal with our pitch in order to make it matter to them. It's a completely different animal (read: it is most certainlynot 10,000,000 cats).

The consequence of all this is that we need to think even more deeply about why we're doing what we're doing, and if this sounds like a lot of hard work, that's because it is. Asking "why" and attempting to answer that question with sincerity is a deeply personal and constantly evolving exploration. But what we already know is that the story of this process is deeply compelling to supporters, and these supporters are the first and most passionate tier in the network that will become your own self-made audience.

As filmmakers we must be willing to lay bare our personal drive to create, with faith that the audience for our films will respond. Only then will we have discovered the method by which to defeat those 10,000,000 adorable kittens.

 

EMILY BEST is the founder and CEO of Seed&Spark, a startup to build a truly independent community in which she would like to make moving pictures. Before producing Like the Water, the project that inspired it all, Emily produced theater, worked as a vision and values strategy consultant for Best Partners, ran restaurants, studied jazz singing at the Taller de Musics, tour guided and cooked in Barcelona, and before that, was a student of Anthropology at Haverford College. 

LIAM BRADY is the Chief Operating Officer at Seed&Spark, and a writer/director by vocation. He is currently preparing to direct the short film FOG CITY, which tells the story of an amateur baseball player with a hidden past who must overcome his need for privacy after making an unnerving discovery on the beach. @LiamEdwardBrady