Peter Broderick: "The Power of Free"

As always Peter Broderick's latest newsletter is a must read -- this time it's about the documentary "Hungry For Change" and how the directors' incredibly success with the film is precisely because they gave it away for free, online. Once again, Peter's been nice enough to let me share the newsletter here with you. I can't recommend enough that you sign up for Peter's Distribution Bulletin. The extraordinary million-dollar success of HUNGRY FOR CHANGE marks a new era of opportunities for independents. It illustrates how "free" can be used to achieve broad awareness, generate revenue quickly, and build a worldwide audience.

The release of HUNGRY FOR CHANGE was unprecedented. The film: - premiered online (having never screened publicly before) - was available worldwide - was absolutely free (for 10 days only)

The results were remarkable: - 453,841 views around the world during the 10 day premiere - over $1.02 million in sales of DVDs and recipe books in the first 14 days

HUNGRY FOR CHANGE is a documentary that challenges the myths perpetuated by the weight loss industry and shows how to develop a healthy, lifelong diet. It is the second film by dynamic husband-and-wife team James Colquhoun and Laurentine ten Bosch, who I started consulting with in 2008 when they were beginning to distribute FOOD MATTERS, which went on to sell over 230,000 DVDs (see Distribution Bulletin #14). James and Laurentine are based in Australia but came to Los Angeles last week, where they told me the inside story of their historic "Free Worldwide Online Premiere."

James and Laurentine have learned how to tap the power of free. They've been experimenting with the possibilities of free for four years, first with FOOD MATTERS and now with HUNGRY FOR CHANGE.

FOOD MATTERS

Free Public Screenings - Instead of following the industry norm of charging organizations fees to hold screenings, the filmmakers took a risk and allowed anyone who registered to host a screening for free. The FOOD MATTERS website encourages the hosting of screenings:

"As part of our vision to provide life-transforming information that is accessible to all people, we are excited to allow free screenings of Food Matters around the globe."

The website provides a free screening resource pack, which includes handouts, posters, and other publicity materials. James and Laurentine believed that the cost of lost screening revenues would be much smaller than the benefit of positive word-of-mouth from a greater number of screenings, resulting in increases in visitors to the website, mailing lists sign-ups, and DVD sales.

Free, Dynamic Website Content - The filmmakers regularly added content to the FOOD MATTERS website, making it a valuable resource for their audience. This included videos that were freely available to all visitors to the website who registered, which simply consisted of inputting a name and an email address.

Free Online Screening - In December 2010, FOOD MATTERS DVDs were put on sale from the website for one week at half price. This resulted in 4600 sales, the best week in 2 1Ž2 years of sales. In October 2011, the filmmakers took a more radical approach with even better results. They allowed all comers to watch FOOD MATTERS for free for 8 days. This stimulated direct and indirect sales of 9800 DVDs, twice as many as were sold when it was offered at half price. Even more impressive, over 37,000 people joined the mailing list during this event.

As James explained, when you offer a film for free you get sign-ups from a good percentage of everyone who views the film. When you are having a sale, you only get the customer information from those who actually make a purchase. "For us, we're about creating a long-term relationship with our followers and not just selling to them," noted James.

HUNGRY FOR CHANGE

After their successful experiments with free, particularly the online screening of FOOD MATTERS, James and Laurentine decided to go all the way with HUNGRY FOR CHANGE. They were aware of some films that had been released free online, such as Michael Moore's SLACKER UPRISING, but knew of no major ones that had premiered online.

Pre-Release Marketing - They chose the term FREE WORLDWIDE ONLINE PREMIERE and released the trailer for HUNGRY FOR CHANGE on March 1, 2012. This was followed by two more eblasts with additional video content, including the first 4 minutes of the film, during the 21 days leading up to the premiere. They also partnered with the experts featured in the film. These experts had their own followers and shared in both the promotion of the free online premiere and the revenues from sales they referred.

Global Reach - The Free Worldwide Online Premiere was an instant hit. On its first day (March 21st) there were 45,211 plays. Tens of thousands of people watched the film each day. The premiere ended with a bang with 58,292 plays on the final day (March 31st). Altogether there were almost half a million views from more than 150 countries across the globe in just 10 days. These are astonishing numbers for an independent film that had never been seen before, had no paid advertising, and was not available through any retail channels.

Subscribers - There were 229,000 sign-ups in 14 days, a significantly greater number than FOOD MATTERS had gained in the previous 4 years. James estimates that less than 30% of the HUNGRY FOR CHANGE sign-ups were FOOD MATTERS subscribers, which means that at least 160,000 were new subscribers, almost doubling James and Laurentine's already substantial online following.

Revenue - Everyone who viewed HUNGRY FOR CHANGE was given access to three special offers: the DVD for $34.95, the new recipe book for $49.95, or the DVD and the recipe book for $74.95. Each order came with free bonuses and free shipping. In the first 14 days, over 20,800 orders were placed totaling over $1 million in sales. Although most purchasers had already seen the film for free, many wanted to buy a copy for themselves or purchase it as a gift for family or friends.

Access - Beyond broad awareness, revenues, and sign-ups, there are other important benefits of free. It removes a major barrier between filmmakers and audiences. If the film is available at no charge, at least temporarily, it is accessible to everyone. From the beginning, James and Laurentine have been motivated by a strong desire to get their message out to more people. Free allows their films to be seen even more widely and enables them to build relationships with viewers.

Good Will - Another major benefit of free is good will, which has allowed the filmmakers to develop a truly interactive relationship with their audience. They talk directly to their followers who tell them what they want. This knowledge has enabled them to make and market films that meet their followers' needs and continue to be seen by more and more people. -----

Taking free to a new level has also expanded awareness of James and Laurentine and created new opportunities for them. They are now writing a book for HarperCollins, which will be published this fall to coincide with the retail release of HUNGRY FOR CHANGE.

© 2012 Peter Broderick

Peter Broderick is a Distribution Strategist who helps design and implement customized plans to maximize revenues for independent films. He is also a leading advocate of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, championing them in keynotes and presentations around the world. You can read his articles at www.peterbroderick.com

Sundance and Topspin Bring D2F to Indie Film

By Bob Moczydlowsky

The following post was originally published on TopSpinMedia.com.

 

Sure has been a lot of talk about movies around here lately, huh? ;)

This morning, the Sundance Institute announced an expansion of their incredibly forward-thinking Sundance Artist Services program, and we at Topspin are honored to be included alongside distribution outlets iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu, New Video, Netflix and Sundance Now as the provider of Direct-To-Fan Marketing and Distribution tools. We’re humbled to have our first major expansion outside of music to be with such a storied and benevolent institution, and we’re quite literally stoked to start helping Sundance filmmakers connect with fans and create new channels for their amazing work.

This quote from Robert Redford really says it all:

“When I founded the Institute in 1981, it was at a time when a few studios ran the industry and an artist’s biggest concern was whether their film would get made,” Redford said. “Technology has lessened that burden, but the big challenge today is how audiences can see these films. The Artist Services program is a direct response to that need. We’re not in the distribution business; we’re in the business of helping independent voices be heard.”

If you’d like to read the official press release, you can DOWNLOAD HERE.

In addition to the expansion of the Artist Services program today, Sundance also launched an online alumni community containing blog posts and essays from some of the brightest and bravest minds in indie film, like Tim League and Ted Hope. The goal is to provide a place where Sundance artists can share data and advice, and interact with distributors, technology partners and each other. Somehow, I managed to sneak my two cents in there, too. Below is a reprint of my “Direct-To-Fan Keynote” that appears inside the Sundance Artist Services site.

My hope is that all filmmakers find it useful. Please share it liberally.

You can it download it as a VIDEO or as a PDF.

Hello. My name is Bob.

I’m here to talk about Direct-to-Fan Marketing (D2F) and Distribution. I work at a software company called Topspin. We’re honored to be a part of Sundance Artist Services.

Topspin makes software used by 
Kevin Smith, David Lynch, Ed Burns, Trent Reznor, Arcade Fire and thousands of other artists to sell downloads, merchandise, tickets and memberships directly to fans. Our company mission is to create an artistic middle class, and we’re doing it by building a self-serve application you can use to market and distribute your work yourself.

You may think I mean self-release. Or DIY Distro. Or “creative” distribution. But those are not the same as Direct-to-Fan. What I’m talking about is a distribution and marketing strategy that should be a part of every filmmaker’s career. I’m talking about making sure you are directly connected to your core audience. I’m talking about selling premium products to super fans. And I’m hoping to persuade you to treat your audience like your most important asset. It is time to invest in your fans.

Here’s the problem I see: Filmmakers have been taught to be wholesalers, not retailers. Filmmakers make films — so the teaching goes — and then it is the job of distributors to market and distribute films.

There is actually a stigma attached to doing it oneself, as if every direct release was a sign not of true independence and autonomy but instead an indicator of the film’s quality or filmmaker’s professionalism. “Did you hear about XX film? They couldn’t get distribution. They have to self-release.” Sounds familiar, right? The goal is to make films and sell them to distributors. That’s the model.

That shit is broken. Permanently. I mean it. Yes, the “traditional model” still exists as a best-case outcome for a few films. But most likely not for your film. Sorry. Just being honest. It’s time to stop calling the best-case, long-shot, home-run option “the model”. Let’s get realistic about what’s happening:

Everyday, the odds of the traditional indie model working for your film get longer and longer. Even at Sundance, upwards of 80 percent of the films fail to find traditional distribution deals. A ton of interesting and excellent films don’t reach audiences and fail to grow the careers of the artists who made them. That’s sad. And yet, more and more excellent films get made everyday. Because technology makes production easy.

And the Web makes distribution easy, too. My phone will shoot video and upload to YouTube. Production and distribution is in your pocket! But here’s where the trouble starts: Free content, empowered fans and unlimited choice make marketing very, very hard. Fans can watch and share all day, effortlessly. But competing for their attention is really tough. Fans who want to watch a movie used to choose from the 10 films at the theatre on Friday night. Now they choose from the entire historical catalog of filmmaking on their laptops, phones, set-top boxes or VOD services. Or they skip the film altogether and play Words With Friends online. Think about your own habits. Getting fans to pay attention is harder than it has ever been.

“So, how will anyone see my work?” you ask. It’s simple, actually. You need to grow a database of fans, and market to them. Here’s how you do it:

First, make amazing films. I don’t mean pretty-good films, or better-than-average films… I mean INCREDIBLE films. Invest in quality, and invest in new. New sells. But also please make sure to budget appropriately, based on the size of your audience. Don’t have an audience? Then keep the budget LOW.

Second, give away free downloads in exchange for connection via email, Facebook and Twitter. This might mean a soundtrack, or the opening scene of the film, or some killer making-of footage. The point is to get fans excited, connected and sharing. You can’t make dollars until you have fans, and giving away incredible content is the best way to attract new fans.

Third, offer premium products fans actually want to buy, and sell these premium products at a mix of price points FIRST. Many of the folks who will end up with the $2.99 rental on iTunes would be even happier with a great-looking shirt, HD download, photo book and a Skype-call-with-the-lead-actress for $75. Don’t miss the opportunity to convert your core demand into a high-revenue product. Get creative with your products and your prices. You’ll earn more money and create happy fans who spread the word online.

Now, once you’ve grown your database and you can monetize your core fans, it’s time to look around for distribution partners. If you can prove there is demand for your art, you will have traditional distribution opportunities. But long-term success requires reversing the common logic:

Direct-to-Fan is NOT the last resort. Direct-to-Fan is the foundation of your career. Think about this way: Imagine your career is a ladder.

Each rung represents more audience paying attention to your work. Which rung are you on? For the sake of example, let’s say the ladder has 100 rungs. On rung 100 is Steven Spielberg, smiling down from the top. At rung zero is every first-time filmmaker just trying to get a project made. At rung 25 is someone like Miranda July (one of my personal favorites) and at rung 75, someone like Kevin Smith, who has a rabid fan base and relative autonomy.

Everyone starts at the bottom. From rung zero to 25, Direct-to-Fan will likely be 100 percent of your income. You won’t have traditional distribution offers, so you’ll do it all yourself. If you do it well, your audience will grow and you’ll move up the ladder. Once you start climbing, you become much more attractive to potential partners.

In the middle, you’ll mix it up. From rung 25 to 75, the mix of Direct-to-Fan income and other distribution deals will vary depending on the project.

You’ll have to license rights to move much past 25, but you’ll do it in a way that allows you to retain your control of your core audience and monetize them via premium products you control.

At the top, you’re really in control. If you make it to rung 75 or higher, Direct-to-Fan will start trending back toward a larger percentage of your revenues.

You’ll have a dedicated, connected following, and you’ll want as much creative control over your fan experience as possible. Read Kevin Smith’s Red Statements for a perfect example of this return to Direct-to-Fan in action. Sure, he’s done deals, too… but on his terms and with his audience as the top priority. In music, we’re seeing well-run D2F campaigns with top-tier artists earn 15 to 35 percent of gross revenues — and the lion’s share of the profits. There is no reason those numbers can’t be replicated in film. And during this year.

And there are many more practical examples out there, too. The film Broke* is giving away its soundtrack to grow its database. NYC filmmaker and musician Cory McAbee opted to take his serialized film Stingray Sam out exclusively via Direct-to-Fan, and he gets you hooked on the first two episodes before asking for your money.

Ed Burns has killer posters and t-shirts bundled with downloads of his new film Newlyweds, and William Morris and Barry Ptolemy have created a killer Direct-to-Fan experience for the Ray Kurzweil doc Transcendent Man.

 

With a database of fans, you can raise money on Kickstarter, sell premium products and ticket your own event screenings with a director Q&A. Like Kevin Smith is doing RIGHT NOW, TODAY. But most importantly… you’ll be able to RETURN to the same group of core fans for all of your future products. Build an audience. Build a brand. Always compare the money you’re offered to the value of your fan database down the line.

You may find that you’re better off keeping your film under your control than doing that no-advance, all-rights distro deal. Especially if we’re talking about short films!

Now, I know I’m getting long-winded, so I’ll wrap it up.

Here’s the summary: It’s time to make Direct-to-Fan Marketing the foundation of your career. It’s time to assume your films will be marketed by you, not acquired in a Sundance bidding war. It’s time to start building a database of core fans that you own and nurture throughout your career.

Stop calling it Self-Release. Stop calling it DIY Distribution. It’s called Direct-to-Fan Marketing, and it works for filmmakers at every rung on the ladder.

Direct-to-Fan Marketing is:

- Growing your email, Facebook and Twitter database by giving away free downloads and encouraging sharing

- Maintaining a great website that sells merch, downloads, memberships and tickets directly

- Owning your fan marketing data, and using it to raise money and promote your work throughout your career

Good Direct-to-Fan Marketing will make you more attractive to distributors. But you may find yourself telling them “No, thanks.” Your audience is your biggest asset. If you sell it, make sure you get full price.

Questions? I’m accessible. Let’s chat.

Thumbs up for rock ‘n’ roll,

-bob

@bobmoz

VP, Product & Marketing

Bob Moczydlowsky has been kind enough to offer HOPE FOR FILM readers his service for free:

The code HOPEFORFILM entitles you to three free months of Topspin Plus, the most powerful direct-to-fan platform on the planet.

Topspin empowers you to:

- Promote your film across websites, social networks and mobile devices

- Connect with fans and offer free downloads for emails, Likes & Tweets

- Customize your store & sell digital media, physical items, tickets and more

To redeem your free account, go to topspinmedia.com and submit your email. Follow the instructions in the email to create your account, and then click "Upgrade" in your account header. Scroll down and enter this code: HOPEFORFILM

Niall McKay on "Ten Do's and Don't About Programming A Niche Film Festival"

We have to build the audiences for the things we love.  We vote for the culture we want with our dollars. It's not enough to help bring beautiful & better films into this world; we have to find the ways to make them social, so that the communities can discover them.  I hold incredible respect for the curators.  I think such activity is part of the producers' job description.  I have run a screening series now for two years; it may not be easy, but it is rewarding. For these reasons, I am quite pleased to introduce you to Naiall McKay, who has some recommendations for all of in the arena of niche film festivals -- it is a bare knuckle affair.

Zero budget Festival Programming: Ten Do's and Don'ts About Programming a Niche Film Festival.

What had started out as a hobby has taken over my life and become a full time job - but without the pay - of course.  But that's the indie film biz for you.  Few people are going to make a killing from a small film festival.  This is my third film festival that focuses on Irish films.  I started the San Francisco Irish Film Festival eight years ago then co-founded the Los Angeles Irish Film Festival four years ago. When I arrived in New York last winter, I saw an opportunity to start an Irish screening series to showcase films that would otherwise not get seen in the Big Apple. My objective is to help Irish film and filmmakers make their way in the US. Seemed odd to me that an Irish plumber or bricklayer could arrive in New York and get a job in couple of hours, but Irish filmmakers  have a tough time navigating the US market.

Irish Film is a curious beast. It's not foreign enough to be considered foreign and not American enough to compete with US independent cinema. In Ireland, local films have a hard time going up against the US blockbusters and have an equally tough time competing with US indie flicks.  Local filmmakers shy away from American's obsession with the hero's journey and try instead and follow in the footsteps of European art films. It's taken time to grow the craft of filmmaking in Ireland. Now however, Irish film is at its most interesting juncture in history. The country produces some twenty to thirty feature films each year and while ten years ago it would have been unusual for an Irish film to be featured in Cannes, Sundance, Telluride, or Toronto. Now it's unusual if there isn't.  There's four Irish films in Toronto this year. Most years, at least one film, usually a short, gets an  Academy Award nomination.

There are ten to fifteen world-class filmmakers who are producing a steady flow of excellent films. Well-known directors such as John Carney (Once) and Kirsten Sheridan (August Rush) have joined forces with lesser-known directors such as Lance Daly (Kisses) and formed a production hub in Dublin called The Factory. Meanwhile, new directors such as Lenny Abrahamson, Ken Wardrop, and Juanita Wilson are producing critically acclaimed films that are beginning to do well in Europe as in the US.

This year, I've been fortunate because I will have the New York premiere of the documentary Knuckle, a visceral look at bare knuckle boxing among the Irish Traveller community (HBO are turning it into a dramatic series), the Galway Film Fleadh-winning feature Parked, with Colm Meaney, and The Runway, starring  Demián Bichir (Weeds).  All three films will get be released in the United States in the next few months. I will be bringing all three films and their filmmakers on a three city tour of New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Irish Film New York is co-presented by NYUs Glucksman Ireland House and funded by Culture Ireland's Imagine Ireland Program, The Irish Film Board and Moet Hennessy USA.  So here are some of the lessons that I have learned about creating a new festival:

Top Ten Dos and Dont's

1. Do

Know your audience. Like independent film, each start-up film festival needs a base.  The base for the San Francisco Irish Film Festival and for Irish Film New York is Irish ex-patriots between ages 25 and 50.  They are a vastly different audience from the Irish immigrants of yesteryears. Find this core base that will be the foundation of your festival audience. But having said that,  your base will keep your festival alive, but it's not what will make it prosper.  You'll need to reach beyond the niche to independent cinema lovers.

2. Do

Program only those films that you want to watch until the end.  What are my criteria?  Films that make me laugh or cry, make me angry, frightened, or sad, films that crawl into a space in my brain and just won't leave.

3. Do

Create as many partnerships as possible. Partnerships are the key to a low budget and a big success. Where possible, partner with film distributors, cultural organizations, museums, newspapers and businesses. Partnerships are free and they help grow your festival's reach and presence.

4. Do

Low budget festivals like Blanche Dubois "always depend on the kindness of strangers." Your festival will get nowhere without lots of favors.  In turn, always treat your festival as an opportunity to provide services to others.  This can mean something as small as taking a filmmaker out for a pint or making sure you introduce a filmmaker to a potential distributor.  If you're only in this for what you can get out of it, then your festival will be short-lived.

5. Do

Be careful how you define your niche films. Irish Film has become a little tricky in the last few years. I define it as films made in Ireland or with an Irish cast. There are a number of  excellent films that are financed by the Irish Film Board and made by an Irish directors abroad that I'd love to program.  Irish filmmaker Juanita Wilson's "As If I'm not There," for example is beautiful film, but it takes place during the Bosnian war so it's a hard sell as an Irish film. I am not against programming these films but I may need to create a special  program called The Irish Abroad to tell my audience what they are getting.

6. Do

Go to events where your target audience may be and announce your festival. Nothing works better than a personal invitation. Tell them about the rare opportunity they have to attend your festal.  This is by far the best way get your audience.

7. Don't

Don't produce large gala events unless you want to spend your time producing large gala events. This will become your job. They generally soak up all the money they earn. They can be useful for building profile but building profile becomes its own job and you want to focus on screenings films.

8. Do

Do be aware that inviting celebrities and stars to come to your festival will cost a great deal of money. They usually fly first class, take limousines and bring their own hair and makeup people. And why not? They are at the top of their game.  But make sure you have an extra $10 K in the kitty jar.  Speaking of the kitty jar…

9. Do

Reduce your budget to zero or as close to zero as possible. Partner and profit share with your festival venue, if possible. Find sponsors who will underwrite specific costs. For example, perhaps they can give you a voucher for your postcard  printer or lend you their PR agency or pay for airline tickets out of their travel budget. Cash donations are hard to come by and all your time will be spent fundraising instead of putting on the festival.  Having said that find a way to pay yourself for your time. [OK, so I've not quite figured that one out yet but I'll let you know.]

10. Don't

Take it personally. Remember the people who let you down, don't give you their films, don't return your phone calls, ignore you pleas and walk straight by you at parties don't hate you personally. So move on and remember you're doing this for fun.

Niall Mckay is a filmmaker and festival programer. He can be reached at mediafactory.tv or at irishfilmnyc.com

THE IRISH SCREENING SERIES IS AT THE CANTOR FILM CENTER AT NYU SEPT 30 - OCT 2nd

Koo On "Your Audience is Worth More Than $"

Film may be 110 years old, the Film Industry a century, Amer-Indie, as a semi-organized infrastructure and process, 30 years, but as a creative community we are only a few years, at best, in. Sure the guilds have been here longer, but as an open & transparent, group, activity sharing information and aspirations, it's taken the rise of blogging culture to bring us together.

As much as we are coming together on a general basis, indie film communities come together now around specific voices. Nonetheless, other than Kevin Smith there are very few folks who have truly built and served their audiences to such an extent that that audience is in fact a community that can be depended on to support a film to the extent necessary to move it through production and release. Or rather, until recently. Crowdfunding, more than just a money raising tool, allows us to measure how communities can truly make movies happen. Koo, who has built the much loved and very useful blog No Film School, now is making a film, and as he shares below, he couldn't have gotten so far with the support from the community he has so loyally served.

My crowdfunding campaign to make a youth basketball feature film Man-child has made it most of the way to raising its $115,000 goal (!). I've been working tirelessly since launching the campaign on August 16th, and you can bet I won't be sleeping much until it ends September 23rd (this Friday). I don't know if we're going to make it all the way, but in coming this far, I've learned a lot -- and that's what I'm here to share. This post is also the story of how as a community we got 11-time NBA champion coach Phil Jackson -- arguably the greatest living basketball coach, and someone I've never met in person -- to back my Kickstarter film.

You have at least two audiences

I run the indie filmmaking website NoFilmSchool, and the site's readers comprise my primary audience for the campaign. But even if you don't run a website, you still have a primary audience -- your friends, your family, your high school and/or college, and any other networks that you might belong to. This is your obvious first stop in a crowdfunding campaign.

Whatever kind of movie you're making, your film has a topic. That topic has an audience. In the case of Man-child the topic is basketball, and so in addition to my web site's followers, there exists another community that is potentially interested in my film: basketball fans. This is your second stop: people who are interested in your topic. But I think when you go after the second audience is important, because there's a difference between the people who know you personally and the people who don't. The former are willing to lend a hand because it's you. The second group needs a bit more convincing.

Credibility first

People have mentioned in the past a notorious dead time in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign. Without the excitement of the launch or the urgency of a deadline, crowdfunding campaigns begin to resemble a 2-liter of RC Cola with the cap off (they go flat). This is a great time to try to reach out to a new audience, because if you did your job in the first half of the campaign (and didn't annoy your followers on Twitter) -- you'll have more credibility than you did when the ticker read "$0 pledged." Once the campaign was able to demonstrate social proof thanks a number of backers on board -- but only then -- did I try to reach out to the second audience.

Audiences are like venn diagrams

There isn't a lot of overlap between my following of independent filmmakers and the basketball community at large. They're like venn diagrams: two circles that overlap but for the most part exist separately. If your friends and family are in the smaller circle, the point is to reach the people in the larger circle who have no idea who you are. This is how your audience is valuable in a way that has nothing to do with what's in their wallet.

Internet is plentiful, money is not

I launched NoFilmSchool by living out of a suitcase for 10 months. I know what it's like to be short on funds. But during those 11 months when money was nonexistent, what did I have plenty of? Internet. Wi-Fi on a friend's couch. A free connection at Starbucks. 3G. Even people on the other side of the planet who might not ever have a chance to see your indie film in the theater have a 'net connection (and many countries are way ahead of the U.S. when it comes to broadband speeds). So when running a fundraising campaign, think of your fans friends and followers as more than financial contributors. They're your allies in morphing the two circles of a venn diagram into one.

Strength in numbers

In the case of Man-child, as soon as we hit the halfway mark of the campaign (time-wise; we were not yet to 50% funded), I wrote a post asking for help from NoFilmSchool readers. Not financial help, but social media help. Along with an instructional video, I included links to lists of NBA players, media members, and bloggers on Twitter. Dozens of us began reaching out on Twitter collectively, asking ball players and journalists to check out or at least retweet the Man-child Kickstarter campaign. Personally, I was totally ineffective. Promoting your own campaign/product/service seems more like spam than someone asking on behalf of a friend, and there is strength in numbers: public figures have tens if not hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, and getting their attention is a crapshoot. They get mentioned so often that you need luck on your side to be in the right place at the right time; the more of you there are, the better your odds.

One success story is worth the effort

Despite my own lack of success, thanks to the efforts of others, several NBA players -- including two-time all-star Stephon Marbury -- retweeted the Man-child campaign. More importantly, Executive VP of the Los Angeles Lakers Jeanie Buss watched my pitch video and became a backer -- along with legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson. I saw a jump in the campaign's progress and didn't know where it came from, so I went to look at the backer list, and there was Jeanie Buss. I hadn't reached her, but someone else had. I thanked her on Twitter and we started direct messaging. She told me Phil had matched her pledge. My head exploded.

Your campaign is like a film

Films are better when they have an arc; the same goes for a crowdfunding campaign. In the past, I'd seen crowdfunders issue a press release at the outset of their campaign, but I didn't feel launching a campaign was enough of a story by itself to get picked up by anyone. 10,000 people have run Kickstarter campaigns, after all -- and that's just the successful ones. More than double that number have launched campaigns. But I did think this social media success story -- and the name recognition of having Phil and Jeanie on board -- was a story. So I wrote a press release designed to get the campaign in the hands of the basketball world.

The jury's still out

As I write this, the jury's still out as to whether this press release has successfully brought in more of the basketball world. As a one man band running this campaign all on my own, it took me longer to get the press release out than I would've liked -- even working around the clock -- and I haven't given media outlets much time to write up a story before this Friday's deadline.

When it comes down to it, though, whether or not the Man-child campaign is picked up by a large sports web site, the social media outreach effort was a success -- the story told in that press release has become an integral part of not only the story of the campaign, but the story of the film. And Phil Jackson, are you kidding me?!?

Your audience is worth more than $$$

More people have internet access than have credit cards. In the past month I've gotten a lot of messages from people who don't own a credit card but want to help the campaign somehow. These aren't messages they're sending via snail mail or smoke signals -- they're through Kickstarter, they're over Twitter, they're via email. They're online and they want to help. My personal friends (who aren't very active on Twitter) logged on and had fun seeing if they could get a big name to retweet it. Give your audience something to do other than cut checks!

The "dead" midpoint of a campaign is a great time to start asking for help to reach a second audience. In fact, if my own experiences are any lesson, I would go out with this initiative prior to the midpoint, because you want to give yourself enough time before your campaign ends for your collective efforts to have an impact.

Speaking of which -- my campaign for Man-child ends this Friday, September 23rd, at 11:59pm Eastern. If we don't make it, I will certainly have learned a lot in the process, but I'd love to learn a lot more by actually making the movie! So if you feel like getting some great rewards in exchange for your support, check out my campaign -- a download of the full film is just $10, a DVD is $24, plus you'll be sent the unique frames of the film that you made possible (details in my pitch video below). Best of luck with your own crowdfunding campaign, keep that second audience in mind, and thanks for reading!

Joke and Biagio on "How to Build an Emotional Connection with Your Audience"

Posts about how to use crowdfunding effectively have become a bit of mainstay in the indie film blogosphere. But that doesn't make them any less crucial. Crowdfunding has become the most-talked about new tool in a filmmaker's arsenal for getting your movie financed. It's an intimidating commitment, particularly if you want to do it well. Luckily we all have a community to turn to, a community that has been very generous with their shared knowledge. Joke and Biagio, a husband & wife filmmaking team, collected their favorite & most helpful crowdfunding posts recently -- and having included a post from this site SPRANG to my attention. They not only found posts that were useful, but also were then able to recognize what was missing. Today they guest post and fill in one of those gaps: the emotional connection between your crowdfunding campaign and your audience. Thanks guys!

The internet’s a crowded place. Everyone’s promoting something. A product, a cause, a film…

Make your movie stand out from the crowd by connecting with people on an emotional level.

How the Heck Do I Do That?

Below are some best-guess tips from our experience making and promoting Dying to do Letterman, our feature documentary which will qualify for Academy Award® consideration at DocuWeeks™ 2011.

So far, the audience response has been emotional -- and beyond our wildest dreams. In looking back, here's what we've learned.

1. Start With a Project that Makes You Emotional.

Oodles of filmmakers miss the mark on this point.

If the mere thought of the film you’re planning doesn’t make you laugh out loud, bring tears to your eyes, keep you up late at night and bounce you out of bed early in the morning, make another movie that does.

You’ll never move an audience if the project doesn’t move you.

2. Connect To Others With Your Film's “Story”

We’re not talking about “plot” or “script” here.

What’s the story of your film?

Why are you making it?

What extraordinary circumstances in your own life gave you no choice BUT to make this movie?

From the dawn of time great stories have bonded people, creating a shared human experience. Today those stories are told around campfires, water coolers, and dinner tables.

No one’s going to retell your elevator pitch to their friends, but they will relate an amazing story about a filmmaker they met.

When it came to our story, we were “lucky” (as filmmakers, anyway) to have an emotional behind-the-scenes story.

Before sharing this example, we acknowledge you might not have such built-in emotional circumstances. That's okay. Find your story that connects with people on a gut level--a story they want to retell to others--whether funny, horrific, inspiring, or unbelievable.

Ours went something like this:

“One of our best friends is a stand-up comedian and he’s always wanted to perform on Letterman. We just found out he has cancer and might only have five years to live. When we called to see if we could help in any way, he told us he’s dedicating what’s left of life to chasing his dream, and asked us to film it. It was a hard decision, but we’re throwing in our life savings and seeing the movie through to the end.”

That story moved us. It moved the people we told. They told others.

Find your story.

3. “Social” without the “media” part...

Social media will be a huge part of promoting your film, but nothing can recreate the emotional connection made between two real people.

In person.

No computer in the middle.

Find any excuse to personally introduce yourself to your potential audience.

In our case, during the filming of the documentary, we went out of our way to shake every person’s hand, learn their name, and thank them for their involvement...even if they were just casual passers-by.

At every film festival screening we walk through the line before the film starts, introduce ourselves as the filmmakers, and sincerely thank people for coming to our movie.

We now know many of them by name, and they actively keep in touch on Facebook and Twitter, as well as our blog and the official site — the perfect time for “social media” to step in and help out.

4. Share Your Emotions On Video

Allow your potential audience access to your life by posting regular video updates on your filmmaking journey. (This is something we started far too late.)

Be real. No one wants to support a “too cool for school” filmmaker. People support those they can relate to. Show you're as vulnerable as the people you’re reaching out to every day (as long as you’re genuine.)

It’s probably no coincidence that the day this video went up we raised about $10,000 for our Kickstarter campaign. We almost didn’t put it up because it was a little embarrassing.

Clearly, that would’ve been a costly mistake.

5. Swag vs Mementos

me·men·to/məˈmenˌtō/
Noun: An object kept as a reminder or souvenir of a person, place or event.

swag /swag/
Noun: Not a memento.

How many film festivals have you been to where you’ve been hit with buttons, mugs, pens, tee-shirts--you name it?

Some swag is clever. Some isn’t. Most you'd never give a second thought.

Rather than spend big money on swag, spend mucho time coming up with a creative, inexpensive item your potential audience might actually hold on to — even cherish — in the years to come.

It’s not easy.

In our case, after weeks of brainstorming, Steve Mazan (subject of Dying to do Letterman) said, “You know, I was dying to do Letterman, I wonder what everyone else is dying to do?”

He then came up with our “I’m Dying To…” buttons.

They’re blank in the middle, and Steve personally writes people’s dreams on them with a sharpie. We street team days before the movie plays (and by we, we mean the two of us, Steve, and whoever else we can con into it) and give people their "dream buttons" along with a flyer listing our screening times.

People wear the buttons, strike up conversations with complete strangers about their buttons, all the while connecting their own dreams back to our movie.

We credit those buttons with our numerous sell out crowds, standing ovations, and a more amazing launch to our Kickstarter campaign
We’re Not Psychologists

We’re just indie filmmakers who want others to be as passionate about our movie as we are every day.

Over the years we’ve been lucky to work on many different types of film and TV projects, but we’ve never had such enthusiastic audience response and participation until now.

The difference?

People are connecting to our film emotionally.

Work hard to achieve that, and your film may be one of the lucky ones that breaks out.

We’re hoping Dying to do Letterman proves to be one of those films.

We get emotional just thinking about it.

About Joke and Biagio:

Wife and husband team Joke and Biagio are best known in the unscripted world for executive producing "Scream Queens" on VH1, "Commercial Kings with Rhett and Link" on IFC (currently airing Friday Nights at 10pm/9 central) and the upcoming documentary series "Caged" on MTV. Other credits include "Beauty and the Geek" and "Oh Baby, Now What?" The duo earned their documentary wings under acclaimed filmmaker R.J. Cutler ("The War Room," "The September Issue") and honed their reality TV skills working with luminaries like Mark Burnett. Their company, Joke Productions, Inc., is growing fast. They blog and tweet about making film and TV at www.jokeandbiagio.com and @JokeAndBiagio.

About Steve Mazan:

In the decade since starting in the great San Francisco comedy scene, Steve Mazan has played clubs, colleges and corporate events across America. In addition, to reaching his dream of performing on David Letterman's show, he's been a repeat guest on Craig Ferguson, Byron Allen and the Bob & Tom Show.

But of all the shows Steve has done, he remains most proud of the many trips he's made to the Mid-East to perform for our troops. As a former Navy Submariner, Steve knows how much those men and women sacrifice for our country, and how much they need our support, and someone to laugh at.

Guest Post: Ari Gold: Power The Power: "Adventures of Power" finds 100,000 fans without a traditional release

I've written a lot about the increasing responsibilities of filmmakers and the absolute need to focus on audience/community building. How to we get our work seen in an entertainment economy that has shifted from being based on scarcity and control, to one of super-abundance and ever-increasing access? The tools get better daily, and slowly we start to map out a series of best practices. In today's guest post, filmmaker Ari Gold writes precisely of that challenge and how he's managed to find some success without following the standard release plans. Ari directed one of my favorite all-time shorts (Helicopter), so I am excited to see his feature debut ADVENTURES OF POWER.

In a case of life imitating art imitating life, my air-drum comedy "Adventures of Power" is now launching a real air-drum competition [http://AirDrumBattle.com]. Rock-star drummers are lining up to participate. How in hell did I become an event planner? I used to think you just made a movie, and watch it go to theaters. But that’s not how it works these days, not for most of us. Independent filmmakers who can’t afford advertising have to find a way to get the word out about their movies - I’ve decided to become an event planner in order to do it. “Power’s Air Drum Battle” is the second initiative that I’ve done during the slow-burn release of the movie: we’ve already saved a music school with our charity auction, and so now we’re just going to have some fun. Anyone want to become a star by air-drumming?

They used to say you write a film 3 times: when you write it down, when you film it, and when you edit it. Making my movie, I learned that the first and third "writes", you can be a perfectionist. But the second time (the shoot) you have to be a philosopher, because you're not the one doing the writing. The shoot takes on a life of its own - often like a minor apocalypse. I would now add a fourth time you “write” a film - and that’s when you bring it to the world. That’s another one that’s hard to write yourself, even when you’re doing it yourself. Getting people’s attention without having the traditional press in your pocket is not easy to do.

I first conceived of “Adventures of Power,” a spiritual/political/absurdist fable about air-drumming and the American Dream, while living in a copper-mining town in New Mexico. The miners were going on strike; there were fights in the street. The story about a copper-mining dreamer making something out of nothing seemed to me to be a perfect combination of the ridiculous and the sublime. I don’t think I could have predicted the wild journey of bringing the “little epic” to the masses, and how much I'd feel like that miner. Broken bones, lightning strikes against the crew, death threats from copper-factory bosses (and eventually, on the plus side, invitations to countries from Finland to Thailand) were not what I expected. I wasn't expecting my rough-cut to be reviewed (mostly badly) and the final film which I love to get no press whatsoever. But suddenly I have 100,000 fans on Facebook. How's that work?

The sleepless, terrifying night before my shoot started, I received the following email advice from my brother: "Have fun, have fun, have fun." And my friend from Germany wrote that before he shot his last film, he told himself "things will go wrong. not work out. i will be disappointed, frustrated and lost at times. but thats not bad. or wrong. as long as i can lay in bed at nite and honestly tell myself: i gave it all i got.' this is not about winning. this is about doin´ it. with all your might and love. than the gods will look after you."

Both of these emails were incredibly helpful. The winds of fate, weather, casting, financing, and distribution are often out of our control. I’ve had fans begging to buy my movie for many moons, while it navigated the perils of a distribution business in transition. I realized I couldn’t just walk away from the movie when I finished it. It played Sundance, won a bunch of prizes, and then I still had to put it out on my own. I have no idea if 100,000 new fans will ever pay the bills, but it’s great to know that all the hard work is finally bringing the fable to the masses. Every once in a while, people take power into their own hands. Power to the people!

-- Ari Gold

Ari Gold’s first feature film “Adventures of Power”, an epic comedy about air-drumming and the American dream, won best-of-festival prizes at film festivals around the world, and was called “One of the funniest films in recent years” by New York Magazine. His short films "Helicopter" and "Culture" won prizes around the world, and he is currently at work on a new feature. AriGoldFilms.com

http://AdventuresOfPower.com Now on DVD DVD includes 2 full hours of bonus materials, making-of, Ari’s student Oscar-winning short film “Helicopter”, interview with Neil Peart, bonus scenes with Jane Lynch, Adrian Grenier, Tim & Eric, and more.

Follow Ari Gold on Twitter at @AriGold Ari's site: http://AriGoldFilms.com

Guest Post: Ray Privett: Past, Present, and Future Meet in ZENITH's Multi-Platform Release

Independent filmmakers are always on a search for new ways to get their films seen. Audience building is part of any practical artist's plan. The tools we have available for this improve consistently. Regular readers of this blog probably share my fascination for innovative approaches to distribution, particularly with efforts that put audience first. It's refreshing to see discussions that once were limited to the marriage of form and content to now embrace a three way coupling and add presentation (aka platform) to the mix. Do certain subjects or story-telling methods require unique forms of presentation? Ray Privett considers this in today's guest post.

"I know words no one else knows anymore." - dumb jack in Zenith

Readers of HopeForFilm.com are familiar with VODO and Bittorrent (both the protocol and the company). Gregory Bayne mentioned them in a HopeForFilm post about his release of Person of Interest, and VODO shows up in occasional lists here of filmmaker tools. That said, readers might be curious how bittorrent tools have been useful as part, rather than the entirety, of a release. One such release is Zenith, from my company Cinema Purgatorio.

Zenith is a film by Anonymous - no, not that Anonymous - which we've been releasing in extremely conventional as well as unconventional ways. Since long before the release began, Zenith has had an extensive online transmedia campaign. Then we played twenty-some traditional movie theaters as well as temporary venues, and did a fairly conventional cable VOD and DVD release. iTunes is coming soon. Meanwhile we have released the first chunk online under a creative-commons license, free to download with VODO and Bittorrent. After downloading, supporters help bring forth further chunks of the film, new materials, and limited edition Blu-Rays and masks. For $1000, you can even can meet a character from the film in person.

The VODO release, and the release in general, have been big successes so far. In the first ten days, more than 500,000 free-to-share downloads of Zenith's first 30 minutes led to more than $5000 in audience sponsorship, and notable increases in film-related website pageviews and mailing lists.

Would we like more? Well, of course. However, we've thought of this also as a way to celebrate and share the meta world of the film, increase the general viewer base, and develop ongoing relationships with fans. Hopefully our successes are only just beginning.

Not all projects would benefit from a promoted VODO / Bittorrent release as much as Zenith. Zenith's cyberpunk atmosphere, surplus of internet paraphernalia, and - most importantly - achievement as filmmaking qua filmmaking likely resonate with the bittorrent userbase. Also, Zenith's time-jumping, cliffhanging, idea-heavy substance - think The Da Vinci Code / Blade Runner / The Big Sleep - works well with the serialized, participatory release method that bittorrent and VODO can provide. Contemplative documentaries and slow burn chamber dramas might not function well in this forum; however, disruptive, episodic cliffhangers can. Or, in a different direction, harrowing, up to the minute, war-zone reportage that needs exposure to and funding from strangers might benefit from a modified approach, if they can take the time to develop the infrastructure (which is a big if).

Offline, and in private, some of our esteemed colleagues have criticized Cinema Purgatorio for pursuing a relatively traditional release on such a forward thinking film. I understand their perspective; Vladan Nikolic - who may or may not be "Anonymous" - even was cautious about the "theatrical" and DVD release. However, without those traditional elements, we wouldn't have achieved the same level of press coverage and relatively secure income from traditional sources as we have. We would have depended too much on the technology of the future to achieve a release in the present. That's fine for people who have infinite venture capital behind them, and who are more interested in proof of futuristic concept than in contemporary result. But for a release with more modest resources, and which actually must stand up and run on its own feet, I think this has been the right way to go. Zenith's release has looked both forward and backward, using methods of the past and the future to achieve a unique and successful release in the present.

For me the question is this: As Zenith is a film set in both the present and the future, which is deeply enriched by past science fiction filmmaking and literature, does our multi-platform release resonate with the substance of the film proper better than a purely digital release would have? Vladan Nikolic and the other filmmakers, and everyone in the viewing community, are the most important ones to answer that question. I look forward to ongoing discussion with them as the release continues forward, and I look forward to seeing how other filmmakers - hopefully many of them real independents, other true "Anonymouses" with no connections to big powerful players - use bittorrent-related methods into the future.

-- Ray Privett

Ray Privett is founder of Cinema Purgatorio. He ran New York City's Pioneer Theater and managed Facets Video's Exclusive DVD line when each was at its most successful.

Your Great Movie May Never Get Seen

If you think it is as simple as make a great film and it will get seen, you are not truly recognizing the world we live in. Great films get ignored all the time. Great films don't get distributed, and when they do, often they are not distributed in a significant way. Filmmakers and their collaborators have to move beyond the dream that if you build it they will come as it allows both them, their work, and their supporters to be exploited. You are reading this presumably because you either love watching great movies or because you aspire to making great movies.  I write here because I want to do both of those things and I have the confidence that if we change our behavior, both are possible.  I write here because I want to do both of those things and I have the concern that if we don't change our behavior, we will lose the opportunity to do either for ever.

Change begins with a step, usually the easiest one for the most people to do.  What would be that change that encourages either, and ideally both, for better movies to be seen more widely, and for more of the movies to actually be better?  On all fronts, I think the answer comes down to collaboration.  If the quality of culture and the access to quality culture is of a concern to you, you have to enter the equation.

Speak up and join in.  Curate.  Filter.  Focus.

Thoughts On Audience Building

Today's guest post is from filmmaker (and mind map builder!) Mike Ambs.

In a recent post here, Ted Hope listed "38 More Ways The Film Industry is Failing Today"; many of the questions and points made among the 38 stood out to me, and I've spent the last several days trying to openly brainstorm steps that could lead towards change. But today, I wanted to write about one in particular: Ted asked why we don't encourage, or even demand, that a film build it's audience (say, 5,000 fans) prior to production and greenlight.

For starters, I love the idea of audience builds. I think the practice of audience builds before a film gets too far off the ground would be a great shift in how we think of films, how we approach them, how to involve the audience long before they ever sit down in a theater - but it raises a few key issues:

Filmmaking is storytelling, and stories are told many different ways and take very different paths. Because of this, it might not be the best idea to mandate audience builds. One reason for this is it could, if taken advantage of, create yet another "door" that is opened easier only for some.

So the real question is, "why" take this route? If you had a fork in the road, would you, as a filmmaker, only take the path of audience building prior to production because it was the path less traveled? Or would it come with it's own real incentives outside of "popularity"? For example, would studios honor and take seriously independent films that have done the hard work of pre-building their audiences? Or would certain grants and financial benefits kick in at such a watermark? It's important to help build that distinction and give filmmakers real incentives at thinking of storytelling in this way: your supporters are your foundation, build that first, then your film.

This topic of audience builds is interesting to me because, as much as I agree with the idea of pre-building your supporters, I've been very hard at work on For Thousands of Miles for six years now, always with a strong interest in the community that can grow around a film, and I still fall short of that hypothetical benchmark of 5,000 supporters. Even with Facebook, Twitter, mailing list, Kickstarter, production-blog subscribers, Vimeo community, etc: we are not above 5,000 people. Have we overlooked the importance of forming a relationship with the audience beforehand? Does our film's approach and idea need more work before people really begin to relate on a larger scale? And on top of this, these supporters overlap: people who follow the film on Twitter, also might be subscribed to both our blog as well as our mailing list. Which raises the questions:

How do we keep proper tally of the numbers during an audience build without counting one person two or three times? How would an outside review separate individual supporters across multiple social tools? And more importantly, who would do this validating? Should we be building stat tools and options for keeping these aggregated numbers public, letting the film's own growing base self-check it's own real-world size? Does this public display beg for popularity contest, where growing your numbers by any means necessary as fast as possible becomes the focus, instead of slowly and steadily reaching out to people who will really follow and support your work over the longterm?

Measurement can be relative when it comes to films, support can vary wildly depending on how a filmmaker goes about engaging people beyond their film. So how do we really measure this? Hitting a set number of followers / supporters / fans / backers could be one way, or if anything, the first step in audience building. From there it's what you do with these people: how you involve them in the process, what they get out of supporting your project. As filmmakers we cannot change the future of storytelling without the audience's full support - we need them to fall in love with a new "norm" of getting involved and be right there next to us when going head-to-head with the old ways of industry.

Mike Ambs currently lives in Ypsilanti. He loves to film things and tell stories. And read on the subway. He's pretty sure blue whales are his power animal.

Audiences: Made, Not Born

Today's guest post is from screenwriter Jeremy Pikser. When we say, “know your audience,” what do we mean, exactly? What defines the characteristics of an audience? Is an “audience” identical to a “market?”

Is the audience, as Hollywood (and, really, the entire ideology of market consumerism) would have us believe, a natural expression of human nature, the zeitgeist, or what people “want now?”  To think so would be to ignore the domination of our sense of what all these are by exactly the cultural forces who are selling us what we “want.”

The creation of desire is a well worn concept, but it’s worth keeping in mind when we think about the “audience” for art. The requirement, for instance, of virtually every popular story to have somewhere in it a hot chick, a beautiful woman, a fair maiden isn’t, obviously, something that’s been created by Hollywood out of whole cloth. It has a long tradition in popular (and not so popular) art. But the entertainment industry has cultivated this notion into a much more powerful and self perpetuating “necessity.”

Let’s talk about stars. There is, we understand, an audience for films with bankable stars. What does that mean? How was the star system developed, and why? People go see, let’s say, a Will Farrell movie. When they talk about it (even, more often than not, when professional CRITICS talk about it, they don’t say Ricky Bobby does this or that, or Ron (was that his name?)Burgundy does this or that, they say Will Ferrell does.

On the other hand, if most TV fans saw Hugh Laurie walking down the street, they’d say… “look, it’s House!” Would there be an audience for a show starring Hugh Laurie using his native accent? Is there such a thing as a Hugh Laurie series as there is a Will Ferrell movie?

The expectations of the audience, what it wants, how it thinks about what it responds to in a film or TV show doesn’t arise spontaneously from human nature or the zeitgeist, but by the way the industry develops and promotes it’s “product.”

The audience wants stars (which basically means a very small pool of lead actors) because the studios figured out a long time ago, repeating casting that had successful audience results, and exploiting those repetitions to the hilt through publicity anointing the actors as “stars” was the most profitable way to sell films. People respond to Jean Harlow in a film. So the next three films calling for a sexy woman require Jean Harlow to be in them, and Jean Harlow is proclaimed the sexiest woman in pictures, and before you know it, the audience “wants” a “Jean Harlow movie.”  After 70 years of this, the audience can only want a “somebody movie.” Its what the audience understands as a top movie experience. If there’s not “somebody” in it, it’s less likely to be satisfying, and less likely to have an audience.

Of course the kinds of stories and  the way they’re told follow the same pattern. When the entire culture from E network to the Times “culture” pages take as a force of nature that the release of every $200 million summer tent pole is an seminal event in the collective experience of contemporary human experience, it’s not surprising that audiences await them with bated breath.  And it becomes a fact that audiences “want” to see big movies, with big budgets, elaborate effects, and lots of explosions (like the old SCTV  Farm Film Report where Billy Sol Hurok and Big Jim McBob rated films on how well “they blowed things up.”).

The market creates the audience, the audience drives the market by following its lead.

And in the most corrosive of all such feedback loops, audiences “want” successful pictures. I don’t know exactly when it was, (surely sometime after 1975, maybe as recently as the 90s?) “arts” coverage and the audience started focusing on film grosses and evaluating films largely on the basis of them.  Now it is relative well accepted that a film that doesn’t meet market expectations is definition a film “fails,” and is therefore, not a good film. George Trow wrote a great article in the New Yorker 15 or 20 years ago marking Family Feud as a turning point in the culture because it was the first game show where the “right” answer was defined as the most popular answer.

This isn’t to say that the notion of creating an audience is inherently a bad thing. Culture is never created or experienced in a cultural vacuum.  That maximum profit is the end all be all of the most powerful forces in the culture create the conditions for both expression and response, may indeed be an inherently bad thing, but there are other examples of audience creation, too.  The European New Wave directors of the late 50’s and 60’s created a new audience, not just by making films that audiences were ready for, but by building a culture in a variety of media that cultivated the values and attitudes of the new cinema and was expressive of the audience’s non-mainstream interests. The American film makers who aped them in the 70’s to some extent did the same. Critics like Kenneth Tynan, Pauline Kael, and Andrew Sarris played an important role, too, in educating audiences and creating a nexus for a new concept of what they “wanted.”

As varied and eclectic as all the players may have been, there was some kind of underlying aesthetic, social agenda, and relationship to historical developments that unified the creation of this new audience—a zeitgeist that gave rise to both the artists who educated the audience, as well as the audience who embraced their work and supported it. This, to me, is the kind of feedback loop we should strive for.

Jeremy Pikser is the co-writer of the film Bulworth, for which he won the LA Critics Award, as well as Oscar, and Golden Globe nominations.  War, Inc., which he wrote with Mark Leyner and John Cusack premiered at the TFF in 2008.  In 2009 he  completed a script for director Darren Aronofsky about Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass).  He is currently developing a cable series with co-writer Mark Leyner.

The Exhibitor Audience Collaboration

I ran into Chris Dorr last week and had a good conversation with him about the many different ways the film world needs to engage with social media. One of the ideas here offered was exhibitors and festivals utilizing FourSquare. I tweeted the genius idea and sure enough soon learned that at least one film festival was ahead of the curve. AMERICAN SPLENDOR created a soft spot in my heart for Cleveland and now learning what the Cleveland International Film Festival was up to brought a sweet pang of joy. What's FourSquare you ask? CIFF explains:

Foursquare, a social networking tool for mobile devices, is a cross between a friend-finder, a social city-guide, and a game that rewards you for doing interesting things. Anytime you log your location with Foursquare, you earn points that translate into virtual “badges.” Frequenting a place more than anyone else will earn you the title of “Mayor.”

My only question though is what does becoming Mayor of CIFF get you? It's the kind of thing that I think all festivals should engage in and Mayor status should bring a free pass for next year. Theaters should also do the same and offer free tickets.

Simple promotions awarding the monthly "Mayor" is just the start of things that could come from a FourSquare alliance.  Mike Vogel pointed out that filmmakers could come up with ways to entice people who had earned a "Swarm" badge with 50+ attendees.  What such ideas do you have to share?

Let's recognize and accept that it is not just the movie that audiences want, but also the social experience. We have to work harder to find ways to enhance that. One thing is for sure though, the more you know the regulars at a theater then more you feel at home -- and the more you feel at home the more that you are going to be there.

Update 3/21:  The comments below are full of good ideas.  I hope the film festivals & exhibitors  listen (and foursquare too).  Please let me know of any that are doing it right (and why) as you come across them.