Films are meant to be watched. Duh.
The amount of creative and business hats I wore in film school made me struggle. I was the screenwriter, then a producer, and at the end, a distributor. By the time I was the distributor, my attention was pulled in so many directions, I had completely lost track of who my film was for. Many new filmmakers can have a similar experience. Just out of film school you have a very small network. Next thing you know, all of those hats are back on. And if that happens, remember the audience.
People watch films. What type of people will watch your film? How are they going to identify with the story? The answers to these questions will help guide in creating the themes, characters, and narratives that your target audiences will latch on to. If your project isn't relatable to some segment of an audience base, you will set yourself up for an uphill battle. Then, once people engage with those themes, characters, and narratives, you'll be able to hone in on your core audience and start nurturing an ad hoc marketing team. This is what I attempted to do with my final project at film school.
The project was a short film about a female MMA fighter. I identified the core audience as fans of the sports film genre. When I went to crowdfund the film, I reached out to this group of people for support. That crowdfunding campaign ultimately failed. I didn’t expand the audience enough. I focused so much on the elements that appealed to the MMA group - the fight scenes and action choreography - that we might have alienated other groups. I should have looked at the other relatable elements of the film. The film had a strong female protagonist and a father/daughter relationship at its core. These themes could have helped me reach beyond the sports genre fan base.
So if you’ve managed to avoid my mistakes, and completed your film, what’s next? You begin a dialogue with your audience. Channels of communication between you and your audience can make or break your film, especially once you start to distribute. Social platforms - Twitter, Facebook, Instagram - or video platforms - YouTube, Vimeo - can really help you create and cultivate those channels. Responding to the feedback received through these channels demonstrates accessibility, accountability and a desire to collaborate that audiences will appreciate. If done correctly, you will now have an active community supporting your film.
Community engagement can be fleeting. You need to nurture your new community. So when the need for a marketing push comes, that community will answer the call. Demonstrating your accessibility within a community is one way to nurture. Updating content is another. That content could be a trailer or a behind-the-scenes clip. Reward the community for their support. This late in the process, it should feel like the film belongs to the community as much as it does to the filmmaker.
Once you’ve successfully created a community around your film, you need to direct your film’s fan base towards becoming your fans too. This is what “cult filmmakers” like Ben Wheatley and Lynne Ramsay do. Their initial films didn’t get large theatrical releases but they were able to ensure that the small audience they had on their first film, would come to the next, and grow with each project. You need to strive for this goal. To move forward in your career, show studio heads, production companies, and financiers that you have an audience. It’s easier said than done, trust me. But with this new community that you’ve just built, the process is already underway.