Monday, February 1, 2010
Build The Audience and The Movie Will Come
We all know the ‘Field of Dreams’ mantra..."If you build it, he will come" (often misquoted as "If you build it, they will come") Most artists and industries have operated off this philosophy for years and most continue to do so. We, the independent filmmaker, are no different. We blindly have faith that if we make our movie the audience will be there waiting.
Today’s market is saturated with filmmaking hopefuls. Thousands of films are sent off to the top film festivals each year, with filmmakers praying for acceptance and recognition. These festivals have served as the key gatekeepers in the film business for the last two decades. The festival machine has fueled the careers of our predecessors.
The game has changed.
Everywhere I turn, everyone is trying to figure out what the new business model is going to be. All of my peers are talking and writing about this everyday. How are we as independent filmmakers going to sustain ourselves. How do we carve out a career. This is something I certainly ponder everyday.
There is so much being written about this from various sources on a daily basis that it is hard for me to keep up. I believe I have some useful and practical ideas that will be helpful to you.
The answers and the tools are right in front of us. With the right mindset we will see more filmmakers with sustainable careers. Before I continue, I should note that I make ultra low-budget films which I believe is the starting ground for all us.
The staple of what I am writing about here is the subject of this post. If you are looking to enter this game and sustain yourself from this point forward you must focus on...
Building Your Audience Before You Make Your Film.
So many filmmakers will go out and raise money for a six figure film ($100,000 or more) without a clear cut audience to turn to once the film is completed. It may work for a minute few but for the majority this is suicide.
It is getting easier and easier to build an audience online through blogs, video blogs, audio podcasts, short videos, web series, twitter, facebook, youtube, etc. I am not going to go into how to build an audience. For the purposes of this blog, I will say simply that there are numerous resources at your disposal and that it is essential for you engage in conversation with your supporters. If you are not building your audience/network/support system/fans/followers etc. you will get left behind by those who are. This isn't something you can dabble in, it is something to work on everyday.
Let me touch on another idea I believe should be part of your mindset, then I will come back to a tool that serves as a gauge to your fanbase. This tool will show you if have been effective in building your audience. It will show you if you have support for your film before you make your it.
Do Not Focus On Making Your First Feature Film, Focus On Making Your First 5 Feature Films.
The leap from short films to a feature film is dramatic. I, for one, have experienced the difference and it is significant. I know many filmmakers who have yet to make this leap. I believe most filmmakers become so consumed on making their first feature that they lose sight of the bigger picture. I certainly fall into this category myself, though I am working my way through it.
Despite the challenges of making a feature film. If you are going to have a sustainable career you cannot put all of your might into your first film. You will find yourself trapped.
Think about how you are going to finance and recoup the money on your first five feature films. I am not speaking in wishful terms. Let me repeat that, you should be thinking about how you are going to finance and recoup the money on your first five feature films. You should be thinking the way Robert Rodriguez was 19 years ago. There are so many brilliant aspects to his book Rebel Without a Crew. It is easy to get seduced by his story of writing his film in a laboratory, then going down to Mexico to film his movie for $7000. If you go back and read the book, studying his mindset and his career path you will see that he would have had a film career with or without Hollywood.
His plan was not to start with one feature, but with a trilogy of action films. Each one to be bigger than the last. His plan was to make the first for less than $10,000 yet carry the value of a $100,000 film. He knew his market was the Spanish home video market and that in a worst case scenario he would be able to sell the film for $25,000. This would net him $15,000 profit. He would then take that money and make the next film better. You get the idea.
Two examples of filmmakers using this philosophy today are Dale Stelly and Joe Swanberg. They are making films for a specific audience. They are making their films cheaply so that their money is recouped. Each film improves upon the last while they build their audience film by film. They both have a film career.
With all this talk of sustainability, I asked myself, what would it take right now for me to make films that open up a revenue stream for me going forward. My first feature Night Before the Wedding has a ways to go before it breaks even. Let alone making me money and creating a viable revenue stream. Meanwhile it is stress on my shoulders and my wallet.
I can say that NBTW will eventually break even and will be a revenue stream for us. Though it is going to take more time, more energy, and more work. I just have to continue to ride the course.
Having said that, there is hope for me on my next film, Goodbye Promise. I have an opportunity with GP that I didn't have with NBTW. I am going to lay this out in my next blog.
Here are my final thoughts for this blog...
I have the answer for what would be huge for me sustaining my career from this point forward. It is also something that would help me gauge the fan support I currently have. It is something that many filmmakers are already taking advantage of...and it is something that I now believe becomes essential for every independent filmmaker before they make their next film.