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There is a dramatic shift now underway in the way many independent filmmakers are finding audiences for their work.
In the movie business, audiences are usually described as either mass or niche. Typically, Hollywood movies seek a mass audience and independent movies seek a niche audience. And, of course, every indie filmmaker dreams that they will reach a mass audience with a surprise blockbuster hit.
What is emerging now, however, is a new way of thinking about audience that is certainly not "mass," nor is it really "niche."
Kevin Kelly, a well-known writer on technology, wrote a blog post three years ago that gave a name to this phenomena, which he called 1,000 True Fans.
He starts by asking any creator, be it a musician, filmmaker or painter, “How much money do you need to make a living doing your art?”
Once this question has been answered, the creator knows how many True Fans she needs to find in order to support her work and most importantly herself. Kelly suggests that the number can range from 1,000 True Fans on upward. It all depends on how much money you need and what each True Fan will spend on your work. An individual True Fan could spend $25, $50, $100 per year or more.
Who are these people, these True Fans?
Kelly lays out the qualities of the True Fan as follows:
A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name… They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can't wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.
This shift of focus to True Fans is a significant one for filmmakers whose films are traditionally guided by others—in the areas of public relations, marketing and distribution and whose job is to pursue audiences, not True Fans.
This model demands direct involvement by the filmmaker with the audience—in order to find and cultivate the True Fan.
Kelly goes on to say:
Pleasing a True Fan is pleasurable, and invigorating. It rewards the artist to remain true, to focus on the unique aspects of their work, the qualities that True Fans appreciate.
The key challenge is that you have to maintain direct contact with your 1,000 True Fans. They are giving you their support directly. Maybe they come to your house concerts, or they are buying your DVDs from your website…As much as possible you retain the full amount of their support. You also benefit from the direct feedback and love.
Is This For Everybody?
Some filmmakers will insist that this is not what they signed up for. They just want to create their movies, go to film festivals and be lionized, get a big distribution advance for their films, show up for the premiere, walk the red carpet and then watch the box office returns go through the stratosphere.
A lucky few will still be able to experience this fantasy. But for most filmmakers this will remain just that—a fantasy. They will continue to live in perpetual panic about how they will get their next movie made, distributed and marketed.
Or they will work very hard at connecting with their True Fans and benefit from direct feedback and yes—even love.
Who Is Doing This Now?
We have been very fortunate on the Future of Film Blog to have several imaginative filmmakers blog about their experiences connecting with their True Fans. Jennifer Fox wrote about how her True Fans pumped $150,000 into her movie My Reincarnation, Mark Polish related his experience connecting with his True Fans (which drove his movie For Lovers Only to the top of the iTunes charts), and Melanie Schiele discussed how she gathered True Fans to finance her short film, Rockaway. They all created real connections with True Fans that translated into direct feedback, love and most importantly—money!
Edward Burns discussed how his True Fans helped him create the one sheet, music and even the title for his new film Newlyweds and as I write this Tiffany Shlain is implementing the ideas from her post as she connects with her True Fans for the release of her movie Connected.
Five different stories from five very different filmmakers, each of them an innovator who is driving a fundamental shift in how independent films are financed, produced, marketed, distributed and experienced by their audiences.
Over the next several months I am sure we will have many more stories from filmmakers who are finding their True Fans and as a result are building a more sustainable future for independent film.
Perhaps the story about how you connected with your True Fans will be one of them.