Life as an indie filmmaker is hard. Talent isn’t enough. There are some hard questions to think about in today’s market.

How are you going to make money from your work?

How do you build a sustainable career?

How do you stand out?

Here are some grim facts.

The BFI reports between 2003 and 2010, only 7% of British films were profitable.

We’re drowning in content. In 1994, 46 feature films were produced in the UK. In 2013, there were 249 films produced. Pre-recession, in 2010, it was 369.

Technology’s reduced the barriers to entry for filmmaking. Anyone can pick up a camera can and make a film. That’s a good thing. But it makes it harder to be heard. The signal to noise ratio is deafening.

We’re not in the time of Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee and Robert Rodriguez. Getting discovered at a major festival is a great Cinderella story, but it’s not a sound career strategy. It doesn’t happen anymore.

Traditional distribution is failing independent film. It’s risk averse. We’re in a race to the bottom for the mass market. Star driven content is king and it’s all about international box office.

Indiewire had an article recently Should Filmmakers Think About Distribution Before They Start Shooting? Yes. Absolutely. You can’t afford not to.

You can’t just make your film and hand it off to someone else to deal with distribution.  It doesn’t work. The system is broken. Once distributors and sales agents have recouped their costs and taken their share, you’re left with crumbs from the table. Some films make a profit. It’s rare. The majority don’t.

If your first film suffers from the traditional distribution process and doesn’t make money, it gets harder and harder to raise finance for the next.

So, what do you do?

You’ve got to be smart and business savvy.

Who are you making your films for?

You need to find your tribe.

The filmmakers/musicians/writers that are successful are the ones who’ve found their tribe.

Your tribe are the people who are going to be as passionate about your films as you are. They’ll watch your movies, shell out extra for that special edition, come to Q&As and crowdfund you to make your next film.

But I’m not Amanda Palmer, Spike Lee or Zach Braff. I don’t have their celebrity or reach.

We all have to start somewhere.

Filmmakers tend to operate on the assumption, if you build it, they will come.

Flip that. Yes, art can generate an audience. Start thinking about finding your audience first, then making your art.

How do you find your tribe? Start finding people who share the same passions you do. Engage with them. Start a website. Get on Twitter and Tumblr. Write. Make videos. Do the things you’re passionate about and share them with the world. Share your influences – photos, films that have inspired you, what you’ve written that day. Get yourself a copy of Austin Kleon’s books Show Your Work & Steal Like An Artist for a guided how to.

Support other filmmakers and creatives. Get involved. Volunteer your time, your knowledge and experience on other people’s projects that you’re passionate about.

It’s not easy. Building a community takes time. You have to be authentic.  You have to offer work of value. Most importantly, you have to be yourself. People can sniff out in second when you’re not being genuine. Stop thinking about it as marketing. Start having a conversation.

Want to see examples of tribes in action?

The Fault In Our Stars, the YA adaptation of John Green’s best selling book, smashed Tom Cruise’s Edge Of Tomorrow on opening weekend in the US, taking $48.2 million. Global box office so far – $280 million.

Those numbers are staggering.

They challenge the traditional distribution paradigm and assumptions. The Fault In Our Stars is a drama/romance. It’s a female led film with a young female audience. It’s not a sequel or remake.

It became an event, a must see movie in way that rivals the latest Marvel releases. It was the most tweeted about film ever and the most viewed trailer on YouTube ever until 50 Shades of Grey knocked it off the top spot.

John Green’s got a lot to do with that.  He’s found his tribe and built his fan base over the years. His social media presence is phenomenal, with 3 million Twitter followers and 2.2 million subscribers to his YouTube channel Vlog Brothers, where he and his brother Hank have been posting videos since 2007.

There’s been much discussion about John’s role in the social media drive for the film, how they made the film a must see event and used John’s reach across Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube to drive young audiences to the theatres. The Hollywood Reporter has a great overview.

These are good lessons, but for me, they miss the crux of the matter.

In 2011, the unfinished The Fault In Our Stars book landed on the number one spot on Amazon, after John promoted it to his fans. He replied to a Wall Street Journal article about its success on Twitter.

“I am genuinely uninterested in marketing, but I am VERY interested in being part of awesome communities”

That’s everything. That’s what you need. Awesome communities. You get there by engaging.

Rooster Teeth are another fantastic example of the power of a community and a tribe. I’ve written about how their sci fi comedy film Laser Team shattered Indiegogo’s records.

They asked for $650,000. By day two, they were already at $1 million. By the close of the campaign, they’d reached $2,480,074. Their fans rose up and supported them.

That’s an awesome community in action.

Rooster Teeth have vaulted over the traditional system of distribution. They’re fan funded content creators and completely self sustaining.

Direct distribution lets you cut out the middleman and talk directly to your fans. This is amazing. This is fantastic for filmmakers. But it means you have to put in the work to find your audience.

Can you find yours?

We want to support people we know. People we like. People we connect to.

How do you do that? You communicate. You make good content. You tell great stories. You make a connection with people.

Isn’t that good filmmaking is about?

Are you willing to take the time to do it?

Agree, disagree, questions, thoughts? Hit me up in the comments.

Picture Credit: Warriors

This post was inspired by a discussion on Sheri Candler’s Facebook page. There are some great thoughts there.


Reading Recs for this week aka Crowdfunding – You’re Doing It Wrong

Confessions From A Recovering Crowdfunding Influencer Or How You Got On My Ignore List by Rose Spinelli. Brilliant. This is what you send to that person you’ve never met who’s hitting you up on social media for their crowdfunding campaign. Follow her on Twitter @TCFrose and check out her site The CrowdFundamentals

In a similar vein, 5 Ways You’re Using Twitter Incorrectly To Promote Your Film’s Crowdfunding Campaign

David K. Greenwald’s been writing some fantastic content on Truly Free Film. Check out Why Filmmakers Fail and Brand? Oh… on why filmmakers needs to start thinking about themselves as a brand.

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