The 1,000 True Fans Strategy

In the movie business, the audience is usually described as either mass or niche.  Typically, Hollywood movies seek a mass audience and independent movies seek a niche audience.

Today, there is a new way of thinking about the audience that is neither “mass” nor is it really “niche”.  In fact, “audience” is a term that may no longer describe it.

Kevin Kelly wrote a blog post four years ago about this new approach, entitled 1,000 True Fans.

He starts by asking any creator, be it a musician or filmmaker, “How much money do you need to make a living doing your art?

Once she answers this question, the creator knows how many True Fans she needs to find.  Kelly suggests that the number can range from 1,000 True Fans on up.  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?

  “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 to a True Fan strategy is a significant one for filmmakers or musicians whose work is typically handled by others—in public relations, marketing and distribution. These others aim to get an audience, not True Fans.

This new model demands direct involvement by the artist with her audience—in order to find and cultivate the True Fan.

As Kelly points out;

 “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.”

Some filmmakers will insist that this is not what they signed up for.  They just want to create their movies, go to film festivals, be lionized, get a big distribution advance for their film, show up for the premiere, walk the red carpet and then watch the box office returns go through the roof.

A lucky few (the 1% shall we call them?) will still be able to experience this fantasy.  But for most filmmakers this will remain just that–a fantasy.  And they will continue to live in a perpetual panic about how they will get their next movie made, distributed and marketed.

Or they will radically change the way they think.

What many filmmakers then discover is that changing the way you think is very tough. To do so, they must graduate from a mindset that believes that an audience is made up of passive viewers to a wholly different mindset–one where users want to be active, to comment, connect with the filmmaker, connect with each other and yes, even buy.

These users take advantage of the “architecture of participation” that is the Internet. A filmmaker must decide if  she wants to live within this “architecture of participation” and call it home.

Those filmmakers that effectively change their mindset can then take the next step. Now they can work very hard at connecting with their True Fans and benefit from direct feedback and yes—even love.

Two projects that were just funded on Kickstarter serve as the latest illustration of this approach. Amanda Palmer and Bret Easton Ellis and Paul Schrader achieved success because they pursued the 1,000 True Fans Strategy.

Amanda Palmer raised $1,192,793 from 24,883 backers to support the recording and tour for her new album. Ellis and Schrader raised $159,015 from 1,050 backers to support the production of their movie The Canyons. Both projects exceeded their original monetary goals.

Yancey Strickler, a cofounder of Kickstarter breaks down the success of Palmer’s campaign in Amanda’s Millions. It is a must read for any artist who is trying to change the way they think about audience.

People might see the difference in the monies raised between the two projects and focus on the fact that Palmer raised much more than Ellis and Schrader.  To do so would miss the point.

Ellis and Schrader are new to this approach and their initial success with the 1,000 True Fans Strategy will undoubtedly breed more success in the future.

Palmer has been connecting with her fans for a long time and regularly communicates with them on social networks and in person when she tours.  She is reaping the success created by many years of hard work during which she has pursued the 1,o00 True Fans Strategy with a vengeance.

So the question is not “How much money can I raise?” or “How big is my audience?”

Instead, the first question to ask is “How many true fans do I need?”


An earlier version of this post appeared on the Future of Film blog.

About Chris Dorr

I consult with companies on digital media strategy and business development. Clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media and Canadian Film Center. I created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca. I have worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact me at or follow me at @chrisdorr
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  • Chris Swan

    Chris, thanks for sharing Kevin Kelly’s post and in particular for your perspective on it.    More to the fact that structures and models are changing rapidly – and thankfully they are changing to the benefit of creative and nimble approaches.  Great stuff.

    • chrisdorr

       Chris, thanks for your comment.  You are right, it is an exciting time as new models emerge that can really benefit creators directly.

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  • Sylvia

    Cannot tell you how much I love this post ! Convincing clients to understand that they can’t make a film or create content without knowing or understanding who is going to buy/consume it has been one of my biggest challenges.  “Architecture of participation” is now a frame from which I can now engender deeper discussion and, hopefully, better understanding about the process.  Thank you, thank you!

    • chrisdorr

       Hi Sylvia,  I apologize for the late reply.  Thanks for your kind words.  You are right that Kevin Reilly’s term, the “architecture of participation” gives us a new frame to understand this new situation within which we find ourselves. It will be exciting to see how it unfolds and how artists take advantage of this new way of seeing their audience.

  • chrisdorr

     Hi Sylvia, Thanks for your kind words.  It is tough to get filmmakers to realize that in today’s world they have more to do, especially if they have a indie movie, and do not have a huge marketing machine behind them. But they also have more tools and greater opportunities to connect with an audience than ever before. And at a very low cost.

  • This should not be a shift–rather it is an enhancement.  1,000 fans can spend $1,000 each on your movie and only fund $1mil, so what kind of movies will you make? Won’t your stories reach non-fans based on their conversational merit and contextual significance in people’s lives?  People are prone to share what they feel something about, so also consider the way journalists are maximizing traffic and amplifying content using algorithms, etc. because a filmmaker’s fans are not the movie’s only audience–in fact, they shouldn’t even be considered its core (primary) audience.

    • chrisdorr

       Hi Miles Maker, thanks for your comment.  Yes, you are right, they should not be your only fans, there should be a much larger audience (paying and otherwise for your work).  Very valid points.

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