You Need to Build a Database of Your Followers

Over the past two weeks I have had the chance to meet with some smart filmmakers and discuss how they might better think about and build their audiences.  And today, while catching up with my reading I had the good fortune to read two blog posts that capture what I often try to say-but say it better.

The first was an interview with Thom Powers by Amanda Lin Costa on PBS MediaShift, Thom Powers: For Film Festivals, Twitter Is Mandatory, Apps Are Not.  Thom talks about what filmmakers should be doing to effectively use festivals and promote their movies. He makes a few points about social media and how important it is for filmmakers to acquire a new tool.  A tool, by the way, that is not taught in film school.

“…you have to incorporate social media, with the basics being Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. If a filmmaker isn’t at least covering those three bases, they are a step behind.

It’s also about building a database. It used to be two tools you needed as a filmmaker: a camera and an editing machine. Now there’s a third tool, which is a database of your followers, and not just for one project but as something you’re going to nurture and grow for your career. I think this is a new approach, because the old approach was to think about this as film-to-film.”

Thom suggests that filmmakers need to think beyond their current film and think instead like a company that is continually producing movies and therefore can build up a following over several films.  The database is crucial to that process. It allows you to keep in constant contact with the fans of your current project and the potential fans of your future project.

Then I came across a fascinating post, INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE: THE CASE STUDY , written by Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, who are the filmmakers who made Indie Game: The Movie. They did what Thom suggests all filmmakers do and achieved great success. I urge everyone to read all the posts that compose their case study.  (Here is hoping that they come out with an ebook version soon).

There is much to praise about the film and the case study they have created.  I was struck by one section particularly because they highlight just what it takes to pull off what Thom suggests.  Above all, notice that all this audience development and database stuff takes a lot of work-if you want to succeed.   As they write,

“In terms of numbers, here’s what that audience engagement actually meant. Between the 2 filmmakers, over the course of the 33 months of production (and distribution):

10,286 IGTM-related emails were written or replied to
13,783 Tweets were sent off from @indiegamemovie
182 blog posts were made on
88 minutes of extra video web content was published prior to release, resulting in over 1.3 million views.
51 Updates were given to Kickstarter Backers
2,784 emails were support/fan emails personally responded to after the June 12th release.”

You do not have to read between the lines to realize that Lisanne and James spent a lot of time in front of their computers pounding out emails, tweets, blog posts, and updates, often to one audience member at a time. Time not spent doing all the other things filmmakers (and people in general) would prefer to do, like relax, listen to music, maybe see or make a new movie.

But you can bet that as a result they have a very active database of followers who are seeing their current movie and eagerly awaiting what they do next.

And what independent filmmaker would not want to be in their position?

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 [email protected] or follow me at @chrisdorr
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  • arrose

    Nice. Wonder how this audience development stuff works in docs.  Do most people follow the subject - imagine a huge chunk of this audience is gamers?  If so, how do you migrate the audience to another area, even something juicy and of interest to a similar demo (indie music perhaps?).  Other than the cult of personality around Michael Moore, do you think that most viewers go to a um, let’s pick the hit list - Kirby Dick movie?  or a Alex Gibney one? or are they  more interested in the subject?  

    • chrisdorr

      Hi arrose, Thanks for the comment.  A good question about how to migrate your audience from one documentary to another, especially if the subject is radically different.  I think it depends on the “voice” of the filmmaker and how well she engages with the audience.  A strong voice can take people along on a journey even if the filmmaker is not a “personality”. And also if they have the ability to really interact with audience members, who appreciate the value of a filmmaker who takes them seriously.  And I also think you pick up new audiences along the way.  But it is an open question.  

  • Kieran Masterton

    Hey Chris,