The Film Business

Dude, Where’s My Audience? Audience-Building Tips for Filmmakers


Photo by B Rosen

The art of self promotion is a tricky thing. Take it too far and you can come off as egotistical, and leaning too far in the other direction will leave you toiling in obscurity. There is a fine line between “I think you might be interested in what I have to say” and “look at me, look at me, look at me”. So what can filmmakers do to build and attract the right audiences for their projects?

The term “right” is used because, while having hundreds or thousands of people supporting your career with words is a wonderful thing, having an audience that will actually put up hard-earned cash at the zero hour is another thing completely. In the world of independent film, or to be exact, ESPECIALLY in the world of indie film, the community-at-large is very supportive of each other’s projects. One look at crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are great examples of filmmakers passing the buck from one project to another to help get each person’s respective films made. But sadly, filmmakers, your sisters and brothers-in-arms are not your audience. They are your colleagues and sometime-champions. But they’ve got their own films to worry about. Chances are they won’t be there at your premiere, and even if they are, they certainly won’t follow you to every screening your film gets. So how does one attract a loyal audience that will pay to see YOUR film? (And the emphasis is on the YOUR part specifically because when it comes to events like film festivals, the general audience rarely comes to see specific cinematic adventures, but rather whatever happens to be playing in the theater at that time).

There are tools like Demand It (part of that allow people to request your film to play in their region, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee ticket sales either since there is no mechanism for pre-sales. Another way of keeping your audience in the loop on where your film will be is the old school practice of keeping an email list. Yes, it’s a bit archaic to take a pen and a clipboard and pass it around the audience at every screening, but the fact is, it works. If you want to take a more modern approach you can always use a service like, whose iPhone app allows you to subscribe people to your list on-the-fly, and does an excellent job of tracking analytics for your mail blasts as well.

Of course there are always the favored means of social communication, MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook. These all work to a point but usually suffer from the same regional afflictions as the Demand It model. These social networks are used all over the world, so it can be very difficult to build an audience that can attend your screenings en masse from your pool of followers, fans, and friends. Social networks are better used to build your support system, and to get the word out about your movie, but not necessarily to get people to see it unless it’s available online. But that type of promotion is another article entirely.

The onus once again falls on filmmakers to make the most of their public appearances. They need to put out postcards, have their posters prominently displayed in key areas, dance around in front of the theater in a costume promoting your screening if they have to, and build local relationships in the regions their films are screening. This might extend your stay in a particular town by a day or three while you prepare for your film to screen, but the results can far exceed the cost. Sure, this might not be a viable option for every screening your film has. But it certainly would be worth the effort if you’ve already thrown down hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to four-wall your movie, and will give you a great reputation as a promoter among film festival directors*.

It’s one thing to have 10,000 followers on Twitter. It’s another thing to have 10,000 people paying to see your film. Social media can give you a worldwide sounding board, but money talks much louder.

*Here’s a hint: Keep track of how many people attend your screenings, especially if you’ve sold out the theater. Film festival directors, distributors, and sales agents will want to know these figures, and it’s a great thing to advertise in newsletters and to your fans online. Be sure to take pictures too!

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1 Comment
   marc said on October 7, 2011 at 7:13 am

Hi- just wrapped up a read on the article— but I must admit, I’ve not seen much here to meet my expectation of audience building tips.

Printed media can get costly in a hurry– and much of what you may be handing out will wind up in the trash, or on the street. that gets embarrassing in a hurry, as folks see your film promo materials in the ditch, before/ after it’s been screened. Ouch.

My experience with soc media as a promotional tool (in conjunction with spending a pile of money promoting the film) is that Soc media strategies work wonders developing an audience online, and globally, which in turn fills seats in international festivals, which in turn has proven to be very successful is selling copies of my film online in various formats. of course the traditional methodologies are still useful (especially when you are on location to promote, in person), but with a targeted social media strategy in place (focusing on each even/ appearance/ screening), I found the response to be overwhelming as opposed to doling out (expensive) postcards – only to have to clear the streets of them- dancing about in a costume or shoving fliers under windshield wipers. Social Media allows a tremendous amount of information, interactivity, and engagement for potential fans– and potential DVD buyers.

Another wonderful aspect of the Soc Media/ digital advent to promoting films & building audiences online; Film Critics post reviews on line, too. Got a great review? Cut/ paste and Shazzam! Onto your web site, into your multi-platform promo efforts, and your efforts are now global, versus bound to the local paper.

Think globally, target locally. Hope this stirs the pot to get some creative thought happening with using the Web to build an audience, and saving the money to put back into the film.
Cheers, M.

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