The humans in your audience; they aren't mere eyeballs

I came across this post from Brian Solis about audiences. I found that it really helps to demystify why social networking platforms have made such an important impact on society. I don’t think most people really realize the impact; they simply see social networking as either a hobby, a waste of time or a free way to self promote. Or they say this type of networking has always existed, it has just moved online. I don’t agree. I think what is happening now is a complete shift in how we communicate and with whom we communicate. It isn’t just the tools available to us, but the creative and exciting ways we use them to reach people and assemble those people into spheres of influence.

“The cultural impact of new media is profound as it weaves a new fabric for how we connect and communicate with one another. As a digital society, we are ushering in an era where everyday people form a global network of self-empowered social intermediaries that accelerate and proliferate the reach and effect of information and experiences.”-Brian Solis

In Solis’ post, he references the words of Jay Rosen from 2006 where he addressed the people of the media from the perspective of the people formerly known as “audience.” While some see audience as the faceless mass waiting to be entertained or reduced to eyeballs needing to be captured, Rosen points out that audiences now have the means and ability to make their own work. Hence, the glut of content now available and the multiple distractions competing for everyone’s time. This could be perceived as a bad thing or as a good thing.

A bad thing because all of the content being produced isn’t what some would call “professional” or worthy of attention. It also makes it that much more difficult to wade through the crap to get to the gold bits(from the consumer perspective)  and that much harder to raise your gold to the level of consciousness in order to make an impact and a living (from the creator perspective).

A good thing because more people will have a newfound respect for those with talent (it isn’t easy to create content worthy of an audience) and a network of creators can be harnessed to spread work much further than an expensive ad campaign can do. When everyone can speak, you are no longer dependent on the words of the few with access to broadcast (or the means to buy media space) for recommendation. By making connections with those most interested and inspired by your work, you are creating a web of interconnected communication that helps to spread the work faster and further and more cheaply. They speak for you, with you and amongst each other, but ONLY if you have made those connections. How do you make the connections? They are made by 1)using the networking tools to communicate (dialog, not monologue) and 2)knowing who you are trying to reach. Really knowing them, not having a vague idea of them.

You must stop creating work without thinking about the audience. Those faceless people, those eyeballs, must become real. You must think about the human with whom you are trying to communicate. After you devise the story you want to tell (NOT after you make it, but while you are creating it!), I want the next thought in your head to be “who is going to love this?” and be able to visualize that person in detail. I hope you can see someone similar to yourself. The key to knowing that audience is being a part of it yourself and everyone who works on it also must be part of it in some way. You cannot hope to build an audience for your work if you cannot say who they are, exactly, and how you are going to tell them about your work.

Also, it isn’t enough to hire the most talented person or the person who will work the cheapest. The people you hire (or collaborate with) should also have a voice that can be used to help spread the word of your project. Really take that last sentence to heart, both as an employer and as an employee. Your worth as a craftsperson is no longer only judged on your abilities, it is also being judged on how big of a network you personally bring to a project. I can hear the balking already, but just think about this. What is the value a film star brings to a project? It isn’t just acting ability and how good looking they are on screen. It is how well recognized and how big their personal audience is that determines their worth. Studios know this, distributors know this, that is why star vehicle films are MUCH more attractive buys than non star driven films. A celebrity’s personal audience is worth a lot financially to them and so it should be to you and so it should be to the person employing you. Those personal networks didn’t spring up overnight, they were carefully cultivated over time and it is something you too should be doing every day. Personal networks should no longer be prerequisites only for those on screen, they should be considered for everyone and everyone should believe enough in the projects they are working on and want them to succeed that they are willing to evangelize them to their personal networks. Lots of little networks on a project grow into bigger ones so it is beneficial for you as a creator to cultivate a team around you who all have little networks that are similar to your own and to the audience you are trying to reach.

The power of building audience lies in the aggregation of little networks and genuinely knowing the humans behind the networks.

Audience strategy from the start

March 20, 2011
posted by sheric

While attending SXSW conference this year, I met Patricia Aufderheide who introduced me to the Center for Social Media at the School of Communication at American University in Washington, DC.  I encourage you to check out what they are doing. A post on their blog I was reading today was a highlight of their recent Making Your Media Matter Conference. There is a video accompaniment that lasts about an hour and twenty minutes which covers social impact documentary films Not in Our Town, The Lioness and a film by Conscious Youth Media Crew called Why I Ride: Low and Slow. The CYMC is based in San Francisco and “provides the technology and training necessary for inner city youth to create quality media that represents their experiences, stimulates meaningful dialogue, and promotes social change.” The topic being discussed on the panel was building audience engagement and outreach strategies into the filmmaking process from the start in order to facilitate broader dialogues, reach wider audiences, and create distribution partnerships to be utilized during release.  Main takeaway being this must be decided from the start, not as an afterthought.

All three women (unusual for most film panels) talked about the different ways they went about forming partnerships which they considered key in reaching their target audience. I will synopsize the main points in case you don’t have time to watch the whole video:

-Their editorial decisions were influenced by the strategies. They structured the narrative so that it would be inviting to the multiple audiences they were trying to reach.  In the Lioness example, the filmmakers established early on that the film would not be a biased, agenda film commenting on the Iraq War, but on the women who served in combat which was against policy at the start of the war. To interject political bias would mean alienating certain segments of the audience and limiting its potential appeal. They knew at the start that their super core audience would be active military, military families, veterans, but by framing the film as a gender equality film, they were able to reach beyond the military audience to women’s groups in general (Women in Law, NOW). Had they not decided on a clear audience strategy for the film at the beginning, they may not have made the story editing decisions that would effectively enable them to attract the interest of these larger groups.

-In forming early partnerships with the Center for Women Veterans, Disabled American Veterans and ITVS, they were able to find subjects to interview for the film AND they were able to arrange screenings of the film through those organizations, both at the national and at the local level. Each of these organizations has state branches and without the support of the national group, the filmmakers would not have been able to easily reach the local representatives. Through ITVS, they were able to reach the Senate Armed Services Committee and do a screening on Capitol Hill.

-Lioness Director Megan McLagan also stressed the importance of face to face meetings with leaders and organizations. She brought along some of the female subjects to conferences and summits to speak to the representatives and bring a personal connection to the film’s story. While early connections were made via email or phone calls, it was the in person meetings that made an impact. Utilizing online tools is great, but we must not forget the profound impact of a face to face meeting to really connect with audience.

-Lioness’ partners became their distribution partners as well. The filmmakers sold DVDs and community screening licenses off of their site (licenses ran $195) and those partner organizations were some of their biggest customers. The organizations’ cause was helped by screening the film to their own community and the filmmakers were able to have a revenue stream for their work. The filmmakers also chopped up the film into modules to work with a pilot program in North Carolina to train primary care physicians on how to treat women returning from the Iraq War. They are now working on a structure that will take this program to other states and benefit not only the organization running the training but the filmmakers also. A win win all around.

-McLagan says you must embed yourself within the major organizations that service your target audience and to embed successfully you must establish trust and credibility with them. If you are seen as only exploitive, it won’t work. This work is time consuming and cannot be left until release. She also stressed being flexible in taking up new opportunities as they present themselves. A few times she had to go back to her funders to ask for money to go to speaking engagements that popped up. These were not originally planned in the budget and luckily her funders were able to accommodate. There will always be unforeseen opportunities that could pay really big audience and financial dividends so budget for these kinds of contingencies.

-Debra Koffler, who runs CYMC, said that the core of their audience building effort came from forming partnerships with local community leaders and from casting local talent whenever possible. Accessing a strong community audience first is enabling the film to move wider from there.

-As the script was in development (Why I Ride:Low and Slow is not a documentary, but a narrative feature), the filmmakers went into the community and interviewed many locals to find out what were their experiences, what would they respond to in characters of the film and then weaved those elements into the storyline and into the characters’ back stories. In doing this research work, they built up a strong base of local community support and attention to what they were making.

It cannot be emphasized enough that the task of audience building must start at the beginning of the filmmaking process. This is especially relevant to documentaries but it can also be relevant for narrative films. Filmmakers need to have a clear idea of who they are trying to reach with their stories and research where to find them and how to communicate with them effectively. This work will not go to waste when it comes time to distribute whether you are planning to sell the film to a distributor or sell it yourself.

Why Build an Audience?

February 23, 2011
posted by sheric

More from REWORK, this time on building an audience.

This page and half chapter covers something I have discussed here previously; the need to build your own audience so that you are not starting over again every time you release new work. Starting over is extremely expensive, it is the Hollywood way. Every time they have a film to release, out comes the wallet and millions are spent on pushing that advertising message, often to people who don’t want to hear it. What a waste! It is expensive AND unreliable. You don’t have that luxury I bet, so you’ll need to take the slower, cheaper method (much like you did for making your film). Build up a strong group of enthusiastic fans who can’t wait to see the finished project. They will return time after time to see what you are working on next if you engage them regularly. If they like what you have to say, the valuable knowledge you are willing to share and genuinely enjoy the comaraderie with others on your site, they are much more likely to support you financially when you need it. Just make sure that is not the only reason you talk to them.

The book cites 37signals own experience in doing this. They have a popular blog that has built up a following of tens of thousands of readers every day. The blog doesn’t only talk about 37signals products. They cover design, usability, psychology behind the users of their software, the industry at large. When people get value from what they are sharing, you can bet that leads to financial return for the company. They could have spent millions on advertising in newspapers, radio, trade publications, direct mail to reach many millions of people who largely don’t have the slightest interest in their product, if they have that kind of advertising budget. Even if they do, why should they waste it like that? By building up their own audience, people give them attention, they don’t have to buy it. When they have something new to say or a new product available, their audience is already listening.

So tweet, blog, post to Facebook whatever your strength is. Go build up your own audience.

The quote is from Topspin Media CEO Ian Rogers from his presentation at New Music Seminar in LA. Topspin will be making some big announcements at the SxSW Festival next month including opening a new self service, flat $9.99/month fee plus 10%  free on ticket sales and 15% fee on all other merchandise sold through their system. The service will now be officially open for musicians, filmmakers and authors.

Rogers’ presentation is well worth your time to read as it drives home many points I have made about a filmmaker’s ability to self distribute. He makes it very clear, backed up by Topspin data, that to sell successfully a fan base must first be built. This takes consistent time and effort and if you are starting from near zero, you should not be trying to sell anything at first. First comes awareness, then comes engagement, THEN comes conversion. In my last post about the sales funnel, I pointed out that only some of those who are aware and engaged will go on to buy.

Top takeaways from the presentation:

-”Step one is to take those people who have never heard of you and make them interested. Turn them from non-knowers into carers.” It all starts from making great art. Now, some could interpret that as needing to make artistic content. I will extend that to the concepts in Seth Godin’s most recent book Linchpin “Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.” While I know that you consider your art to be making film, consider that it is also your ability to communicate with passion to other people. That communication could come in the form of knowledge sharing, including your audience in your process or facilitating connections with other people as well as films you create.

-“Do Something Small Weekly and Something Big Monthly.” Something small could be writing a blog post; releasing a short video of your work, your travels, a place that gives you inspiration; an excerpt from the script. Something big could be a new teaser video, an online Q&A session about what you are working on, a music track release from your soundtrack, a collaboration with another artist.

-”At first you need fans, not dollars.” Find ways to offer something your fans will value in exchange for permission to continue the conversation with them. For musicians, this is usually free song downloads. For authors, it could be a free ebook short story. Filmmakers will have to consider the point. Obviously it will be something prized to the type of audience you are looking to build. The key is to build up a permission list of at least 2,500 email addresses in order to start monetizing your products and this will take time.

-CwF+RtB=$$ (connect with fans+reason to buy=money) You’ve made the connections, you have permission to continue the conversation, now comes the reason to buy. If you are in touch with your fans, you will find out what they are willing to spend money on. Perhaps a special edition copy, perhaps customized merchandise, perhaps preferential treatment at screening or an enhanced screening event. Not everyone has the same level of interest in you (some may experience your site for the first time, some are only casually interested, some are highly fanatic) so offer different products with different price points.

In closing, Topspin is running a competition to give a $5,000 grant plus marketing support to the person who submits an innovative direct to fan business plan. Submissions are now being accepted on the Topspin Media site.

Building The Community Web-Those Already Doing This

December 14, 2010
posted by sheric

I have investigated some artists already building their communities (and sustaining themselves) and thought you should use them as examples to follow.

Examples of artists who have built a community web

In addition to the Grateful Dead, a group most all of you are aware of, there are  examples of artists from many areas who have successfully built up a community around themselves and their work.

Kevin Smith is a great example. Smith says he can spend up to 9 hours a day online and started this back in 1995. He has never put his career only in filmmaking, saying he never expected THAT to last. Instead, his community has been introduced to a variety of his activities; a SModcast, comic books, stand up comedy, regular writing contributions to various magazines. Smith isn’t tied to only one avenue of revenue and in fact can make a living off many things outside of making films. He was able to pinpoint exactly what his fans liked about him early on and he reaches out to them continually. If I had to suggest something, I would ask him to allow a community aspect on his site so that fellow fans can contact each other.

Matthew Ebel is another example. Ebel is rock pianist who is now forging a path into the transmedia world on his next project which involves an album, a novel, a graphic novel, and a radio drama. He continually infuses his music with stories and characters which helps to draw in the listener. Ebel regularly blogs and has his own podcast which has grown his community of supporters. He acknowledges that these activities exploded him out of obscurity and credits them with his ability to make a living as an artist. He releases new music through a subscription service on his blog as well as touring the world and he encourages his fans to take his music and create something new from it. I will be exploring Mike Masnick’s CwF+RtB=$$ in  a future post with Ebel as a good example of someone doing this successfully. Ebel regularly engages with his fans on his Facebook page as well as in comments on his blog.

Jonathan Coulton is a musician who left his day job in 2005 to write music full time. When he was first starting, he released a new song a week (Thing a Week) to his site under Creative Commons where anyone can take his music and do whatever with it as long as it is non commercial. This experiment served to self discipline him to stay on track with his writing; he made himself achieve this goal. It also built up his fan base who regularly needed to be fed content and who enjoyed interacting with him. Within 2 years, Coulton said he was making more at songwriting than he had been from computer programming, the job he left to start his musical career. He also found during this time that his community did not just want to buy music from him, they wanted to be his friend.  Community members have drawn artwork for each song, contributed their own versions of his music, given him tips about other revenue streams he could be investigating. Coulton doesn’t see his work as a musician simply to sit around strumming a guitar and thinking up song ideas. He actively engages his community every day.

A roadmap

My friend Ross Pruden has been giving me feedback on this post while I have been writing it and even though I said I am not going to give you 10 steps to guarantee community, he insists that I give you SOME kind of guidance on beginning this process.

Goals-as I mentioned before, start with small steps. If you are starting from zero, try to get your first 500 true fans in the first year or two. It takes a lot of time to find, nurture and consistently maintain this community. You must be committed to doing this work and perhaps have someone help you.

Interaction-Not only do you want your community numbers to go up, but you want the engagement to rise. This is easily seen on the new Facebook analytics if that is a place you have chosen to speak from. It should also be seen on your Google analytics through your site traffic numbers and from the number of comments on your posts. Don’t get TOO caught up in measurement. The goal is building a worthwhile community, not gaming numbers, but it gives you a good idea of what is working and what is not so you can adjust.

Allow for creative connection-Ideally, you want a community involved in your work and to connect with each other. Allow them to riff on your content, remix it to share with others, become part of this “in” crowd. View this spread of your content and ideas as a way to enlarge your community, not as revenue lost. More on this to come.

Connect to others with communities-You aren’t the only artist looking to build an audience. There surely are other similar artists, maybe in another medium, with similar fan interests. I saw this quote on Twitter today from John Maeda “Talent recognizes other talent and shows appreciation for it, instead of envy.” Live this quote, connect yourself and your community to like minded communities in order to widen the circle. Don’t be selfish and egotistical, traits like that will not allow you to have a community. You will be widening your circle incrementally, welcoming in new members who become exposed to your work and ideas through others.

I just need a community and all will be well?

I will acknowledge that while you are beginning to  build your web, you will have to reach out much more using traditional methods. Advertising, publicity, affiliations are all tools in the mix and they can work a bit faster than connecting with people one by one. Be mindful of where you place these, again the goal isn’t everyone, just those most interested in what you have to offer. You are issuing an invitation to connect when you talk about your community, not an invitation to buy something. Refer back to Bob Moczydlowsky’s equation for financial success. DON’T make the film first and hope it finds an audience. Build your web first, then make the film. I will restate that this work is going to take a lot of time and effort. This isn’t “buzz” building, it is a long term strategy to building a sustainable career. One where you can live as an artist free to make whatever content pleases you and delights your community while making a living.

PS added later that day: another artist building her own community is Amanda Palmer. Palmer has such a following that she now works with other artists. She has fan art, she has her own store, she has a street team called The Reconnaissance with a bootcamp to teach one how to become part of the team, there is a forum on her page where fans can interact with her and with each other. Palmer uses Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Youtube and Flickr to update and talk to her community and she gives away content as well as selling all manner of merch in her store. She famously went on Twitter one Friday evening and started talking with fans when she came up with the idea of selling tshirts about what losers they all were for being home on Twitter on a Friday night. She sold over $11,000 in merch within 2 hours that night! As she said, her record on a label to that point had made her $0. Check the post here.

Building The Community Web Around an Artist

December 12, 2010
posted by sheric

Do you have a community web?

I think I have been promising this post for a while, ever since I wrote the New Independent Filmmaker’s Business Model. If you haven’t read that post, give it a little peruse so you can see what I am on about. The key premise is that all artists should be building a tribe (a Seth Godin term as it relates to marketing) or an engaged audience for their work. One that transitions from one project to the next throughout your career and indeed your life. These supporters will be your friends, your evangelists, your patrons and if you cultivate this relationship, you will not have need to reach a mass in order to make a comfortable living. I have been thinking though that maybe the idea should be compared to a web.

In looking through some other advice on this, I can see why some can be turned off by the idea. It seems most of the advice focuses only on how to lure people in just so you can sell them something, kind of like how the spider spins her web. It’s a strategy I guess, but that isn’t what I am going to tell you to do here. I am a firm believer that self promotion is about helping other people. What I propose is offering value, sharing knowledge and genuinely wanting to connect with people and connect people you know who should know each other. Perhaps it is better described as a web, an interconnected community. One that you lead, but is dependent on everyone’s interactivity. To me that is much more palatable to an artist because it is authentic, no ulterior motive, which is refreshing in today’s society. But reciprocity does happen because it is really human nature to help someone who has helped you, in fact in this scenario, it is expected.

First elements to understand when constructing you community web:

Permission-You must have permission to talk to people. Permission? Yes, you will only be talking to people who have opted in to hear what you have to say. You will NOT be eblasting everyone you ever met once a week. You will NOT be spamming hundreds of strangers who don’t want to hear from you. You will have “the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.” (Seth Godin).  How do you get permission? It starts simply by communicating with people on a one to one level. Aren’t you doing that now? You should be, that’s what social media is for. Not automated, canned message, advertising social media but real conversations. So think of what online services you can use, that you feel comfortable using for communicating every day. It doesn’t have to be hours every day, but some amount of time every day.

Trust-We need to trust you. We need to know you are listening, you understand us, you will help us as we will help you and each other. We need NOT to feel that you are using us.

It’s not you, it’s we-Although this post is directed at building the web around yourself, it is really more about taking a leadership role that is missing from a community. There are lots of people in the world with similar interests and outlooks on life. Artists can contribute a lot to bringing these people together around ideas and creativity. Without leadership, they are just a crowd, unconnected to one another. You and your work are the catalysts that bring them together, if you actively step up to that role.

Building it, getting them to come

I have been reading a book this weekend by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan called “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead” and it has helped me to think of how you should be looking at building your web. No one can tell you “do these 10 things and you will have a community,” but you can start by setting goals for yourself and thinking through the small steps you can take to achieve them. A goal could be to start building an email list of names so that you can speak directly with your community. This is exactly what The Dead did starting in 1971, long before social media made it easy. They placed a call to action postcard in the album sleeve of the famous “Skull and Roses” asking “Dead Freaks Unite!” by sending in their addresses. The band used this list to communicate directly, gauge where the tours would be booked, offer exclusive content, they even gave priority ticket offers for the live shows to list members. Their list of hundreds of thousands was built over 30 years and continues to this day, despite the fact that the official band no longer exists. The community lives on.

First start with you. What’s your story? What can you share with us that helps us to know if we are kindreds? This clearly means that you will not be attracting everybody. Everybody should not be your goal. Everybody isn’t loyal. Trying to attract everybody is like cat wrangling, way more trouble than it is worth. You want the RIGHT people, those who are most open to wanting to contribute to something greater than themselves. Those are the people who are going to enlarge the web, to help you weave it.

Give us the genuine signals that you care and are passionate about what you do. We can sniff out the disingenuous; those who are only in this for money and fame.  Make us believe in you and that you want to know us as people, not as targets. We won’t join you if you want to manipulate us. We have everything we need. We don’t need yet another commodity, another product.  Make us different people for having known you and your stories.

Then, find us. If you know yourself and what you are interested in, you can figure out where we live. Think about your throughline. Many people say that they are interested in many different things, but if they really analyzed all of those seemingly different areas, they will find a commonality. That’s your throughline and those most likely to connect with you will have the same. When you know what characteristics those are, it will be easier to find your community. Start to embed yourself in the places where we already gather.

I have heard some say that it is difficult to move people from one community to another. I personally have found this isn’t the case once they know you and I have advised people on how to embed themselves and have seen their personal community numbers grow. It takes time  and constant attention, but it will work. Your web will become intertwined in others so the goal isn’t to move people, it is to become an extension.

Build the platform. Give yourself a place to speak from and a place for the community to gather. This may be an interactive website, it may just be a blog, it may start with a Facebook page (though ideally you’ll want your own dedicated platform!). You may grow your community by starting in another one, but eventually you need a place of your own, a little place your community can grow and thrive.

Think of ways to delight us, to keep us coming back. As the propagator of your web, you need that connection to stay strong. Sometimes community members are lazy and forget to check back in. There should be a fresh serving of something noteworthy on your site at regular intervals. I saw a great reminder email the other day from a community with which I am involved. Just a message telling me what was going on over there, new discussions that were happening, new members who had joined and an invitation to check back in. It was very effective in catching my attention and letting me know that they had missed me, like they actually know I have been out for a while. Was it somewhat automated? Probably, but it still made me want to check back in and see what was happening. Someone should be thinking up and executing content that will keep the community engaged and involved.

This PMD person, how is this going to help?

This is the person who can keep the content on track and keep the community interested. I don’t think you should turn your personal identity over to a PMD (Producer of Marketing and Distribution), but a PMD can have access your community while helping to spread the web to other influential individuals and groups and help to figure out the best way to get your film out to them. Ideally, the person you choose to help you is either already in your web or someone you introduce to them as a helper to you. Back to the Grateful Dead example, it was Eileen Law who became the community manager for the Dead’s fans. She was one of the band’s earliest fans. Eileen put together the newsletters, collected and organized the fan list, her voice was the one fans would hear on the message machine when they called for priority tickets. The Dead had a record label, but the label wasn’t talking to the fans and much of the turnout to their shows came by word of mouth from the band. You still must keep engaged, but this person will serve as your liaison while you are in the creative process. All in the community must be kept aware of what is happening, transparency is important here. Believe me, once you start getting a community built up who expect regular interaction, this person will be vital.

Next post: Artists who are doing this and a roadmap…

Building an Audience for Your Work

November 27, 2010
posted by sheric

Your sphere of influence. photo credit Luke W Design

Today, my good friend and Twitter buddy Zahra Zamorrodian sent me a link to a theater blog on The Guardian site. The post was written by Simon Casson who produces live events and theatrical productions in London, mostly for the fringe set. He was bemoaning the low attendance of one of his shows. His company normally has a high turn out for their gay themed club events which usually run a night or two, but this production was more experimental in nature and the audience for his previous endeavors did not support this latest effort. He asked “what went wrong?”

The production seems plagued from the outset. It did not have an easily definable target audience, no one line tag to describe what it was, a low to non existent marketing budget mostly dependent on press reviews and word of mouth. Sound familiar my independent filmmakers? It was also an “experimental production,” one that was organic and changeable from show to show. Nothing at all wrong with experiments, but experiments do not often gather large audiences and press reviews in major publications and this is the complaint of Casson. He needed bums on seats in order to pay for the production and give a living wage to the performers (and presumably the investors,and the venue and himself). I think it was unreasonable to expect such an outcome if he wasn’t absolutely sure who the audience for the show was.

How can you be sure of your audience?

I have posted before about building an audience (or a tribe, to borrow from Seth Godin) around yourselves as artists in order to have a sustainable career. If Casson was truly in touch with the audience for his company’s work, he would have known about their support (or lack of) well ahead of performance. Granted, the audience for his other events may not be the same as for this production and he was taking a chance at picking up those outside of his sphere of influence when he chose to produce this event. I think this is a common mistake often made by artists (and companies) who either have no audience built for their work or disregard them in a bid to reach the mass. You may have a small circle of supporters, people who are within your sphere of influence. But if you think you will change them, expand their interests, educate them to appreciate other styles because YOU feel the need to create something different, you will lose their attention AND fail to garner attention from the mass with whom you have no relationship. The responsibility to your tribe is everything. You must meet these people, stay in communication with them, gauge their response, introduce new concepts slowly. It is unreasonable to expect sustainability will continue if you venture far outside of your sphere of influence and try to reach an unknown mass.

In comments, some of the readers condemned Casson for using his connections as a contributing writer with The Guardian to promote his show in an international publication. Indeed, I am sure his blog is meant to address the general state of the theater landscape in London and not to be used to shill for his own show, but why not use a connection if you have it? He wasn’t getting reviews from the publication so…

A few pointed out that in trying to mimic the success of some other better known fringe theater companies, Casson underestimated how long the path to success would take. BINGO!! This is very key to understand. In trying to replicate the apparent “overnight success” of other production companies, he was setting himself up for failure. Time and again, I have indie filmmakers tell me their film will be the next Paranormal Activity, Blair Witch, The Cove etc. as if that level of success is easily or commonly accomplished. Lightning in a bottle more like. More common, success comes from years and years of work to build up a following. If you haven’t started yet, now is the time.

What to do if you haven’t got a tribe?

Everyone has to start somewhere, usually from the ground. If you are just starting out or you have not yet built up an audience following, you should be extremely mindful of your production budget. For the first few films, you are not likely to make that money back. Either you haven’t developed your craft enough to expect to sell it or you will not be able to start building up a large audience immediately that will repay your investment. Invest very little money and don’t involve a lot of other people’s labor in order to build up your audience. You shouldn’t be planning for one film, you should be planning for 3 films, each building more and more audience so that you can invest more and more money and finally see a return. My friends Hunter Weeks, Gregory Bayne and David Baker are all following this method. They invest small amounts of money, but gradually they are building audience for their next projects. Are these guys directors you have heard of? Probably not, they aren’t looking to reach the mass. They are building audience for THEIR work, not for Hollywood’s mass audience.

Next post: Building and maintaining a tribe, start early it will take a while.