I was watching this very brilliant presentation from artist Shea Hembrey. It is funny, entertaining and gives true insight into a creative mind. As a Southern girl, I can relate to Shea’s background very well!
During the presentation, he talks about how he judges “art.” He said after visiting hundreds of exhibitions and seeing a lot of work, he identified what he found missing from the experience and from a lot of art. One was work that was appealing to a broad public, meaning that a lot of art is not accessible to most people. They can’t connect with what the artist is trying to show. I think many people also cannot connect with the artist as a person which helps in making the art accessible. Some art is just too personal to the artist with no meaning for anyone else and many artists are introverts, preferring their work to speak for them. If you are an introverted artist making work that only speaks to you, how are you going to attract people to you work? As filmmakers, you have to consider this. Are you making work that only appeals to you? If so, it is inaccessible and there is no business model for that. Which is fine, just know going in that you can’t sustain yourself on inaccessible art. Also if we, the audience, cannot connect with you as a person given today’s reality that everyone is personally accessible through multiple social networks, you will find it increasingly harder to exist as an artist.
I know, it isn’t a popular concept. Are there artists in history that managed to rise above the noise and become a “name” without the need (or existence) of social networking? Of course, but in comparison to all artists, you can name them on a few hands and in the past, there were very few outlets one could use to rise above the din. Traditional mass media in the form of art critics was about it. Now there are thousands of outlets and it is just too easy to access them not to be actively doing that. As an artist, I wouldn’t want to hope I get “discovered,” I would want to make sure of it and actively make it happen.
Shea says he developed 2 sets of criteria for judging art he would want in his exhibition (a biennial that he devised. You’ll hear the all about it in the presentation.). One was the Meemaw test (love the term!) which was if he couldn’t explain the art to his grandmother in 5 minutes, then it was not accessible enough and wouldn’t be considered. The other was the three H’s, head, heart and hand. Great art has interesting intellectual ideas for the head; it has passion and soul and can touch people in an emotional way for the heart; and it has great craftsmanship and technique made by hand. I think this is a great way to critique films (both independent and studio made). The work that lasts, garners audience, and succeeds must have all of these things. Just as Shea was having trouble finding these things in the exhibition art world, I have trouble finding these things in the film world. Many independent films are either not accessible or do not have head, heart and hand.
I bet if you examine the film that inspired you to be a filmmaker, you’ll find that it had all three of these things. And you can explain that film in five minutes to someone and they can “get” it. When making work of your own, consider if it has head, heart, hand.
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.
Yesterday, The Wrap covered a story from The Grill Conference on a recent study showing there was no “Twitter Effect” on box office returns. “It isn’t to say that Twitter isn’t popular or an effective social network, but the mantra in the industry about a ‘Twitter effect’ really stands for word of mouth. It is not driven by or consisting of Twitter, and in fact it is one of the least used methods and one of least influential in letting people know about movie opinions,” Vincent Bruzzese said.
I would agree with this in that word of mouth is the driving factor. But is it word of mouth online? The study says no, people are primarily influenced by their closest relationships, their family and friends. People they see very often. I don’t agree though that word of mouth online isn’t useful, it is just not influential if there is no relationship to the person speaking. This means using social networking platforms purely as a free advertising vehicle is a waste of time and will not get you results. Social networking is a relationship platform and this study confirms to me that if you aren’t using it to form lasting relationships, it won’t work for you.
I think Twitter was maybe a bad example to show the power of social networking. While there are certainly plenty of people on Twitter, the vast majority of average consumers I know do not use it. Hollywood films are for the average consumer so they probably do not find out about and are not influenced to see films by using Twitter. Interestingly, the study shows commercials and previews as the primary way people find out about films. But it didn’t say it had an influence on whether they actually went to see them. Since my focus is not on mass audiences, I won’t take this information too much to heart.
In summary from my perspective, if you are using Twitter as one tool to help build a relationship with real people who would be interested in your work, carry on. If you are using it purely to generate some good looking numbers and show “reach,” you’re obviously going to be disappointed.
This week’s tidbits are from Sheri Candler and will cover her assessments about successful crowdfunding initiatives.
To some artists, crowdfunding looks like easy money. Make a pitch video, give a synopsis and a few perks and let the money roll in. That’s a mistake. To be successful in crowdfunding depends on having a solid foundation of followers, people interested in your work. If you don’t already have a presence on social networking platforms, a well read blog, and/or a large network of friends and supporters, build that first before starting to crowdfund. If you try to raise money before anyone knows you or cares about your project, you will fail to garner interest.
In strategy, you first have to determine what is the goal. Is it to build up a solid base of supporters? Is it to activate them to do something (buy a DVD, go to a screening, donate to a crowdfunding effort, tell others about your film)? Usually that is a goal. But if you begin with a campaign where you launch into selling and goading without first building up the base, you will never accomplish that goal. To build up, you have to allow time to do that.
A social networking strategy will take many months to a year to implement and it will be an ongoing effort. First, you will determine whom you are trying to attract into your community and what you have to offer them of interest. Then, you will start to put those assets out there. You will build your engagement pages and populate them with interesting and valuable content. You will not be asking them for ANYTHING. Ideally, you will not need to ask them at all because when you become a valuable resource, they will want to help you in any way they can. You may call on your group for help in achieving a goal every so often and if they can truly see how helping you will help the community in general, they will be happy to do it. You should never do anything that will make them feel that you have formed the community in order to use it for your own purposes. Companies and filmmakers who do this stand to ruin the very thing they have spent so much time developing, a genuine and authentic community that is very loyal and connected to you. That kind of loyalty is extremely difficult to accomplish with advertising and it is really the ultimate goal of all brands.
Too often, filmmakers and companies wait to start considering social networking until they need to achieve set goals and they need them now (usually when selling something). The problem with that is they don’t have a base of support in place from which they can achieve anything. In order to use the tools of social networking effectively, you really must commit the time to grow your base, feed and cultivate it. If you cannot commit to that, social networking tools will not work for you and you should turn to more short term tools like mass advertising.
I was reading a post this morning on the future of book publishing and some great points were brought up that reminded me of why the same opportunities now available to authors are also available to independent filmmakers. I think the future of publishing as it stands now is in big trouble and so is the future of film distribution, for the distribution companies, not for the filmmakers.
The post comes on the heels of the BookExpo America in NYC where many came out lamenting the state of publishing by looking at figures that show ebook sales are out performing physical copies already, having only been available for Kindle and the like for 33 months. This is not going to be unlike the sales for digital streaming and downloads of movies versus physical media very soon. I do think the iPad and the new similar devices are game changers for film. As much as we all have our egos and fantasies that people will still prefer to go out to see a film on the big screen, the harsh reality is that many (MANY) will just as soon curl up on the sofa or in bed and watch something they just downloaded onto their personal device. Are you making films that speak to that reality? I think indies are uniquely positioned for that; small, character driven stories ideal for the small, portable screen.
One publisher in particular embraced these changes saying “Not only are books receiving more media attention, the new technologies offer an unprecedented opportunity to engage readers. Audio and video enhancements offer authors the ability to reach a reader like never before. Social networks allow readers the chance to discover books they would never have found. Touch screens let children interact with books or play games related to the story. Educators find that reading assignments come alive as all learning modalities can be engaged. Three-dimensional graphics and spoken text transform plain words into dynamic new worlds. The book itself is being reinvented,” said David “Skip” Pritchard.
Here, here. The same advancements are available for film. In fact, transmedial properties could be embedded in the small screen experience. Alternate storylines could be explored from a menu option, geolocational apps that immerse the viewer in the story as it is happening on screen. A real opportunity to engage viewers in not just the passive experience of watching a film, but offering interactive ways of exploring the story further, seeing any source material (book adaptation) or historical data behind the film (a biography of a real person), providing ways they can help with a cause (for a social justice documentary), or even gaming aspects built around the story and characters. DVD and cinema experiences don’t offer this level of engagement and it will become more and more expected from an audience. The main jist of this is that a distribution company won’t be the ones making these things available, talented writers and filmmakers will.
It will open up new business opportunities for those who can adapt. Instead of figuring out physical production, companies will spring up to help with the technical aspects of the interactivity components. Instead of keeping films away from reaching audiences by being a gatekeeper, companies and individuals will provide services for finding niche audiences and helping to form relationships with them. In fact, I would suggest that distribution companies immediately start shifting their focus off of providing content and onto cultivating audiences, being the curators for specific content instead of a catchall of content in a library of titles. Many of you will fail to do this and business will end for you. For those who have developed online social skills and technologically creative minds, there will be a strong demand for this. The ability to deliver content in any way it is demanded (physically for the holdouts and digitally for those seeking immediacy) is the new way forward for filmmakers and companies that can provide this will flourish.
I do not believe even for a moment that indie film is dead. Indie film will always survive as it is the basic need of storytellers to make work and share it with others. I do believe that there are momentous changes already happening and will continue to happen. Are you able to adapt and flourish?