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Indie Filmmakers: Why Building Your Audience Is More Valuable Than Promoting Your Film

Thompson on Hollywood By Chris Dorr | Thompson on Hollywood March 13, 2014 at 1:00PM

The challenge presented to each indie filmmaker is the same. How do I get my work discovered?
Amanda Palmer
Amanda Palmer

The challenge presented to each indie filmmaker is the same. How do I get my work discovered?

Typically, an indie film travels to success with the aid of a small group of usual suspects. The 2012 version of that trip is laid out in Anne Thompson’s, $11 Billion Year: From Sundance to the Oscars, an Inside Look at the Changing Hollywood SystemThompson covers the circus that is the film festival circuit, where distributors show their new films and filmmakers woo festival audiences, critics and distributors with their latest projects. It is an insider game that moves from Sundance to Cannes to the Academy Awards.

Harvey Weinstein knows this game better than most. He understands how to appeal to festival insiders at Cannes and woo the members of the Motion Picture Academy. He knows that his success depends on his ability to shape the value of a movie by appealing to elites and through these elites find the masses.

He serves as the filmmaker’s promoter, singing the film’s praises to all the right people. Then he pushes the film into the marketplace positioned for box office success.

Mr. Weinstein and others like him extract a large amount of rent for their efforts. If the film succeeds -- the distributor succeeds financially, but not necessarily the filmmaker. In some rare cases money trickles back to the filmmaker, but as they say, “don’t hold your breath”.

This is the classic middleman model within a classic insider industry.

Today, outside the confines of the traditional film industry a new model is emerging. It is based on the premise that one does not “promote a film.”  Instead, one “builds an audience."

If Harvey Weinstein is the poster child for the indie world of traditional gatekeepers and extractors of rent, Amanda Palmer is the poster child for the world where artists of all types work at “building an audience."

Read the rest of this article at Digital Dorr.

This article is related to: Features, Digital Future, DIY, Kickstarter

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.