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Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots Up

Lesson 15 of 18

Who is Your Film's Audience?


Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots Up

Lesson 15 of 18

Who is Your Film's Audience?


Lesson Info

Who is Your Film's Audience?

First, let's, talk about audience who is your film's audience? Now? The funny thing is that in fundraising for the film these days, this day and age, you have to ask these questions before you've even made it. You know, we were just talking about kickstarter and how do you how do you tap into how do you tap into some people who could throw a couple bucks your way and it's about analyzing what your film is before you've even made the film? It's talk about talking about, like, who were the communities you're going touch in your film or who would appeal to the who would be interested in this film? You know, I could give an example about on an art teacher or something if you're making a movie about an art teacher, you know that that that's ah, you know, profession that maybe you could tap into, and you have to do all that analytical thing, self reflection before you've even made it. Now, once you've made it, the film that you end up with is always a little bit different from the one that y...

ou came. You went into thinking you were going to make it at the same time, you know, probably those core audience is or what it's about and who you want to access remains the same, you know, if I if I made a movie about an inner city swimming team, you know, chances are that at the end of making that movie it's not gonna be about something completely different, so you've already started to think you should ideally have already started to think about who you contempt you could reach out to. I had a teacher in high school who has now gone on to make films himself, and, you know, he ah, he made this movie, he I think there are a couple different kickstarter campaigns and that's the thing that I would actually advise against it, I really think you can only come to that well, once and I, especially on a singular production that is not good to go to kick starter for development and then do another campaign for production and then do another campaign for post I just think you don't, you don't want to do that. I mean, you probably one of those campaigns won't succeed because you will on back to the same people over and over it. But anyway, he got this film together and was based on his experience is being a coach, swim coach at our high school, and, you know, he I had a film, and he said, ok, what do I do with it now? Because it doesn't seem like it's going to you know, I'm not finding anyone who's going to distribute it, and so, you know, he had of one person working part time with him in the post production and release phase, and all that person's job was was tio create a spreadsheet of all the different swim teams and swim clubs and everything across the country call those people up, gather interest in the film, talk about what it would take to screen the film there. So that's, what I want to sort of like talk about in general is that or want to get people's minds around is that people sometimes act like festivals and distribution. They treated a sort of like I've made this film, which is sort of my lottery ticket, and I'm going to put it in a place a bet and hope that I just hit it big and it's like that's, a flawed way of thinking just be thinking about the distribution or where you want to take the film before you even make it and have an idea about that and don't don't un empower yourself by just sort of being like, well, I made it and let's see where it lands it's like you are in control of your own destiny, for better for worse, that means that probably it's not going to be if you're working in this kind of budget level with movies that don't have stars in them or or whatever that you know and even with film a lot of films that do have stars in them that are independent and have a unique point of view there's just you were traditional modes of distribution for them these days and so it becomes a blessing less relevant to tryto just sort of hold your hands of me like I hope somebody's going to take this you know, because you it's in your in your control more than it ever has been um that's the good news the bad news is that you could argue that um people are like consuming in a different way these days through things like getting told debate about this don't you guys feel about it but I think that people are getting more used to kind of different different length content on dh there you know netflix is really taking over the way that people like watch movies these days and the idea of sitting down for two to a two hour independent film with people that you don't no and it's becoming I can see it sort of although it's not how I approach film I can see how it's becoming more and more difficult and it's not because people attentions bands are naturally shorter these days I think it's just that there's so much other stuff too like look at and consume and tv is really good now and like you know I think that some of the most powerful american cinema came out probably at a time where tv with pretty awful and now we have great, great writing on certain shows and there's just so much to pay attention do I actually have to personally discipline myself about like I got two? I told you I watch one hundred eighty three movies last year, I need to get more disciplined about watching tv because tv is like, we're a ton of great writing is right now, and usually I think it's the opposite now you know that people are consumed by tv and don't really have that much time for movies these days, it seems, but I hope that's not true it's just the thing that I've been thinking about a lot um, so anyway, after production and post, a filmmaker has their film enthusiasm and probably no money, so this is a massive challenge, but it's also the makings for a great grassroots operation um now first and foremost, keep in touch with the people who made the movie with you I mean they're going to be along with people give you money, they're going to be your films allies, you know, they have a vested interest in your film and its success I know that that's not a ton of people, but they should form atleast the foundation of your audience keep in touch with your location. The first we played, uh, beasts of the southern wild in sundance and we had a special screen sneak preview screening in new york and then the next place that we played the film was in louisiana and we talked about rooftop films and organization krantz it gives grants, they helped us throw a buy you premier for lack of a better word right in the a town where we made beasts of the southern wild and that was awesome and it got people to, you know, it showed we respect where we came from. We respect who we made this film with. This one is for you guys. You know, um and it was the best screening that we had the whole better than any other place that we played. You know, this was this this was the one that meant the most um and yeah, I just think that keeping in touch with where you made the movie is a great start. Like I talked about ping pong summer and ocean city how they were they actually invested in the film, I can't tell you how good it was tohave um, that whole tourism board basically going to bat for us once it came time to actually put the film out, they made sure that people knew about the film's release in places like ocean city itself or a nearby beach town or whatever, you know, like that that's key, um, and eagle pass, texas, where we made western this documentary that I just took toe sundance, we're word now on the faces of planning an eagle pass screening, um, and that's going to be the best one we have, you know? And we stayed in touch with everybody that we filmed with down there, because, again, this is sort of a question that I think we were talking about with cases like you just put in the time toe if you if you come out of genuinely and like you're genuinely interested in where you fillmore, the people in your movie take the time to get to know them and then organically, there won't be this kind of, like, weird predator prey kind of relationship where they feel like you're, you know, outsider, artsy fartsy person who doesn't really understand what they're doing, just it's, not about it's just, like, take the time to take in your environment and be a real human being, and and things happen naturally, we're all we're very different, but we're also a lot of times the same and that's like we put in a whole year of just going down to the bayou and drinking beer and partying with people in louisiana shrimping with them and just sort of getting to know them and finding common ground before we ever shot any frames of film and I think if we had not done that and we had just shown up a week prior yeah things wouldn't have gone very well um so yeah anyone uh keep in touch with your donor base you know? Probably if you've run a kickstarter campaign or you've done any sort of I think always be sure tio keep those people feeling invested in the film make sure that they understand what's going on with the film they need to feel not like they control the destiny of the film but that they you know are valued member of the team you're not a good producer if you're taking the money and then saying bye bye and never talking to them again until the festival that's not good just just keep him in the loop they just want to feel like they know what's going on that's a um so this is a slide from a presentation I gave about the overlap between grassroots film operations and grassroots political operations this guy nick omit melee maybe I don't know how to pronounce the name properly but he's a harvard professor who studied so the effect of the internet on politics and political campaigns um so I created this chart of he says you need five things to succeed in a political campaign you need to be able to raise money, have a message, communicate the message through media deal with the press and turn out the operation of his argument is like really how much is the internet actually changed that? Um I think for film well let's take it through film so in in film you do still have to raise money and these days he's this day and age raising the money can be the same as gathering an audience the message the equivalent of the message is the film that's the thing you're trying to promote the same way that a candidate is trying to promote themselves in their platform of film is trying promote the film you know uh, how advocates promote the film online and offline is the equivalent of communicating the message deal with press or using the press right engaging with the press that's what a pr companies for um we could get into that in another lesson as to what you can do yourself and what a pr company can and can't do um and then the turnout operation same thing when I click that switch when I say okay western is now in theaters in this community what do you know who do I have at the ready who's going to go out and advocate for it same deals fielder turnout operation for a film sorry for a political campaign it's like we have a whole phase and political campaign and called get out the vote where it's basically just like you're going door to door and putting on signs that they've remembered a vote at this location at this time it's all about you've identified your core base or audience now it's about making sure they show up at the theater and the theatre hopes are in the in the ballot box or the theater it to take the metaphor that way um now just like in campaigns in film in a film's life there's various election days there's the day the film comes out in the theatre, which is the first then there's the day in which it comes out on b o d or dvd that you want to get them excited about, you know, then it's coming to like a theater that it hasn't come to before, you know, all these things are things you want to build momentum around and make fun and make make valuable um all right now I'd argue that for he might be right about a political campaign the only he says that the only one that is really the internet has really transformed is actually raising money, which I think is really interesting because if you think about it, I'm sure you saw a lot of political content during the campaigns online but all that is intentional viewing, right? Like you chose to go onto the internet and find that thing somebody might have sent it to you, but you chose to go there and click that link most political messaging still comes through tv right like night like something like ninety seven percent of people still have tv in their homes, which is interesting to me because I'm I think a lot of people on sort of our age group tv is becoming a little bit off more up sleep the more that you use a computer and the more content that you watching a computer but still something like ninety seven percent of people still have tv and that's how politicians get their message across is through those god awful adds, that happened every time there's a cycle um film is different film you've definitely need the internet to raise money these days or it certainly helps and has changed the game I think, um but also a film khun b the plate are sorry the internet can be a place where your film actually lives that's different, you know, there's no, a politician does not live on the internet, you know so and also like you don't have the luxury or most films don't have the luxury ah political campaigns ad on the on television is a jillion times more important than a film's trailer on traditional tv because word about word about a film can travel through so many different mediums, and it can also ultimately just live on the internet. So, um okay, so you're based audience who are your advocates? Who are the people that based on what your films about, are going to be the advocate for your film? That's thing is about a lot of with a lot of times with grassroots films about transforming the audience into advocates, they not only need to receive your film, watch it and enjoy it. You ideally want them to come out of the theater being like you need to see this film, you know, it's important that you see this film, this film is not going to exist, you know, unless you when when we did, when we released beasts, we took it upon ourselves to employ, not employ, but to have a bunch of the people who worked on the film who normally wouldn't do q and a's to get out there and talk about the film and what we did with it. So it was, it was really is really interesting, you know, normally normally the way it works, you release the film and maybe in in new york or l a, the director and producer or the director and an actor show up for a screening or two and take q and a's, you know, duke unit we had the director, the actor that was the director, the actors and by actors I mean probably like four or five of them. Um the producers the line producer, the production designer, the editor, the composer, the special effects guy all of them are no not special visual text. All of them were out wherever they happen to live doing q and a's on the day that those that film came out so in san francisco you know, our visual effects supervisor was living here and so when the film came here he threw through our distributor we had him come and do q and a's and our director photography you know, live in new york at the time. So any new york screening I was in new york at the time and I went to not only did they go in new york, but I went toe montclair, new jersey I went tio norwich, norwich warwick, connecticut um, you know, I was in theaters that I've never been in before. And honestly, these people were so touched that we would make the effort to go out there and talk about the film, but you know, it was important to us. It was like this is part of taking ownership of the film is everybody at the top of the film and every you know, every ah department, head or not even department had just anybody, I think, like one time we had an audience in new york and it was like, tons of set dressers from the art department and the accountant and myself and we all just like you wanted to do it because we liked hanging out with each other and we wanted to talk about the film and and people were, you know, people loved it, and so I don't know, I just think that they're making that extra effort is really important if you feel that way about your film, you don't have to feel so passionately about it, and you might not have people who want to go on, get out there and do it. But we became advocates for our film, and we tried, I would say, when we were out there, I would say, guys, look, you know, connecticut, like this film doesn't exist unless you tell other people around you about it, you have to, as an audience also advocate for it because we're trying to, you know, get into the multiplexes this coming weekend and, you know, unless you spread the word about it, we're not we're just going to get eaten for breakfast on dso I would make the film its own cause when I would go out there and talk about it. Now sometimes a film has its own social issue agenda beasts I I I wanted what I wanted to communicate what my message was just see the film like the film is seeing the film is its own angle some documentaries and a lot of other films have a more explicit social issue agenda and that's good that means that you have not only a film that you that people can hop onto as a cause, right, you have something like seen a movie assuming that movie becomes a political action, you know there was a and you know, there's all these kind of fear not theory really but there's all these debate these days and documentaries and and film in general about like measuring impact, right and how much impact is your film going to making? How do you measure it? And it's really interesting because, you know, I think it's sort of like people sort of treated like a sport and that's that's based in granting organizations, I think having too much of a focus on social issue and like an impact. And so that's made everybody talk about like, well, how are you going to measure your impact? But I think the smartest granting organization has already talked about have a wider view of what social issues mean right or what? What a social issue film really is um you know, but for example, like the act of killing, which is a documentary about the genocide in indonesia, I went to the brit doc impact awards ceremony and it was really interesting all the five nominees for the most impact had all these different stats and in the act of killing the stat was that, well, it wasn't I can't rember the exact stat, but how they measured it and this goes back to metrics, which is a part in parcel to a grassroots operation, but the way they measured the impact of the film is how many screenings were they able to have indonesia where the film was outlawed, so that made that makes a ton of sense to me if I'm like, oh, I measure my impact by screening in the united states is like the world that doesn't really how do you know that that's going to have impact but showing a film that's illegal in the country, screening it illegally that that's your you're changing something? You're you're you're you know you're part of the cause of your film, which I thought was very cool, you know, bully was one of the other films that was up for an award and that, you know, they measured impact by how many anti bullying groups did the film start in different schools, communities so that's just examples of how social issue and film can be combined into one there's, some statistic that says that kick start when kickstarter films um ah, much higher percentage are, and I want that green lit, but our reach, their goals, if there's a social issue component to it now, I hesitate to even tell you guys that because I was the last thing I would want is for anybody to try to make their film into a social issue film when it's not that's like, not good and you don't no one wants to do that, but it just does show you that people are more apt to donate or or or give part of, give their money to something larger if they sense that it is very large and important. Um, so, uh, okay, so like, you're analyzing your film and you're saying, what is the what is the audience for my film? Is there a spiritual component to it? Like, do you think that religious groups could get into it, then reach out to some important? Uh, I don't know pastors or church leaders or whoever I don't want to be so, like judeo christian centric, but, you know, like, wherever you want, you know, the head of any congregation of any faith of any sort and say, you know, like, I really think that you might dig this and if you do, I'd love for you to get people to come to the screening that we have but you got to empower those people who have to empower them and how do you empower them? Show them the film even if it hasn't been released like treat him that well, you know, say like so and so I would love for you to check this out and tell me what you think of it have a one on one the term we would use in the campaign, sit down with them and talk to them about what you're trying to achieve and why you're enthusiastic about this film and see if they like it and, you know, watching the film itself is just one level of engagement that you can get them to um so you know and like the kickstarter prizes there like very sort of crass example of this but you know, you you have a poster of a film that hasn't come out yet that makes you feel if not important, it makes you feel like you did something and you got something for you, which is cool, um but I always prefer the like in person one on one version of that which is like I want you to be a part of this film's team and I want you to like carry the message of the film through your audience that you have we call this in the obama terminology this is like the snowflake model that everybody is their own node to connect to other people you know? So a lot of organizations and in politics were very top down in in the kind of obama campaign we we were it was a snowflake model everyone's on the same level is just about who was you know who was connecting to who so you had a field field organizer who was connected to neighborhood team leaders who was connected to the date the leader of data who was connected you know, to a volunteer whatever it was all just like who is responsible to who but all again like one of the elements of a grassroots production is uh empower your volunteers were trusting them with more things than you would otherwise too like just about a lot of questions about people wanting to know specifically how this related to how you were doing this when it came to beast of the southern wild but you just quickly maybe recap exactly how you found who that audience was and and how you did this process for that movie I'm sure sure sure so I think you just take a really good account of everybody that you've met along the way um so you know I mean that these it's it's tricky because beast sort of I don't like to think about festivals and in terms of this, but it did sort of if the festival is a lottery, we sort of won the lottery because it was like the best possible scenario that could have happened. We premiered at sundance, and people loved it. But I would say that what happened at best, that at sundance was not just like an accident wasn't exactly a lottery ticket. We had eighty people in the audience who were rooting for that film because they had been a part of it, right? That made the energy in that room drastically different than if it we were just cold going there with no one to support us. You know, andi, I think the people it started that started away, if you know that that that screening, that premiere screening, where we had all those people in there, started a wave that you could feel all the way till when we released it to the whole nation. Um, not the whole nation, you know, but however many theaters we got into, um and ah, you know, I think so. We had a more of traditional with beasts. It's, like we had this traditional distributing partner in fox searchlight traditional in that they are tied to a bigger studio and and all of that, but to fox searchlight's credit, they let us all come with the film across the country so the producers the cast the director sometimes the director of photography the writer you know we would go to uh thes these previous screens that we would have everywhere from denver to you know dallas or whatever and we would be there on the ground when we wouldn't otherwise right and so it's just about standing you know, we had delivered we had a screening in new orleans and in the bayou way screened it as many places as we could and we and we we also with senator each wanted to construct an online infrastructure that felt inclusive right and gave people ownership and this is a keep again a key part of the barack obama campaign but making people feel like they can do whatever they want with this campaign so I'll actually get to that in a second but first I wanted people to take action and write down three places online or off where your audience for your film lives so people at home uh I would love for you to do that right now while we sort of take stock here and what community would you mobilize around your film or or a film that you've been told about like if you don't have a film that you're working on maybe you know one that the director has been telling you about what would be a good one for that so anybody here have any I definitely had a lot of good experiences with um older theaters not movie theaters but theater theaters for stage performances um often times they would actually reduce the price for the rental to screen and then also just independent theaters like the new particle in oakland they dio they're very nice about independent features they do something where sunday's air free if you have a future film group an independent group that's awesome that's that's actually sort of my dream what like I told you about this fellowship that I did where we researched the parallels between politics and film the final project that we did we didn't make this thing happen but the thing that we sort of thought about was uh a yelp for basically exhibitors you know, a yelp for grassroots exhibitors that basically just connects all the different venues like a church or a community center or ah anywhere a bookstore and it's just all public information that everybody you know that audiences and filmmakers confined very easily you can even rate them say oh this person was a great great great to work with they could even have their like um the terms of their agreement out there on the on the actual site you know that says like ok, well we take this percent of the door and we do we split the bar above all of that could be public information that would make that would make then if we if we get I mean, distributing is becoming so much easier because everybody owns their film and can go wherever they want with it. If we tackle exhibiting films in the same way and we democratize that, then I don't know. I mean, then we've then then filmmakers have taken over every phase of the production or every phase of film making and showing and that's pretty cool. You know, we live in an age where public information there's a sea of public information there that wasn't there before. So why not have that be public information as well? You know, like where I could I have a film now, where can I show it? And what are the terms that should be? Azizi is just google inter finding a really fantastic site? Um, that has all that and just pulls it, but yeah, it was just anybody have any questions from two? We have, ah, short cinema whose boiled down their audience to a very specific thing. My audience are women that go to science festivals that we've actually still had some questions coming in. This came from to sita, and she just wants to know how you would be able to describe the audience of beasts of the southern wild in that like small little sentence because I think people are trying to boil it down I mean have you thought about that for the film how would you do that yeah I have you know e I don't think it's easy to nail down and I think that's what people can read this is sort of why the film works on a certain level is because people can read into the film so many different things that they want to write uh I mean to take the metaphor even further like the reason that barack obama was appealing candidate is that a lot of people saw a lot of different things in him they sort of projected their own views on to what he could be a president not to compare barack obama to be seen something but pieces on what some people are like this is a this is like a libertarian like uh like toward of force and then other people were like this is the most liberal like environmental panicky thing I've ever seen people came at it from wildly different angles you know some people thought that we were documenting a really really really reality like that that was a very specific community some people thought that it was a complete fantasy the truth is probably somewhere in between but something some quality about the film made it feel like you could like do whatever you wanted with it, I don't know not do whatever you wanted with it, but uh, sort of read what you wanted to read in it, and I think that's too bends credit because he was interested in telling stories that air certainly specific and strange or whatever, but also have a quality that is kind of like feels epic, you know, actually, jesse toe had a quick follow up it's great when we have that real time interaction, that answer is fantastic, she says, though, before you started filming, were you thinking of it that way? Did you already have that an audience in mind when you started filming it? No, I don't I don't, I think we wanted we want me bed at the end of the day is like a guy who grew up on spielberg and also it's like we wanted to entertain, we wanted people that we want as many we wanted that's sort of why we went with search layers, we knew that they would put the film in front of his many people's possible. Um, but no, I mean, we didn't heed the advice I'm giving right now. I mean, we didn't sort of handle, stop and analyze that stuff, I'm not sure we really knew what the film was until we finished

Class Description

Producing an independent film takes an enormous commitment of time, money, and energy – but there are steps you can follow to make the whole undertaking more productive and less overwhelming. Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots, Up is your guide to reducing friction during every stage of independent feature film production.

In this class, Michael Gottwald, a producer on the OSCAR®-nominated, Beasts of the Southern Wild, will detail the process his team used to bring this sleeper hit to life. By exploring the independent film production process through the lens of Beasts of the Southern Wild you’ll learn how to generate your own independent film success. 

Michael will teach you how to:

  • Find optimal material to produce
  • Engage private and social fundraising resources
  • Craft a production plan suited to your existing resources
  • Distribute and market a finished film

Whether or not you have industry connections, or live in traditional “media centers” (such as New York or Los Angeles), you can still give life to a project that will impact the film industry and artform. You don’t have to blindly navigate the rocky terrain of grassroots film production alone. Michael will offer the insights you need to tackle common challenges during every stage of the producing process.

Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots, Up will show you how to create films that, if positioned properly, rise above the current indie film marketplace "noise."


a Creativelive Student

A top-notch presentation on indie film making. I learned a lot from this course which I hope to soon put into practice as I'm about to embark on my first indie film - as a screen writer for the first time out, but eventually I hope to write, direct, and produce my own film. Very easy to follow the presentations in this course, and the handouts I received when I purchased the course are quite useful.


Such a great course! Being an indie "Grassroots" filmmaker in the middle of three projects, I found what Michael shared to be very valuable. The way that he described the different aspects of producing and illustrated with examples was very clear and fresh. The course really opens you up to examine your own processes, what works / what doesn't and stirs up some new ideas on how to move forward. Thanks CreativeLive team for making the class happen!


This is a tremendous introduction to grassroots filmmaking. Michael takes you step by step through the various elements of film production and offers those so inclined a cursory understanding of what is required. Because filmmaking is a creative pursuit, the direction the individual filmmaker takes from there is entirely up to each. I would highly recommend this course to any one starting out in filmmaking. Well worth the cost. David W. King, Michigan Movie Magazine