25. We know incredibly little about our audience or their behavior. We spend so much money making our films without really knowing who are audiences are, why they want our product, how to reach them, or how they behave, or how they are changing. Does any other industry think so late about their audience? Does any other industry do so little research into their audience? Shouldn't we all be sharing what info we have?
This one has always boggled my mind. I’ve written about it before, and will likely do so again, but I’m continually amazed at how little we think about and how little we know about our audience. Whenever I meet with filmmakers about their script or project, I ask them about their intended audience, and as you can guess, most don’t have much of an answer. Sometimes they’ll say something like “everyone who loves indie films” or perhaps they’ve progressed to “white males 25-34” or something. A few have films that have clear niche audiences - Nascar fans - great, or - Nascar fans who only watch at home, don’t tell their friends and drink fancy beer - even better, a true niche. Very few have built any fan base already, either for their films or themselves, which is mind-boggling in an era of Facebook, Twitter and plain-old email lists. I understand the whole “I’m an artist, not a marketer” thing, actually, but in this day and age, to not think about your audience in advance is not just poor business, it ignores the fundamental changes that have hit every business and every art form - that audiences are more participatory, so you can’t just try to engage them with a product and no conversation.
I could go on and on about this, but what drives me even crazier is how little we, as an industry, know about our audience(s). Excuse the artistes, but talk to almost anyone else in the business and you frankly won’t get a much savvier answer. Sure, many distributors have been doing this long enough to have some audience research and staff who know a bit about marketing (BTW, this is some, not all, distributors), but very few have done any real, in-depth research into our audiences and their behavior. Those that have done this tend to keep it private - it’s pretty valuable info to have when your competitors have barely thought about looking into it in the first place. As a field, we have very little to work with. How many festivals survey their audiences for real data? How many can break these results on a per-film basis? B-Side collected a fair amount of data on film-going habits, but their database is now part of another company (Slated), so do any of those fests have their portion of that data (I honestly don’t know)? Why aren’t film schools, business schools or all these nonprofits that supposedly represent us doing some data analysis? I have lots of questions like these, but I think you get the point - we need much better research into the audiences for indie films and for our individual films. I can think of a few quick, partial solutions to this problem -
- Filmmakers - collect data on your audiences, from everywhere you can, and share it with others. Anonymize it, of course, but share it whenever possible.
- Savvy computer geek film people - build open source platforms for the sharing of this data.
- Nonprofit service orgs - partner with researchers to study indie audiences. I suggest using these folks, but I’m sure with a grant you could study this with just about anyone - and share it with your members (a reason for them to join!).
- Festivals - survey your audiences and share this data with filmmakers. It will also help you when speaking to sponsors.