Three Simple Steps to Becoming a Successful Independent Filmmaker

Lean in closely and listen carefully, I’m about to share with you the secrets of indie filmmaker success, and it’s actually a lot less complicated than you think.


Simple does not mean easy. It requires dedication, authenticity and lots of time and energy, but I’ve come to believe it’s not really as complex as people think and can be summed up in this three simple tips — inspired by some of my favorite indie filmmaking reads this past week.

 1. Know Your Audience — Figure out who they are. Connect with them. Engage with them — and do this FIRST!

Often, filmmakers begin thinking about connecting with their audience after their film is complete or, perhaps, when they are involved with post-production. By then, though, it’s probably too late. When it comes to finding your audience and engaging them, the earlier the better.

During the most recent #filmcurious Twitter chat about PMDs (a PMD is a Producer of Marketing and Distribution), Film Campaign shared an article that highlighted this. I agree whole-heartedly with their sentiments:

We need to engage audiences in crowd actions as early in the production process as possible – subject matter permitting –, ideally during development of the project, and we need to keep them with us throughout the production cycle.

With our latest project, which we’ll be crowdfunding for next month, we started the process of building our audience and creating partnerships VERY earlier on (more than a year ago, which was 6 months before we shot anything). As a result, we’ve got quality partners already connecting with our project, many of whom are arranging fundraising events for us and are prepared to share our project and campaign with their followers.

2. Make Your Film. (Yep, #StopTalkingAboutYourFilmAndMakeIt) — But, PLEASE make sure you know what you’re doing and please focus on making the right film for the budget you have because making a good film is helpful, especially when making that audience you’ve already connecting to, want to share your work with others.

You probably have a long list of reasons you can’t make your film, so I’m sharing some insight from an 18 year-old from Detroit, who just completed his FOURTH film. He may be young, but he knows what he’s talking about. We often get in our own way and create a long list of reasons we CAN’T make our film, but the truth is, we can. We can make a film. We may even be able to make a good film, but you can’t do anything until you start doing it. As he says in the Indiewire article What It’s Like to be a Teenage Filmmaker: Everyone’s always saying you need X amount of dollars to do this and do that and all that bologna, but what I say is do what you can with whatever you can get — whether it’s pocket change, birthday bucks, or even pennies and nickels collected in a jar. Just go out there and DO it! It’s as plain and simple as that…. JUST DO IT!  Like get on it tonight… Or like NOW! If you don’t do it you won’t ever learn how to DO it! Nobody can DO it for you… You’re the only one with your particular vision.

3. Get Your Film Out There — (Basically, I’m just repeating #1 because getting your film out there is all about connecting to your audience. So, if you’ve already been doing that, distributing your film should be, relatively, easy. It will still be a TON of work, but your audience will be there, ready and waiting, hopefully.)

Say, though, that production was a bit crazy and you lost sight of your audience. Now is the time to re-connect with your audience. And, certainly, you’ll want to continually build your audience and find new fans. Figure out what distribution method will work best for YOUR FILM. There’s TUGG, GathrUs, VHX, Vimeo, Youtube, the academic marketplace, etc., etc. The Digital Cinema Report recently featured an article about White Rabbit’s Digital Distribution process with TUGG. Give it a look, especially if you’re interested in theatrical distribution for your micro-budget film.

Here’s the Bottom Line: DON’T market to everyone! It’s a waste of your time and will, most likely, be ineffective. I’ve come to understand that the true key to being a successful independent filmmaker in today’s (extremely saturated) marketplace lies in one’s ability to find your specific audience and connect with them. You don’t need everyone to love your film, you just need the right people to love your film.        

I receive daily blog posts from Seth Godin, who is a marketing genius, and these words from one of his latest posts jumped out at me:

A video won’t work because everyone watches it. It will work because the right people do, for the right reason.

So, stop reading and start connecting. If you already know who your audience is, then get to work finding them and getting to know them. If you’re not sure who they are yet, figure it out — ASAP.


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